It’s that time. The Big Dance. Bids are in. Tickets are punched. Bubbles are burst. Brackets are ready but not yet busted.

Why not ride the wave of excitement and create your own. No, not your own NCAA pool. Leave that to your colleagues. Use your time to create your own bracket to frame class discussion! I’ve found that this framework works amazingly well as a way to have students make choices and have to justify them to me and convince their peers. Interested in injecting energy into class discussion? This framework is a dipsy-doo-dunk-a-roo! It’s awesome, baby!!

Copy of BracketCopy of Bracket 8

As a language teacher, I’ve used the bracket to frame conversations on everything from the best day of the week to the most important innovations of our times to favorite foods. I have found it works across levels. Like all quality activities, this one can be scaled according to class level and size.

The possibilities can rage from 4 to 64, or even now, 68. I have found that the “Sweet Sixteen” is the sweet spot, the most manageable number you can expect to cover in a class period. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that some of the conversations about seeding–who is in and who is out to begin the bracket–are the most spirited. They are generative and creative; after that, they become more critical, though I encourage all creative ways students try to make their case. I like the mix of creative and critical thinking.

There are a number of ways that you can use the brackets:

  • Brainstorm the teams and seeds as a homework assignment using tools like Google Forms, Padlet or Answer Garden. Follow up with the competition in class.
  • Provide students with the bracket ready to go–you are the Selection Committee–and have them continue from there.
  • Use two class periods: one to set the stage for the Big Dance and another to “play.”
  • Do any of the above by flipping the in-class and at-home portions.
  • Have students do any of the above individually or in groups.
  • “Compete” with another section of the same class.

One important note: though the debate might get heated and the crowd may get rowdy, we must remind students that there are no right or wrong answers, no winners and learners, no prohibitive favorites. This framework is all about the process and the way students express their opinions and back them up with examples. In this sense this version of March Madness is a bit like the madness on the improv comedy show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” As the hosts used to say, “Welcome to ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?,’the show where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter.” Experience tells me that student buy into this pretty easily.

Not a language teacher? No te preocupes. Try world leaders, presidents, mythological heroes, artists, innovators, theorems, formulas, elements, bills, laws, policies, parts of speech, Shakespeare’s protagonists, Shakespeare’s villains, etc.

Either print the brackets (16, 8) above or make your own based on the templates here (16) or here (8). (If you use the online version, please make a copy.)

If you have any suggestions for how to improve the process, or if you have any similar ideas, please share.