Introducing Play to the Composition Classroom

Introducing Play to the Composition Classroom

Why We Need Play

In 1991, Lex Runciman published a striking article in College English that forced compositionists to pause and reflect on their field. Paging through the previous two years' worth of College Composition and Communication and College English issues prompted Runciman to ask an important question: Where is the fun in composition? During his survey of journals, Runciman encountered great difficulty finding any mention of writing and writing instruction "as positive things, as activities yielding results other than difficulty, struggle, and frustration" (156). He concludes that popular pedagogy approaches writing as a constant problem to be solved, a never-ending series of wars to be fought (159). This mentality can certainly help improve student writing, but it can also suppress the genuine enjoyment inherent in the act of writing.

Admittedly, Runciman was writing twenty-three years ago in a very different composition climate. Yet what makes his article so special is that it reads like it was written in 2015. The primary argument Runciman makes about the lack of fun in composition seems as timely as ever. With a major few exceptions, journals still focus on problem solving, managing, and disciplining without so much as hinting at the joyful, exciting, and intrinsically qualities that could, and should, characterize the field. Many incoming college students continue to dread freshman composition. Although the course has radically changed over the past twenty years, the infamous research paper assignment continues to frighten nervous freshmen engaging in college writing for the first time. For many non-English majors, composition does not seem fun.

What composition needs is play. The type of play for which we advocate in this webtext is called serio-ludic play, described by Rouzie as that which "grounds play in a combination of serious and ludic purposes and effects in rhetorical writing and communication studies. Play of this kind connects writers and audiences in novel ways by healing the work/play dichotomy" (642). Playing for play's sake certainly has benefits, but serio-ludic play combines the universal benefits of play with learning. When play is emphasized, freshman composition projects no longer seem like tedious work. Rather, they take the appearance of a work/play hybrid that is as educational as it is pleasurable. In this webtext, we offer sample activities that freshman composition instructors might utilize to make their classrooms more playful. All of these activities, of course, are derived from our principles of play.