Method Acting at the Writing Center

In one of my recent sessions, I got to use one of my very favorite tutoring techniques: method acting.

I’ve used full-out roleplaying exactly twice in my Writing Center sessions (I don’t consider “pretend you’re someone who might disagree with your argument” roleplaying). The first time, my client was having difficulty trying to get into the mind of a character she was writing about. I took the Freud head, complete with his hat and red vase, and set him on the lounge chair we conveniently keep in the Writing Center. “Okay,” I said, “pretend Freud here is Frankie [the character in question].”

Then we psychoanalyzed him.

My client left with either a clearer understanding of the inner workings of Frankie or a firm conviction that Writing Center consultants were completely off their proverbial rockers. Since that session last semester, though, I have unfortunately not had the opportunity to utilize this technique again.

Until this week. This time, though, we went beyond mere roleplaying and launched straight into the realm of method acting.

It happened like this: my client (let’s call her was writing a paper on “The Yellow Wallpaper.” She was at that odd point in a paper where there are lots of reasons but no clear main claim yet. We’d already done the standard House, MD, thing (where you throw all the evidence on the whiteboard and try to diagnose the main claim), and we were discussing one point in particular: how the narrator realizes she is the wallpaper. What was the significance of the narrator’s discovery? What does it mean to be wallpaper?

Clearly, the only one logical way to approach this scenario was to locate some actual wallpaper and stare at it. In this instance, we wound up in front of the random patch of wallpaper next to the bathrooms. Then we stared at it. Intently. And while we were staring, we talked about what we saw, how we felt, what it would mean to be wallpaper. We discussed the wallpaper itself. (Fact: that particular patch of wallpaper consists of vertical white lines which, upon closer inspection, are actually numbers. If you look really closely, you realize there are actually more numbers within the white numbers. It’s crazy.) Once we both felt ready to start creeping over things, we went back to the Writing Center, and she did some freewriting.

The point of this post, I think, is that I believe hands-on techniques have some value. For me, getting up and doing things not only helps reinforce what I’m saying but also helps me deal with having back-to-back sessions. If I don’t actually get up and move, then after two or three appointments I start feeling dull and repetitive. It mixes my sessions up and makes me approach writing differently.


So. Thoughts. How do you feel about more hands-on sessions? Have you conducted/had one? Was it helpful? Was it unhelpful? Why?


One Comments

  • Kimberly Niesing

    February 29, 2012

    I feel that hands-on sessions are not natural to my consultation style, but I do think they can be very effective for some learners. You have to discern how the tutee learns best. One thing I would like to incorporate more into my sessions is the use of the white board. I think the white board is a great tool, but I never think of using it. If anyone has come up with a great way to use the white board or if anyone wants to say how they use the white board (ex. do you write on it or does the tutee write on it), I’d love to hear them.


Leave a Reply