Making Exam Review Fun with an “Escape Room”

Recently, I was surfing Pinterest looking for a creative way to review for an exam, and I came up several pins for escape rooms. None of them were for exam reviews (or even for use with college students), but they did inspire the idea for using an escape room as an exam review in my beginning business writing course.

The primary goal of the exam review was to reinforce concepts from the textbook’s three chapters on business correspondence (routine, good-news, or neutral messages; bad-news messages; and persuasive messages). A secondary goal was to provide a punctuation review. Students worked in groups to complete the review.

Creating the Escape Room

The premise of an escape room, in general, is that participants work as a team to use logic, answer questions, or complete a puzzle to escape their room or situation, usually in a limited time frame. For example, a scenario might be that employees are locked in a conference room by a diabolical boss who plans to abscond with company secrets worth millions unless the team stops him. The team would then have 30 minutes to save the day by finding the clues in the room that lead to the security code that unlocks the conference room.

To adapt this activity for an academic purpose, I decided that, for each chapter, the groups would need to punctuate a set of sentences correctly to get a code that they would then use to unlock that chapter’s review. Upon completing all three chapter reviews, students could escape from the classroom. The time limit was the 50-minute class period.

Creating the Code

I used the punctuation exercises in our textbook to create three sets of exercises. I color coded each exercise so I could more easily monitor each group’s progress, but the color coding is probably not necessary in a small class. Students had to work together to punctuate each sentence correctly and use the number of punctuation marks to create the codes. Thus, if students punctuated the sentences correctly, the first set of questions and the resulting code looked like this:

  1. Our company was founded on the principles of trust, honesty, and ethical business practices.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _2__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _0__
  2. Many companies allow employees to work from home; however, other companies question whether these employees can be productive if they are not working from the office.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _1__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _1__
  3. Employees who attend the training sessions will likely pass the certification exam.
    The number of commas in this sentence: _0__
    The number of colons in this sentence: _0__
    The number of semicolons in this sentence: _0_

The code to unlock the Chapter 8 review is

_2__   _0__   _0__   _1__   _0__   _1__   _0__   _0__   _0__

Completing the Review Questions

Once the students had the right code, they could unlock the 10 multiple-choice chapter review questions, which were located in Connect, the online learning platform that accompanies our textbook. The questions were taken from the chapter quiz bank and were password protected—and the password that unlocked the quiz questions, of course, was the code created by punctuating the practice sentences. If the students did not punctuate the sentences correctly, they could not access the review questions and had to revisit their punctuation. Once students accessed the review questions, they were required to earn a 10/10 on the review questions before I would give them the punctuation exercise for the next chapter.

When a group had they finished all of the review questions for each of the three chapters, they could leave class. The first group finished in just under 30 minutes; the last group finished in 50.

The escape room is adaptable to any learning environment. For example, course management systems such as D2L or Canvas allow for password-protected quizzes. If you prefer not to use digital materials, you could always have students present the code to you to get a hard copy of the review questions.

My students enjoyed the exercise. I hope yours do, too.

Do you have any creative exam review ideas? If so, please share them with us in the comments.

What Can You Learn from “The 17 Best Advertisements of All Time”?

In my email inbox recently was a link to a post on the Hubspot Marketing Blog that discussed the (arguably) 17 best ads of all time. Before you go look . . . see if you can guess what they are! And see if your students can!

This great post displays the ads and explains why the author, Lindsay Kolowich, chose each one (here, too, you can ask your class to guess why first). Taken together, they illustrate many important principles of good persuasion. Plus, in the middle of the post is a nine-step process for creating a great ad.

Students love talking about ads, and they can learn a lot from these. Enjoy!

An Assignment Idea: Advising the Safe Use of–or Forbidding–Ear Buds

ipod-dark-photo-files-9-1242761I’ve been struck this fall, more than ever, by how pervasive ear buds are on campus and how oblivious many students are when wearing them. I’ve seen students step out into oncoming emergency vehicles, fail to see cars that are turning into them, and otherwise jeopardize themselves and others because of their inability to hear (and, sometimes, see—since, often, they’re looking at their phones as well).

I figure we can turn this situation into a teaching moment! Here are a couple of ideas for assignments built around the issue.

