Candy Bowl: A Sweet Way to Teach Persuasive Writing

By: Professor Abigail Perdue, Wake Forest University School of Law (with attribution to Professors Heather Gram and Catherine Wasson)

Last summer, I attended the LWI Biennial Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During the first day of the conference, I participated in a teaching workshop where Legal Writing professors were asked to share one of their most creative teaching ideas. My gifted friend and colleague, Heather Gram, of Elon University shared a delightful way to use candy to teach persuasive advocacy.[1]

Fast forward to this February when students seemed more focused on the upcoming Super Bowl than learning how to smoothly transition from objective to persuasive writing. Suddenly, memories of Professor Gram’s sweet idea inspired me to hold my first ever CANDY BOWL! This collaborative, timed exercise is a creative way for students to put ethos, logos, and pathos into practice. And you can enjoy it even if you weren’t rooting for the Patriots!

Here’s the simple recipe to hosting a successful Candy Bowl in your Legal Writing classroom:

  1. Spend several classes discussing specific ways for students to make their advocacy concise, credible, logical, and persuasive.
  2. Instruct students to bring their laptops to the next class.
  3. Bring five different kinds of candy to that class. I intentionally chose sugar-free peanut butter cups, generic gummy worms, miniature Mr. Goodbars, Junior Mints, and miniature Krackel bars. Some of the candies contained nuts or gluten; some didn’t. Some had high calorie counts. Others were healthier. Some were made in the U.S.A. Others were imported from abroad.
  4. Write the names of the candy on slips of paper and place them in an envelope.
  5. Divide the students into random groups of four to five. Try to partner students who have not previously collaborated. Ask the students to open their laptops.
  6. Now have each group draw a candy from the envelope. Explain that groups have the next twenty-five minutes to do research and develop a two-minute pitch regarding why their candy is best. Encourage them to consider ethos, logos, and pathos as they choose and order their arguments. Permit them to use demonstratives if they wish. (One group launched their pitch with a short, funny commercial about the candy, which fit well into the general theme of their pitch.)
  7. Ask each group to nominate a reporter who will deliver the pitch to the class.
  8. Now let the research and strategy begin. Walk around the room to ask and answer questions. Encourage students to get creative. When I saw a group struggling, I asked them specific questions like “Is this candy healthier than other competitors?” or “Where is this candy made?”
  9. After twenty-five minutes, allow each group reporter to give the two-minute pitch. It’s incredible how many persuasive points groups squeezed into the short time frame, which is good practice for oral arguments later this spring. From low price points and high calorie counts to the adverse impact of peanut and gluten allergies or the impressive reputations of Stover and Hersey, the students developed a vast array of interesting, compelling arguments. One group emphasized that its candy was still “handcrafted” just as it was when the company began in the family kitchen. Another pointed out the economic benefits of buying candies that were made in the U.S.A. In just a small amount of time, they learned how to tell their candy/client’s story in a memorable, concise way. They organized their points from strongest to weakest and effectively countered the arguments of other groups.
  10. I then allowed each person to vote on which candy he or she believed was best with the caveat that no one could vote for their own candy. (This good idea came from a student. Thanks Corinne!) Students also had to list two reasons they cast their vote for this candy to provide helpful feedback to the presenter.
  11. I then tallied the votes up front and read off the feedback. As I did so, I provided new, additional feedback on my own, answered student questions, and chatted with the groups about which arguments they chose and why.

Finally, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – who won? It was close, but Junior Mints took the prize. Among other things, the group emphasized that Junior Mints are relatively low-fat, their paper box is recyclable, they do not contain nuts that might trigger deadly allergic reactions, and their small bites mean that individuals can eat small portions and save the rest for later. To the winners, go the spoils. The other groups begrudgingly returned any extra candy they had not consumed for “research” purposes into a single bag, which the winning group got to take home.

We finished our vote count with a minute to spare, and I encouraged students to reflect on which arguments and techniques were compelling and why. The fun exercise was a valuable and productive way to spend a class session that got them thinking, moving, talking, laughing, and most importantly, engaging. I’m sure it’s one class that none of us will forget.

As for me, I learned much from this experiment in pedagogy. First, it affirmed the value of attending conferences and conversing with colleagues about teaching. Second, it inspired me to keep innovating and avoid the figurative pedagogical rut we can fall into when teaching the same course every year. The Candy Bowl’s resounding success encourages me to also infuse future classes with fun, new ideas.

Do you have a creative, fun way to teach persuasive advocacy? Share your good ideas at teachlawbetter.com, and we might just post them.

 

[1] I give full attribution to Professor Gram for inspiring this fun new exercise and am only sharing this blog with her permission. In turn, Professor Gram wishes to thank her colleague Professor Catherine Wasson for passing the exercise along to her.

 

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