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The Alien Exercise: A Basic Introduction to Sociology Fieldnote Exercise
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First Week Activities
Undergraduate Research

How to Cite

Wynn, Jonathan. 2020. “The Alien Exercise: A Basic Introduction to Sociology Fieldnote Exercise”. TRAILS: Teaching Resources and Innovations Library for Sociology, April. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.


Getting a class on the same page early in the semester is often a challenge. A quick activity that sparks a lot of conversation without presuming too much knowledge about sociology, and that can bring everyone in regardless of their preparedness for college and the variety of backgrounds in class, can be a valuable commodity in the instructor’s toolkit....

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Subject Area(s):
Introduction to Sociology/Social Problems
Resource Type(s):
Class Activity
Class Level(s):
College 100
Class Size(s):

Usage Notes

This activity is best suited for the first few weeks of class, when students are reading about socialization and culture. It is also a good ‘ice breaker’ for a class. The exercise is inspired by thought experiment in Jen Sincero’s self-help book, You Are A Badass (2018).

Essentially, the exercise invites students to pretend they are alien...

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Learning Goals and Assessments

Learning Goal(s):

  1. Goal #1: Seeing the everyday world through a sociological lens
  2. Goal #2: Students will be introduced to the qualitative methods, and begin to understand the challenges of a scientific method based upon empirical observations.
  3. Goal #3: Concepts like subjectivity, objectivity, and reflexivity can be discussed in class.

Goal Assessment(s):

  1. Assessment #1: Students will be invited to examine parts of their campus that they likely see every day, and try to envision them anew.
  2. Assessment #2: Students will write very rudimentary fieldnotes through with achievable goals.
  3. Assessment #3: Students will be asked to discuss these concepts through guided class conversation by the instructor.

When using resources from TRAILS, please include a clear and legible citation.

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