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Dr. Ortiz is an author of Choices and Connections, and has taught for over 30 years, beginning in 1983 at Clovis Community College (NM). He joined the Scottsdale Community College faculty in 1989, where he teaches courses on human communication, interpersonal and small group communication, and digital storytelling. In support of student learning, Dr. Ortiz is heavily involved in the use of classroom assessment tools, service learning, collaborative learning methods, and the use of online technology. Below, read more about one of his teaching methods, the use of trigger scripts.


Competing with the commotion of memes, Spotify playlists, viral videos, and Instagram postings that consume our students’ attention, teachers must somehow design lessons that invite interest in our subject matter. Among the various ways we can catch and hold student attention is to use instructional activities that they will find intellectually stimulating and relevant to their lives (Bolkan & Griffin, 2018). A strategy that I’ve found helpful for engaging students is the use of trigger scripts for introducing a lesson.


A trigger script is a vignette that conveys a communication-based dilemma, and a resolution or conclusion is not provided. Trigger scripting evolves out of the work of performance studies scholars who use excerpts from literature for the expressed purpose of promoting audience discussion about social issues (Valentine & Valentine, 1983). Vignettes can be crafted out of literature; or in my case, I’ve simply employed my imagination and creative writing aspirations to fashion trigger scripts. Here’s one example, which I’ve entitled, “I’ll be 2 hours late”:


You’re out running errands when your romantic partner text messages you that s/he’ll be about two hours late coming home from work. You decide to stop at the mall to kill some time. About 30 minutes later, you pass by a patio bar and see your partner with three other co-workers having drinks. One of the co-workers is someone that you have long suspected is attracted to your partner. How would you feel? What would you do?


I use this trigger script as a basis for starting a lesson on communication competence and its characteristics in my introductory interpersonal communication course. When I present this in class, I always give students time to think and write a response to the two questions before moving them to small discussion groups. I give the small groups two ground rules: (1) You’re not trying to agree on the right answer, and (2) Don’t go “Dr Phil” on anyone (i.e., avoid judgment).



The energy in the room is palpable during the small group discussion, and it reaches a crescendo when I debrief the entire class. Students state that they would feel deceived, jealous, outraged, and some mention that they’d be unfazed because they trust their partners. The discussion then leads us to examine what it means to be effective, appropriate, and ethical in forming a communicative response to this situation. We also begin exploring concepts of perspective-taking and behavioral flexibility.


In addition to writing your own trigger scripts or excerpting them from literature, you can draw vignettes from film and television programs. A television program that is a ready made trigger script is the ABC program; What would you do? I use an episode that pertains to a disruptive baby in a fine dining restaurant for introducing the unit on conflict. I start the lesson by posing the dilemma orally:


You’re at an upscale restaurant (I ask them to name an expensive one in the city) to celebrate a special occasion. A baby at an adjacent table starts to get fussy, eventually crying loudly. How would you respond?


Student responses range from ignoring the disruption (avoidance) to giving the parents a menacing stare (passive aggressive). We then watch the episode in class (c. 8 minutes). The trigger script serves as a springboard for a classroom discussion about the various styles of responding to conflict, including a consideration of the personal, cultural, and relational factors that impact how we respond to conflict.


Although I use trigger scripts for classroom instruction, the strategy certainly can be adapted for online teaching by using discussion forums. Whether it’s in the classroom or online, the management of student attention is increasingly tough to do, but it’s an important prerequisite to learning. The judicious use of a trigger script is a practical way of engaging students to see the the personal relevance of the topics we teach.            




Bolkan, S.  & Darrin J. Griffin, D. J.  (2018) Catch and hold: instructional interventions and their differential impact on student interest, attention, and autonomous motivation, Communication Education, 67:3, 269-286, DOI: 10.1080/03634523.2018.1465193


Valentine, K. B.  & D. E. Valentine, D. E. (1983) Facilitation of intercultural communication through performed literature, Communication Education, 32:3,303-307, DOI: 10.1080/03634528309378546

Melanie McFadyen

Welcome Back!

Posted by Melanie McFadyen Aug 23, 2018

While it may be too early to start eating pumpkin-shaped candies or drinking pumpkin-spiced lattes, the inevitable truth is that summer is once again ending. Of course, that's exciting in itself, as it means fall is on the way - and a new school year with it!