  • Have students, perhaps in groups, research the dangers of earbuds (and ear buds + cell phones) to find compelling data they could use in a safety message to students at their school. Then have them write that message. Have them discuss and choose whom the message should come from: head of safety and security, president of the student body, head of student affairs, the university president? The challenge of this assignment is that your students are probably not inclined to read or heed a message like this themselves. But that’s the beauty of it, too: They’re in a perfect position to figure out what it would take to overcome their readers’ likely objections. Tell them that when they’ve found data/arguments that would persuade them to change their own behavior, they’re onto something.
  • I found, with a little bit of Internet searching, that some workplaces forbid the use of earbuds on the job. Have your students, perhaps in groups, research this issue to find out why. Then create, or have them create, a scenario in which, playing some role in the company, they need to write the employees to state and defend the company’s ear-bud policy.

Either of these assignments will involve conducting research, evaluating evidence, persuading a reluctant audience, and writing clear guidelines. You can have great discussions around all these facets of the task. Let’s hope it also results in safer behavior on the part of our students! (How cool would it be to send the message to the director of campus safety and figure out a way to have it actually sent out? It could happen!)

If you’ve got an idea for a good informative or persuasive message assignment to use this fall, please share it!

A BComm Consciousness-Raising Activity

I received an email message yesterday that I forwarded to a new graduate teaching assistant as a good message to discuss with her students as they begin their Writing for Business course. What makes it especially promising discussion material, I think, is that the message is neither good nor bad, or it’s both, or, depending on the reader, it could be one or the other. So it provides a wide open space for students to weigh in with their judgments and the reasons behind them.

The message was a no-reply message from Jack@anyandalltextbooks.com (a fictitious version of the real name), and its subject line was “Can I swing by Wednesday, Professor?” The first words of the message were the line “I’ll be on campus!,” centered and in big, bold, italic letters.

Then came the following:

Hi Professor,
My name is Jack and I’m part of a start-up whose entire purpose is to help students afford to get a college education. You probably recognize me, as I work with many faculty at the University of Cincinnati who have that as a priority. I’m a local!

I DO work with textbooks, but this is totally different from the other book buyers you’ve had drop by your office. I have a huge database that allows me to buy books from as far back as the 1950’s. Faculty members appreciate that I can help them de-clutter their offices while putting textbooks back in the hands of students that could use them.

Types of books I can send to a student:
–  Old editions
–  New editions
–  Instructor (and annotated) copies

Let me know if you’d like to see if you have any books a student could use! I’ll be on campus this Wednesday.

Feel free to respond or even call/text if you would like me to come by quickly. My cell number is 555-523-5523 [not the real number].

Kind regards,
Jack

I know some faculty choose to hang on to all of their books and never sell—if that’s you, I’m so sorry for reaching out! I’m just trying as hard as I can to help students. Click the Unsubscribe button below and I’ll make sure I don’t email you again.

Below that were a large graphic I couldn’t interpret (something like a pink lopsided donut), Jack’s (still with no last name given) address, and an unsubscribe link.

Here are just a few of the many questions you could ask about this message:

–What do you think of the writer’s using just his first name? What might be good about it? What might be bad?

–What do you think about the inclusion of the tagline at the top and the graphic at the bottom? Does this enhance or detract from the message’s persuasive appeal?

–What kind of persona/ethos is the writer trying to project here? Is it effective, in your view?

–What kind of relationship is he trying to establish with the reader? Does he succeed? Is it appropriate?

–What features of this message might tempt a professor to sell his/her textbooks to this person? What might lead a professor to reject the request in the message?

–If you were revising the message, what parts would you leave the same? What parts would you revise and why?

This activity can help sensitize students to the importance of adapting to the audience, creating an effective ethos, and building credibility. If used during the persuasive-message unit of the course, it can help students think about what makes appeals persuasive. But however you use it, it will get students analyzing, thinking, and using their judgment, and realizing that they need well-thought-out reasons for the decisions they’ll make as communicators. Helping them create this habit of mind is probably the most valuable legacy we can leave them with.

We hope your term is off to a great start!

(Arguably) The Fastest-Growing Genre in Business Communication: Content Marketing

If you flip through the journals and books in our field, you’ll find hardly a mention of it. But suddenly (it seems), it’s all over the place. It’s content marketing.

What is content marketing? The label doesn’t seem to indicate anything new. Don’t we always sell by using content?

