Group Presentation on Wilson’s The Future of Life

CRTW 201

Dr. Fike


Note: Exchange e-mail addresses and phone numbers with your group members so that you can get and keep in touch with each other.

Note: This assignment has three requirements: 1) get your classmates to use the elements; 2) help your classmates understand how to view your chapter through the lens of your group members’ major(s); and 3) write a short in-class paper that addresses thinking in your major and how it intersected with Wilson’s book.


"CRTW" means critical reading, thinking, and writing; but the course also involves speaking and listening. The oral presentation assignment gives you an opportunity to practice all of these skills and, I hope, to have some fun as well. I do not want this assignment to be a pain or a great burden, and I especially do not want any group members to shirk their responsibility to make a substantive contribution to prepare and deliver your presentation. Some of you have FBIs about group presentations. Some of you may even hope to coast on others’ work. Please be aware of these impediments and try to transform problems into solutions for your group. Part of the assignment is to be each other’s keepers: making sure that your group members do their fair share of the work is part of the assignment.

The Presentation

Make a period-long group presentation on a chapter from Wilson’s book. I will put you in disciplinary groups—groups of majors that have something in common with the chapters’ subjects. Part of your assignment is to help your non-presenting classmates understand how your disciplinary points of view shed a unique and interesting light on your chapter. Doing so means building in what Nosich calls “fundamental and powerful concepts” from your major field(s) of study. You will receive separate grades for  your presentation and for the short paper that each of you writes about thinking in your major (see below). Note, however, that “presentation” does not imply that your group should lecture for half an hour. Get your classmates engaged in using the elements, not just in taking notes. I want to see them actively engaging with the material, rather than merely passively receiving it from your group. The elements and your disciplinary (major) point(s) of view are the main things to emphasize.

Short Paper

“Short” means the equivalent of 4-5 word-processed pages. The paper will be written in class. Please bring a large bluebook (8.5 x 11”). For a detailed guide to this assignment, see Major Paper. (Note: I will be vexed if some of you turn in your bluebook and leave after only 15 minutes.)


The presentation and the paper are both worth 10 points (honors section: 5 points for the paper). Grading of the presentation will be very generous, and I will try to give everyone the same grade:

Note: If you are absent on the day of your group’s presentation, there is no way for you to make up the missed work. I will try to give you some credit for your role in the group’s preparation (have your group members e-mail me about this), but there is no mechanism for giving you a second chance. If your sole contribution to the discussion is in the neighborhood of two sentences about your major, I will lower your grade. And for heaven’s sake, you will need to have your chapter in front of you when you make your presentation. If you do not bring your book or a photocopy of your chapter on the day of your presentation, I will make you go get it. That is our "house rule," and it is especially relevant when you are making a presentation.

My Role

Obviously, I am available to help your group prepare. A wise group will send at least one member to talk things over with me before the presentation. It is a really, really, REALLY good idea to meet with me well ahead of time. You ought to bring with you a list of your chapter’s contents--especially a list of its concepts--and an outline of your lesson plan as well as any handouts you have constructed. But remember: you learn best from each other. This presentation is a great example of that principle at work. Therefore, I plan to be completely silent at the back of the room during your presentation unless you call on me. Also, I will try not to interfere nonverbally. Do not involve me in any group activities that you may assign during your presentation, but please do give me a copy of your handout(s).

A Discussion of Your Presentation by the Elements

The question at issue is this: How can you fruitfully engage your classmates in critical thinking about that chapter? In a nutshell, then, your purpose is to work with a group of your classmates to get the other members of the class to apply the elements and the standards of critical thinking to your chapter in Wilson’s book and to get them to see it through the lens of your major. Your presentation should NOT be a bull session about your classmates’ opinions on ecology.

I assume, first of all, that not everyone in your group will be equally meaningfully engaged in this activity. Each of you, however, brings a different strength to your group’s project. Find out what that is and divide the tasks up accordingly.