This year, Macmillan is welcoming the new academic year with a series of back-to-school blog posts written specially by our authors. Each Thursday over the next few weeks, we'll have a new blog to help you start the semester off right - including tips for keeping students engaged, trends to discuss in class this fall, and more. We'll also have another message from our team announcing the addition of GIFTs, our professional resource to help you better communicate in the classroom, to our community site.


Be sure to stay tuned over the next month! You can get notifications of our new blogs to your email by clicking the "Follow" button in the right-hand corner of the page. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the rest of the summer, and have a wonderful start to the new academic year!



The Communication Team

Macmillan Learning

In my journalism classes, I used to teach using the building-block method. I would set up my class in chunks: present the material, assign a story, require follow up reports and peer reviews, and have students turn in an assignment. This process took about four weeks. Then I would do it again with new material, a new kind of story, and more follow-ups that resulted in another story. At this rate, I was lucky if my students could write four stories a semester.


The building-block method is good for perfecting old material before moving on to new material, but it went against my teaching philosophy for writing: "practice makes perfect."


Learning by Doing


Short deadlines and multiple priorities are hallmarks of the newsroom. No one has time to help anyone else because they’re so busy themselves. You don’t get a long, leisurely introduction to the job. You just do it.


Journalism, like public speaking, takes practice, practice, and more practice. You can’t teach someone how to feel when they’re interviewing an intimidating figure. You can’t teach them how to know when someone’s lying to them. You can’t teach them to know when the story just isn’t going to work out.


So how can you give your students lots of practical experience in doing what the pros do? Turn your classroom into a newsroom.


To replicate the newsroom, turn the first three weeks of the semester into Journalism Boot Camp, covering newsworthiness, the inverted pyramid, research, interviewing, and anything else you feel it's necessary to cover in a class setting.


After that, assign stories with deadlines and send the students out for reporting. The time they spend reporting takes the place of class time. By the end of the semester, students will write around 10 news stories.


But, what about all that grading?


Imagine 20 students per class, 10 assignments per semester. That’s 200 assignments to grade per class. What if you teach four classes? Now you’re up to 800 assignments. And that doesn’t include the labs, quizzes and tests that require attention.


That’s why the class is like a newsroom. In my class, students get four assignments at a time and can turn them in in any order they like. There’s a catch: when they turn in an assignment, they must make an appointment with me the next week to edit it. Since they are out working on stories, my class time is freed up for individual appointments. Each student gets 10 to 15 minutes of my undivided attention as I edit (grade) their assignment.


Most of my grading is done on the spot, in the classroom, with the student. No more sending back assignments with feedback they never read. No more wondering if they understand my feedback, or even care. Now I get to look them in the eye.




I do bring them back into class for a week near midterms and again near the end of the semester. They discuss how their stories have gone. They talk about what went well and what didn’t, much like reporters do in the newsroom. Students share how they handled situations that others found troublesome. They take suggestions from each other and offer their advice.


Students have even set up outside groups to discuss assignments and how to approach them. Our “newsroom” has become more collaborative.


The best part is that by the end of the semester they’ve gained a great deal of confidence, and I really enjoy grading their work.


Marti Gayle Harvey is a Lecturer at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she teaches journalism. 


Some see writing as a solitary process. Some teach it as a solitary process. However, teaching writing as a group activity lets students explore how others approach learning the craft, allowing them to come up with their own approach.

The writing process generally goes from thinking of a topic, collecting information, crafting a message and revising it. When done in a solitary environment, feedback is important but lagging because of grading time. When done in groups, feedback is immediate and, since it comes from peers, it seems more like a conversation than a lecture.



I use a form of flip teaching. It consists of students being introduced to a concept through online content by reviewing materials for a basic understanding. When students come to class they work on a low-points, graded lab, applying the concepts to a concrete example. Finally, a classroom discussion among the groups allows for a review of the lab allowing the teacher to guide the discussion making sure concepts are covered and understood.

I found that the lab portion needed more pizzazz. Some students would finish labs early and just sit there waiting on everyone else. Others pulled out their phones. The room was quiet, and students were bored. I was, too.

One day I put them in groups of three, mainly because I could cut down my grading, but it also kept the room from sounding like a crypt. They had to talk to each other.


I had them work on changing a story from passive to active voice. This is one of the hardest concepts for young writers. They must determine if the subject is doing something or if something is being done to it.

The exercise was a hit. I caught them explaining concepts to each other. They got immediate feedback. The lab results were much better, too. They “got it” much faster.

And they laughed. They laughed at each other. They laughed at themselves. Mostly they laughed when they tried something and it didn’t work. Eavesdropping on their conversations convinced me that they were having fun. They were learning.



I came to the conclusion that they learn better from each other than they do from me. One reason is that group work allows for highly differentiated learning styles.

Visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic learning styles adapt spontaneously to group work. If someone needs to hear it, there is always someone in the group willing to let them read it to them. If someone needs to do it, they can “break it down” for the other group members. Visual learners will understand the structure and reading/writing learners are usually the scribes of the group.

Another reason that group work works is because it is fun. Especially if it’s nothing more than a low-points lab. They get to explore concepts, don’t have a lot to lose if they’re wrong, and they get to do more than sit around on their phones waiting for the rest of the class to finish.

The idea that nonverbal signals can be used strategically to influence an outcome or reveal unspoken information about others has captured the minds of researchers and the general public alike. This fascination with nonverbal communication is apparent across various forms of media, such as articles analyzing nonverbal messages in politicians’ speeches, TED talks, and even television shows.


Nonverbal communication plays a significant role in both the conscious and unconscious processes of encoding and decoding information. Although the effect of nonverbal communication on others’ perceptions is often discussed, the influence of nonverbal communication on self-perception should not be overlooked. Research by social psychologist Amy Cuddy suggests adopting expansive postures, or “power poses,” can significantly affect personal feelings of power. Cuddy’s work provides evidence that embodying states such as confidence or dominance through power poses, even and especially when a person does not feel powerful, can positively influence personal feelings of power.


Here are several nonverbal communication techniques for both feeling and appearing more confident:


Take up space.  Humans and animals often display specific postures and behaviors in response to success and failure. For example, research by Jessica Tracy and David Matsumoto (2008) found congenitally blind athletes demonstrated the same nonverbal expressions of victory (arms raised in a “V” shape, head tilted back, expanded chest, etc.) as athletes born with sight, suggesting nonverbal displays of pride and shame in response to success or failure may be biologically innate. Expansive postures related to feelings of power can also be observed in nature, with animals and creatures often physically taking up space in order to establish dominance.



To project confidence and increase personal feelings of power, think about opening up. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and your chest open and maintaining good posture by standing or sitting up straight with your feet grounded. Remember to breathe deeply and relax your muscles. When interacting with others or giving a presentation, use open and authentic gestures to support your verbal messages and signal confidence. Avoid adopting contractive postures such as the "penguin gesture," which refers to keeping your arms close to your sides while gesturing from the elbows down.



Smile. Smiling can significantly influence others’ perceptions and responses. A study conducted by Grandey et al. (2005) indicates people who smile authentically are not only perceived as more likeable and courteous, but also appear more competent. Many research studies support the idea that smiling is contagious, suggesting it is difficult to control your facial reactions when looking at someone who is smiling.


Smiling can also positively affect one’s mood and emotional experience. A famous psychology study conducted by Strack et al. (1988) examined the effect of manipulating facial muscles on participants’ experiences of humor. Participants reported more intense humor ratings when holding a pen between their teeth in a way intended to mimic muscle activity associated with smiling, suggesting facial expressions can influence one’s emotional experience.


To boost confidence, practice smiling more often. Even if it initially feels forced or artificial, the simple act of changing your facial expression can significantly improve your mood and positively affect those around you.


Dress the part.  Research suggests clothing can powerfully influence not only how others perceive us, but also how we perceive ourselves. For example, Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky (2002) found participants displayed increased selective attention when wearing a lab coat compared to their task performance while not wearing a lab coat. Interestingly, the participants’ performance was influenced by the symbolic significance of the clothing. Participants who were told the lab coat they were wearing was a doctor’s coat displayed increased sustained attention compared to those who were told they were wearing a painter’s coat. 


Other studies suggest wearing formal clothing can likewise influence self-perception due to positive symbolic associations. In a study conducted by Bettina Hannover and Ulrich Kühnen (2006), participants were asked to arrive dressed either formally or casually. The researchers found participants who were dressed formally were more likely to select formal trait adjectives to describe themselves, while participants wearing casual clothes used more casual adjectives to describe themselves. 


To feel and appear more confident, make sure to dress appropriately for the situation. While it is important to conform to clothing norms, especially in professional contexts, consider adding a subtle accessory or distinctive feature to project uniqueness and independence. Research suggests individuals who slightly deviate from clothing norms are perceived as having higher status and competence than conforming individuals, a phenomenon known as the “red sneakers effect." Pay attention to how you feel while wearing specific clothing and take note of outfits in which you feel most powerful.



Speak slowly and intentionally. Just as confident nonverbal communication involves taking up physical space, it also involves taking up temporal space. A study by Hughes et al. (2014) investigating the effect of intentional vocal manipulations on others’ perceptions suggests people who speak slower are more likely to be perceived as having confidence than those who speak faster. Interestingly, female participants in the study tended to speak more quickly when attempting to portray confidence; however, this strategy was largely ineffective. Researchers also found that both men and women who spoke with a lower pitch were generally perceived as being more dominant. Another study examining the effect of vocal pitch on voting behavior suggests voices with a lower pitch are associated with favorable personality traits such as attractiveness and dominance.


Remember to speak slowly and take pauses in order to communicate with confidence. People tend to speak more quickly and with a higher pitch when they feel nervous. Pay attention to your vocal pitch and try speaking with a lower-pitched voice to portray greater power and confidence. Consider varying your pitch within your vocal range to emphasize your message and match the emotions you would like to communicate.


Note: It is important to remember the cultural context when considering nonverbal communication. The techniques discussed above are most applicable to a Western cultural context and may not convey the same meaning in other cultural contexts. 

We’ve all worked on a team at some point, but have you ever been told you would be on a team and cringed at the thought because of a previous bad experience? As we have more opportunities to work with teams, we realize that there are people who we would LOVE to work with again at some point, and there are others who we would prefer to leave in the past. Whatever your experience, it is safe to say that every project that involves group work teaches us a lesson about relationships.

As a teacher, I sometimes use class time to observe and discuss group dynamics. A student once said to me, “team work makes the dream work,” and yes, it does! At least, it does if there is cohesion, trust, engagement, and reliability. What happens when the team doesn’t work? Will you remember who worked their tails off? Will you remember those who still have their tails because of the lack of effort? Sure, you will; the memory of the efforts or lack thereof will always be there. Present behaviors can have a future impact, whether we realize it or not. Pareto’s Law, also known as the 80/20 rule, is a theory that explains that 80 percent of the output from a given situation or system is determined by 20 percent of the input. Speaking in terms of employee performance, this theory suggests that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Have you ever experienced that? If not, you might at some point.


My point is this: work ethic matters because people are watching, and no job comes with the security of lifetime employment. Whether you realize it or not, you are subconsciously observing people and they are observing you. You know just from your own observations whether or not you would want to work with a particular person again. You remember those who are great, those who are less than great, and forget those who fly under the radar and get lost in the middle. Let’s be honest – you’re not going to recommend someone forgettable for a job anytime soon. Establishing solid relationships and putting your best foot forward are important because when things go awry in an organization and labor cuts need to be made, you need others who can vouch for your work ethic. You need people who will say, “Send me your resume so that I can forward it to…”

As an educator, I put my best foot forward because I know my students are watching me just as I am watching them. I know which ones are dependable and reliable; I also know the ones who are not. I enjoy writing recommendations for those who try, and I write recommendations for those I would hire. I do not feel comfortable recommending someone for a position I would not hire. And who knows? My students might be in a position to hire me one day, so I better be the best possible leader for them.

The key takeaway here is that present behavior impacts future opportunities. Through the power of observation, opportunities can be created or lost. Strive to be in the 20% of the workforce that gets remembered for your impact, and your future self will thank you.

Professionally yours,