Observing and Describing: Brooklyn Bridge Park
English/School of Arts and Sciences
English 1101, Freshman Composition
Activity Description: Provide a brief description of the activity
In this single-class meeting activity, students literally study “Brooklyn Bridges” by observing and describing the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and their surroundings in Brooklyn Bridge Park. This activity is part of a unit in which students learn to perform field research in order to vividly describe and characterize a location as part of an assigned “Profile” essay. Students meet at Jane’s Carousel with a notebook and a pen. They are instructed to choose a specific and unique location in the park within a 5-minute walk from the carousel, spend 20 minutes observing the location with attention to all five senses, and take detailed observation notes, using a double-entry journal format. After the observations are complete, students return to meet the class at the Empire Fulton Ferry Lawn (right next to Jane’s Carousel) and spend the next 20 minutes turning their observation notes into a paragraph that vividly describes the location and provides a dominant impression. Finally, the students read their descriptive paragraphs aloud to their classmates and engage in a discussion.
Learning Goals: What do you aim to achieve with this activity?
The students should practice effective observational skills, learn to take detailed field research notes, and practice turning field research into a descriptive, narrative paragraph. Students also will learn how to apply strategies for vivid description, including naming, detailing, using the five senses, and crafting comparisons using metaphors and similes.
Timing: At what point in the lesson or semester do you use this activity? How much classroom time do you devote to it? How much out-of-class time is expected?
This exercise takes place near the beginning of the semester as part of a "personal narrative" essay assignment. It takes a single class period and requires no out of class time.
Logistics: What preparation is needed for this activity? What instructions do you give students? Is the activity low-stakes, high-stakes, or something else?
Students should already be familiar with taking field notes using a double-entry journal format, and they should also be familiar with strategies for vivid description. It is low-stakes, receiving only a grade for effort and completion (on a check, check plus, check minus scale) as one of many invention exercises completed in preparation for the essay assignment. I provide students with a handout for them to refer to while away from the class for their 20-minute observation period.
Because this is a field trip, the necessary field trip forms and Title IX training must be completed in advance.
Assessment: How do you assess this activity? What assessment measures do you use? Do you use a VALUE rubric? If not, how did you develop your rubric? Is your course part of the college-wide general education assessment initiative?
This assignment is assessed only for effort and completion (on a check, check plus, check minus scale) as one of many invention exercises completed in preparation for the essay assignment. Additionally, students receive verbal feedback on their completed paragraphs from myself and their classmates. There is no rubric and the course is not part of the gen ed assessment initiative.
Reflection: How well did this activity work in your classroom? Would you repeat it? Why or why not? What challenges did you encounter, and how did you address them? What, if anything, would you change? What did students seem to enjoy about the activity?
This activity generally worked well; however, students must be mature enough to follow the directions independently and return to the meeting place in the designated amount of time. Some students used the assignment as an opportunity to go get pizza and ice cream rather than focusing on dedicated observation and note-taking practices. Additionally, the outdoor setting made the final portion of the activity (reading the paragraphs aloud) a bit difficult to hear at times. It was a fun way to get students to think about applying observation and description practices in a new and stimulating environment.
Additional Information: Please share any additional comments and further documentation of the activity – e.g. assignment instructions, rubrics, examples of student work, etc. These can be links to pages or posts on the OpenLab.
Please share a helpful link to a pages or post on the OpenLab