First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True

First Day Activity: Ten Things You Believe to be True

This resource was originally published by Cultural Anthropology: Teaching Tools:

By Angela Jenks

The first day of class is often a challenge for new instructors. After addressing the inevitable logistical issues (e.g., enrollment, the syllabus, access to course materials), should you end early? Dive right into a lecture? Engage students in an ice-breaking activity?

Like other faculty (Lang 2008; Nilson 2003), I have several goals for the beginning of a class: 1) I want to introduce the course topic and ways of thinking about course materials; 2) I want to introduce myself as an instructor, setting the tone for the rest of the course and stimulating student interest; 3) I want to encourage students to talk to each other, both to learn about their colleagues and to make connections that may prove useful if they want to form study groups or share notes and resources later on; and 4) I want to learn more about who my students are and why they chose to enroll in the course.

Here at the University of California, Irvine, courses run on a quarter schedule, so we have just started spring classes. This has given me the chance, once again, to bring out one of my favorite beginning-of-class activities. I first participated in this activity when I was a student in a folklore course taught by Alexandra Griswold at the University of Pennsylvania. I remembered it years later when I began teaching on my own, and I have used it routinely in both introductory cultural anthropology and anthropology of religion courses. I often use it on the first day of class, and always during the first week. It is easily adaptable to both small and large courses.

The activity has 6 steps:

Step 1

Ask students to write a list of ten things they believe to be true.

In my experience, the activity works better if students do this before class, rather than writing the list during the class session, although I’ve done it both ways. I tell them that I will collect the lists, so all of the items should be things they are comfortable with me knowing, and at least three should be things they are willing to share with other students in the class.

I purposefully leave the interpretation of the term belief up to students, although I often say that they are not limited to listing religious beliefs. Students’ lists often do include statements about the supernatural: I believe that God exists; I believe in karma; I believe that I have seen a ghost; I believe witches are real. Others include statements they perceive to be explicitly anti-religious: I believe in evolution; I believe that science can answer all our questions; I believe that there is no life after death. Many will include statements about their everyday lives: I believe my boyfriend loves me; I believe I live in California. And there are always some whimsical responses: I believe that chocolate makes everything better.

Step 2

In class, students are instructed to find a partner who they do not know well. Each student should interview his or her partner, learning the partner’s name and other information (e.g., major, year in school, where they are from) and three things she or he believes to be true. Small groups of three are also fine if necessary. I often explicitly tell students that they should not simply trade lists to read, but should share their three beliefs in conversation. This step can usually be completed in 5–10 minutes.

Step 3

Ask students to introduce their partners to the entire class and to share one thing their partner believes to be true. At this stage, I have divided the board into three columns. I write short versions of these beliefs in the first column. In small classes, every student is introduced; in large classes, I ask for volunteers to introduce their partners.

Step 4

Ask students why, when they were being interviewed, they chose that set of three beliefs to share with their partner. I write these responses in the second column on the board. Common responses include: Those were the three I felt strongest about; the three I’m most certain of; the three I thought were least weird; the three I thought others would agree with and not judge; the three I thought would be most controversial; the three I thought were most unique to me.

Step 5

Ask students why, when they were introducing their partner to the class, they chose that one belief to share. Again, I write the responses on the board, this time in the third column. Common responses include: That was the one I agreed with; the one I thought everyone else could relate to; the one that was most different from my own beliefs; the one I remembered; the one nobody else had said yet.

Step 6

Depending on the course I am teaching, this activity provides a segue into future conversations about epistemology, the culture concept, anthropological representation, or ethnographic research. In introductory courses, I ask students to reflect on their understandings of the term belief, and I use their lists to help demonstrate multiple ways of knowing. Following this activity, we might talk about the problems of defining culture or religion in terms of easily articulated beliefs, and I emphasize the normalized, invisible aspects of cultural life that we would never think to write on a list or to state to a stranger.

This activity is also helpful as I encourage students to question common understandings of culture that presume bounded groups: the Azande believe X; the Trobriand Islanders believe Y; or Latinos believe Z. Would it be possible, I ask, to create a list of what college students believe?

The activity is also a simple way to introduce some of the complexities of ethnography and to encourage students to think critically about the way anthropological knowledge is produced. What factors, we discuss, might affect the ways in which people talk to an anthropologist or the ways anthropologists write about their data and craft ethnographic representations? Are any of those similar to the factors that affected what students in the class chose to share or report?

In upper-division classes, students and I engage in a deeper interrogation of the concept of belief in the history of anthropology, and this activity leads into a discussion of introductory readings by Malcolm Ruel (1997), Byron Good (1993), or Stanley Tambiah (1990).  

