The Listicle: A Form Worthy of the Classroom?

One of the first thing that struck me when I began immersing myself in Twitter’s EdTech/21C /Flipped Classroom discussion is the abundance of listicles that fly around every day.  At first it was hard to take this phenomenon seriously.  As a colleague of mine wryly noted, “I thought I had exhausted the listicle when I stopped reading Cosmo in grade 11″. Personally, I have long associated the form with late night television and Letterman’s ‘top ten” which Dave used as a thematic and time sensitive vehicle to focus his humour on one subject without beating it to death (imagine  he had  prepared a top 30?). Yet a form of writing once reserved for catching our attention at grocery store check outs now seems to be the go to  web form for all sorts of content.  Question: Does that make  it worth teaching?

Answer:  I think it can be used in the classroom  in a few helpful ways:

(Caveat:  One of the frustrating parts about the  modern edtech dialogue is the bashing of the traditional essay, while simultaneously embracing the idea that students int the 21 century really need to be making connections  by analyzing and synthesizing information to solve authentic “real-world” problems.   To suggest the essay form is not complimentary to this type of content is ludicrous.   Students struggle with essay writing  precisely because it is the form  of connection making par excellence.   Originally the essay was a creative argument that was anything but  formulaic, achieved by making logical and creative connections between universals and particulars that remains quite difficult for most of us.   The five paragraph essay is simply a scaffolded version of this, which good teachers find ways to pump some life into.   So what if  students will never have to write essays in real life?  They will have to structure letters to employers, make toasts at weddings and eulogies at funerals.  They will have to organize their thoughts and think about their roles in a complex world.  In short, they will have to do a lot of thinking, and the act of struggling with words to articulate coherent and meaningful thoughts  that are beautiful or sensible or relevant to someone else  is a worthy endeavour. It’s not everything and it’s not  for everyone, but essay writing is great form of self expression. Now that that’s off my chest…)

Four  Super Simple Ways to Use the Listicle in Intermediate/Senior English Classes

1.  A listicle democratizes ideas before creating hierarchy. It is by nature non intimidating.   It can be effectively used to scaffold the writing process, much like brainstorming, as a pre-cursor to structuring ideas based on a more critical framework.

2.  A listicle creates structure through number and therefore can include more content that is less relevant.  For students who are learning to write, the focus might be on trimming the number down and hierarchically determining the most important points.

3.  Listicles can be studied to show how writers often use them to include points that aren’t all that logically strong, but add some novelty or some humour to entertain us somewhere in the middle; in other words, they are great for quick fix internet viewership.   If students are learning to target particular audiences with different online tools, the listicle  will probably play a pivotal role…

4.As a pedagogical tool, the listicle can be used as a collaborative form.  Groups can be assigned to create a listicle and everyone take responsibility for 2-3 points.  Members can then collectively take a look at all contributions and give them some sort of classified form.

I would love to hear how other educators are using listicles in their classes!



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