I have to preface this with a disclaimer: I like both Literature Humanities and Contemporary Civilization. They’re worthwhile classes (even if their syllabi fall short on the Women and People of Color scales) and they foster fascinating discussions. I’m a more thoughtful member of society thanks to those classes, and I’m grateful for that.
But over four semesters of required discussion sections, we have all had, and will have, our off days.
Sometimes it’s right after lunch and you’re sinking into a food coma. Sometimes you dedicated your last fuck to last night’s Advanced Programming lab and you have no fucks to give your morning CC class. Sometimes you just don’t enjoy classics and philosophy. Sometimes you do, but let’s face it—Lit Hum and CC can be paint-watchingly boring for even the most engaged Columbian.
And participation is like 15 percent of your grade or something. So while it’s no replacement for doing the reading and knowing the material, you really shouldn’t let your participation grade dip for any reason. When you’re having one of those days, try some of these tips for low-effort participation points.
Speak up near the start of class.
Put on a real good show in the first five minutes of class. Have the instructor call on you early. This diverts attention from you as class goes on, leaving you free to daydream or doodle for the remaining hour and a half. And the questions at the beginning of class are usually the basic ones—“Who can explain what happened in this chapter?”—that you can probably answer using your well-oiled memory of the first chapter of the book (or Sparknotes... but we’re still trying here).
You don’t have to talk about the reading...
In a class with free-flowing discussion, there will be conversational drift, and you won’t always be talking about the reading. If you haven’t done the reading for the day, that’s when you need to strike. Once you’re into the gray areas, latch onto someone’s slightly off-topic comment and respond to it. You’re contributing to the conversation, and if you’re lucky, no one will notice that you never said a thing about the topic at hand.
...because you can find innumerable “themes” to talk about instead.
Ever wondered how nobility, sacrifice, and love recur almost as commonly in Homer’s epics as your Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning hangover? Themes and motifs abound in every Lit Hum book—the CC ones take a little digging and a loose grasp on the philosophy—and can provide you with endless fodder for talking points.
Don’t be so silent that the instructor takes notice.
You can get away with it once in a while, but completely avoiding class participation will get you a reputation. And when you get a reputation for avoiding participation, you’re gonna get called on. Getting called on is the worst—everyone knows why you’re getting called on, and you can’t be sure that you’ll know how to answer the question thrown at you. It’s far better to jump into the discourse on your own, hesitant terms than to get pushed in when you’re not expecting it.
Agree with your classmates.
In a pinch, you can fill your participation quota by using the tried-and-true, “Yeah, I just wanted to say that I agree with the previous comment from Billy Bob because…” Plug in the appropriate vocab words from the reading and voilà, you have a complete thought. Bonus points for boosting Billy Bob’s ego.
And if you’re really lazy...
Use our ready-made talking points:
I really like how the theme of [insert theme] interacts with the [insert other theme] in [insert text name].
There is constant tension between the [insert “hubris”-like word] and the [insert other fatal flaw] of [insert main (probably male) character].
[Author] seems to doubt that man can successfully [somewhat profound action verb] without first being [euphemism for arrogant asshole].
There is a constant reminder that [insert human weakness] surfaces when a call to action requires [hero’s name] to question his [insert moral].