I have found this activity to be successful at a variety of institutions. In addition to introducing and encouraging critical reflection on course concepts and providing a reference point for future class discussions, the “ten things you believe to be true” activity gives students an opportunity to meet each other, encourages their active participation in the course, and allows me to learn more about my students and their understandings of anthropology.


Good, Byron J. 1994. “Medical Anthropology and the Problem of Belief.” In Medicine, Rationality, and Experience: An Anthropological Perspective, 1–24. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lang, James M. 2008. On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 

Nilson, Linda B. 2003. Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors. 2nd edition. Bolton, Mass.: Anker.  

Ruel, Malcolm. 1997. “Christians as Believers.” In Belief, Ritual, and the Securing of Life: Reflexive Essays on a Bantu Religion, 36–59. Leiden: Brill.

Tambiah, Stanley Jeyaraja. 1990. Magic, Science, Religion, and the Scope of Rationality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Resource Contributed By: Angela Jenks, University of California, Irvine

El Reino de las Mujeres

El Reino de las Mujeres

Foto por: Seihon Cho. Mujer Mosou y Turista Han en Lago Lugu

Leer este recurso en Ingles:

Yo regularmente uso el corto documental de PBS/Frontline titulado The Woman’s Kingdom (El Reino de las Mujeres) en mis cursos de Introducción a la Antropología, para presentar material sobre el matrimonio, familia, y parentesco. La película presenta a la minoría étnica matrilineal del sudoeste de China, los Mosuo, centrándose en la práctica del “matrimonio ambulante” y la estructura de la familia matrilocal Mosuo.  Frecuentemente uso el filme para iniciar unidades sobre parentesco y familia con el objetivo de dar a conocer la diversidad cultural en los sistemas de parentesco, destacando el hecho que los patrones culturales de la paternidad y matrimonios de cohabitación no son culturalmente universales. He descubierto que esta es una forma muy impactante y memorable de introducirse a estos temas para muchos estudiantes.

La película también discute las presiones que están afectando y originando cambios en la sociedad Mosua como: la degradación ambiental, el turismo y la penetración de los valores culturales de la  mayoría China han.La película puede ser usada para comparar y contrastar las luchas que muchos grupos de etnias minoritarias enfrentan en los Estados-nación grandes. Los estudiantes pueden apreciar que si bien el cambio cultural es inevitable y ningún grupo cultural permanece estático, algunos cambios pueden ser más dañinos que otros.

También, he usado el filme para destacar el tema del Agente Humano. Cerca del final de la versión completa del filme, observamos que la protagonista principal de la película, Chacuo, se resiste a sus propias normas culturales, eligiendo vivir con el padre de su hija, un hombre Han que conoció cuando el visito su comunidad como turista. La pareja no tiene planes de casarse, sin embargo, siguen comprometidos el uno con el otro, contrariando las expectativas de sus familias y culturas. Su relación de pareja no tradicional es una ilustración de como en todas las sociedades, las personas tienen la capacidad de ajustarse, resistir o incluso transformar las expectativas culturales de ellos. Esta idea que las personas son agentes de acción y no son esclavos de su cultura es algo que presento anticipadamente en mis cursos de antropología cultural. Este cortometraje me permite reforzar este concepto por muchas semanas en el semestre, que ayuda para la retención, proveyendo un contexto cultural dentro del cual los estudiantes pueden conceptualizar esta idea. En las discusiones que siguen, los estudiantes a menudo exploran formas en las que su propia familia se adapta  o no se adapta a las normas y expectativas de su propia cultura. Los estudiantes también pueden discutir sobre mecanismos culturales y sociales (es decir: vergüenza, chismes, entre otros) así como mecanismos gubernamentales (por ejemplo: leyes sobre la bigamia, apoyo para la niñez, el diseño de viviendas, entre otros.) que trabajan para hacer cumplir ciertas normas de matrimonio y estructura familiar.

La corta duración de la película (20 minutos) es suficientemente larga para proporcionar suficiente contexto cultural y profundidad. Sin embargo no ocupa todo el período de clase. También hay disponible una versión de transmisión más corta (10 minutos).

Link para ver la película.

Tip de Busqueda : Buscar  la pelicula  en You Tube. La calidad de imagen parece mejor que las versiones del sitio de PBS  y parece que ya no lo apoyan mas.

Recurso aportado por: Katie Nelson, PhD, Inver Hills Community College

Traducción por: Wendy Torres