Fun With Fallacies

Course Name: 
WRD 111
Assignment Type: 
Classroom Activity
Assignment Length: 
One Class Period
Primary Pedagogical Focus: 
Preparation Guidance and Instructor Advice: 

Teaching fallacies can be hard.  The textbook provides definitions, and I found that I had very little to add to those definitions to make them more digestible for students.  Instead, I found that having them actually work with the fallacies helps them to get a better grasp on them.  

Step 1:  Make a large enough list of the fallacies so that there are as many list items as you have students (this may require repeating fallacies)

Step 2:  Cut the list up into small, one-fallacy pieces, put those pieces in a hat or some such receptacle, and pass it around the classroom instructing each student to take one fallacy.

Step 3:  As the fallacies are being passed around, write a short list of topics on the board.  For example, gay marriage, euthanasia, marijuana legalization, etc.  The list should be large enough that each student will have some knowledge of at least one of the topics.

Step 4:  Have the students come up with an argument for one of the topics using the fallacy which they have selected.  For example, if a student has chosen "Slippery Slope", then they could choose the issue of marijuana and say that if we legalize marijuana, then we'd have to legalize heroin, cocaine, meth, etc. and soon everybody in the country would be a violent, drug-addicted criminal.  They should be encouraged to exaggerate the fallacy as much as they want in order to show its inherent flaw.

Step 5:  Once the students have finished writing, have them go around the classroom and read the argument that they have come up with WITHOUT revealing their chosen fallacy.  Then have the class first attempt to guess which fallacy was chosen, then discuss why the argument was fallacious, e.g. legalizing marijuana does not necessitate the legalization of anything else, legalization doesn't guarantee use, etc.

This activity works well to actually immerse students in the world of fallacies so that they can see how they work in a real-life setting and will help them to recognize similar fallacies in the future.  Most of my students were fairly confused about at least a few of the fallacies after having read their definitions, but had a much stronger understanding of what they were and what was wrong with them by the end of this activity.

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