The answer is yes—but content marketing differs from sales writing in that it gives potential customers free useful content to drive them to the actual site of the sale. In the words of the Content Marketing Institute, “Content marketing is the marketing technique of creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and acquire a clearly defined audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

An article in Forbes clarifies the concept with these examples:

  • Preparing an infographic on a hot industry topic and sharing it via blog post or Pinterest.
  • Posting a Web article on how to do something that your company is very good at (e.g., getting customers to subscribe to a company’s e-newsletter).
  • Uploading a podcast to iTunes that reflects on a topic your target audience cares about (and your company’s product/service can help them with).
  • Uploading a video to YouTube that does the same.
  • Selling a book that establishes your expertise in an area and drives readers to your company.

A content-marketing message resembles a white paper in that, typically using research, it explores a common problem for which the authoring company’s product is the solution. The difference lies largely in the format/channel. A white paper is a report in document format, whereas content marketing exploits all forms of media.

When preparing your fall syllabus, consider incorporating content marketing into your unit on persuasion. You could have your students, or groups of students, . . .

  • Prepare a report for a boss or client on how companies are using content marketing (or prepare a proposal for a company to get into content marketing).
  • Write a content-marketing blog post for a real or hypothetical company.
  • Summarize the key points of selected sources on content marketing, such as one of these five TED talks or articles on Copyblogger.com, the granddaddy of the content-marketing sites.
  • Create a social-media strategy for a company that includes one or more content-marketing channels.
  • Analyze the ways content marketers build interest and authority (students could choose a content-marketing expert to follow here).

If you add a content-marketing assignment to your syllabus, let us know how it turns out!

End-of-the-School-Year Resource Roundup

Yes, indeed, the end of another school year has arrived, and I am already thinking ahead to the next academic year. In planning ahead, I’ve also reflected on the past year and realized I have gathered a LOT of online resources related to business communication. I’m guessing many of you are like me in that you never really leave the classroom and are always thinking about the next semester, class, or lesson.

The articles below appeared in the news feed generated by my Zite app, and I then saved them to Pocket. (Zite and Pocket, by the way, are probably my two favorite apps.) You can also find more resources by following me on Twitter (@pjglentz) or viewing my teaching board on Pinterest. If you have any “must have” resources you’d like to share with us, please do!

Corporate Culture

Design & Typography

Email

Employment

Grammar

Interviews

Leadership & Teamwork

Persuasion

Presentations & Oral Communication

Research

 Rhetoric

 Technology & Communication

 

Should We Keep Teaching the Sales Letter? Absolutely!

Somehow I got on the email distribution list for TMR Direct, a company that specializes in direct-mail services. I’m glad I did, because they keep track of direct-mail trends and have a ton of research to back up their stats and recommendations.

With so much emphasis placed on e-marketing media—email, twitter, Facebook—you might think that direct mail is all but dead.

Au contraire! According to TMR, direct mail has a greater response rate than email, and people are far more likely to donate to nonprofits in response to a mailed rather than an emailed solicitation. Plus, in a sea of electronic messages, direct mail messages stand out, especially for the younger crowd (in fact, according to statistics gathered by ProfitFuzion.com, young people were the most likely demographic to respond to a direct mail piece in 2012).

So sales letters are still a worthwhile assignment for bcomm classes, and you can find good coaching tips on the TMR website. For example, . . .

–The latest TMR email I received was titled “Should Your Direct Mail Scream?” The article had good advice to share with your students when they’re trying to craft an appropriate attention-getter.

–“A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Customers” talks about the importance of giving your direct mail visual appeal—while also pointing out that the most important factor for success is the right distribution list, not words or pictures.

–One article gives “6 reasons Your Direct Marketing Strategy Should Include Coupons.” Until now, it never occurred to me to suggest that my students make coupons part of their sales messages. But in many cases, they should.

You can also download free whitepapers from TMR, such as Best Direct Mail Practices in an Evolving Marketplace, to learn about the role that direct mail can play in today’s multimedia marketing campaigns.

The sales letter has always been a popular assignment with my students, and I’m glad to have solid evidence that this is still an important genre in business writing. A well-designed sales-letter assignment can help students think through not only their verbal and visual choices but also how the message will function in relation to other media in an integrated sales effort.

So as you’re planning your fall courses, don’t feel shy about including the time-honored sales letter. Just be sure you have your students think about its new role and purpose in the e-media marketplace.