Perhaps point of view is worthy of mention in this connection. You could divide your labors as follows (alternatives): two of you could be co-presenters, two of you could be Wilson experts (the engine behind the group’s preparation), one of you could be a computer jock (someone who does the keyboard work, in class and out), and one of you could be the enforcer/coordinator/monitor/organizer/e-mailer. You should all have some kind of speaking role in class, but these roles can be unequal as long as each group member makes a substantive contribution to the success of your presentation.

I further assume that, in teaching, if you tell your classmates what to think, they will forget; that if you show them, they will remember; but that if you involve them, they will understand. These outcomes, of course, suggest the implications and consequences of different teaching strategies: involvement and learning are directly proportional to each other.

Therefore, reasonable conclusions are that you must be responsible for and to other members of your group and that you should strive for a good deal of interaction between your group and the class, as well as within and among small groups of class members.

Obviously, you will need to ensure that the chapter’s information is highlighted, though it does not have to be covered in its entirety. The result of the day’s activities, however, should be an analysis of the chapter by the elements. Add a few standards, and you will be on the right track.

You are all probably thinking, “Let’s just do a PowerPoint slide show.” I say: well, okay. But I say it reluctantly because I have had bad experiences--students just stand there and read their slides (badly). You may use PowerPoint and Prezi to project an outline, important information, and photos; but you must not use one of these programs as a crutch. However you decide to format your presentation, you must strive for engagement, not passive reception. What might you do instead?

In the spirit of collaboration and engagement, you might fruitfully select from an array of alternative approaches to help your classmates recall the chapter’s substance(information): an “open outline” (a partially completed outline—a “fill in the blank” type of deal), a list of key quotations (assign one or more to each quadrant), passage assignments (assign specific pages to small groups of your classmates and direct them to find the main points and some key quotations), a quiz, games, a series of SEE-Is, other types of writing in class, and an element search (have groups focus on one or more of the elements on specific pages). There are other possibilities, but you get the idea. When we talk about the Prologue and the first two chapters, I will model some additional teaching strategies that you are welcome to adapt for your own presentation.

My colleague Dr. Koster makes the following related statement in the assignment sheet for her students’ group presentations: “In past classes we’ve taken quizzes, played Jeopardy!, Pictionary, Go Fish!, and individualized games, watched videos, listened to students rap, watched skits, engaged in question and answer sessions and debates, eaten pizza, determined the instructor’s carbon footprint, and made arts and crafts—it’s totally up to your group how you want to engage us. You’re not quizzing us on every fact in your chapter; you’re helping us see the thinking in that chapter from your discipline’s point of view.” That is good advice to remember.

Note: provides a template for creating a Jeopardy show.

As the above statements suggest:

Your Presentation Should Be Enjoyable

S: Your class session should be fun for you and for your classmates.

E: In other words, learning should be delightful.

E: For example, play games, hand out candy, use stupid gimmicks, give prizes, bribe them with money, throw stuff. Don’t hurt anybody; otherwise, do whatever it takes to get everyone involved.

I: It (delightful learning) is like happiness: it may elude you if you aim for it; but it is a natural by-product of full engagement.

Look, guys and gals, this presentation is your opportunity to inject some fun into the mix. I suggest that you take advantage of that opportunity. Spend some time considering how to make your presentation enjoyable. Enough said.

A further imperative to keep in mind is one of the key principles of this course:

Analysis Should Precede Evaluation

S: Front load analysis by the elements.

E: In other words, do evaluation last. The discussion should not consist of indulgence in opinions. It should be an attempt to get to the heart of Wilson’s material by using the elements.

E: For example, if the subject is global warming, do not let the discussion devolve into a chorus of statements like “Well, I think this or that about the issue.” Stick with the elements. Make your classmates think about their thinking.

I: It (doing analysis before evaluation) is like constructing a building: you must build the foundation before it makes sense to erect the superstructure.

What You Should NOT Do


I will provide a handwritten comment on your group’s work on a next-day basis.

Various Links Re. E. O. Wilson

Biography: and



Letter to a Southern Baptist Minister:

Red List: