Theresa Wadkins (University of Nebraska – Kearney) has a quick, but powerful way to demonstrate schemas in action.
On the day she covers schemas, Wadkins walks into class, approaches a student, and asks, “How are you? Are you having a good day?” After the student responds, sometimes in befuddlement, she returns to the front of the room and begins her lecture. A few minutes later, she returns to the student and asks, “How is everything?” Again, the student responds, even more perplexed. And then back to the lecture. For the third and final time, she returns to the same student and asks, “Can I get you anything?”
Wadkins then explains to her students that we have different schemas for what happens in a classroom and what happens in a restaurant. While being asked such questions is peculiar for a classroom, we would be put off if we weren’t asked these very same questions by a server in a restaurant.
If you’d like to expand on this activity, ask students – in small groups or through an online discussion board – to identify the schema characteristics of what happens when a customer visits a sit-down restaurant and the schema characteristics of what happens when a customer visits a fast-food restaurant. Invite students to share the characteristics of each that they generated. Summarize the responses into a coherent schema for each type of restaurant.
Ask students to reflect – in small groups, through an online discussion board, or as a written assignment – on what would happen if they had no schema for a sit-down restaurant when they walked into one. Or if they had no schema for a fast-food restaurant when they walked into one. Or if they walked into one type of restaurant with the schema for the other type of restaurant in mind.
For added discussion or writing assignment, invite students to identify times when a schema they had did not match the situation.