Course Activity: “The Lifeboat”


Assignment Title: “The Lifeboat”

Authors: Maseri Schultz, California State University Northridge (

Date published: August, 2022

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Class Info/Tags: Face-to-Face, Synchronous, Composition Studies

Course Motivation: To prepare students for college-level argumentation, paragraph development, and academic research.

Context of Use: I use this activity at the very beginning of the semester, Day 2 or 3, to teach general argumentation (a precursor to our lesson on thesis statements). The activity presents students with a Titanic-type situation: ten survivors of an ocean-liner crash are hoping to board the last lifeboat to safety, but there are only seven seats. The accompanying handout provides bios of the 10 hopefuls, each with their own pros and cons. Students read through the handout on their own, and work in small groups to discuss who they would save and leave behind. We conclude with a full class discussion/debate, and focus on supporting our claims with specific evidence (from the handout, personal knowledge, Googled research, etc.).

Instructor Reflection: This is a fantastic beginning-of-semester activity because students have strong opinions about each of the characters and are eager to share them. I’ve used this activity in every writing class for 6 years, and every single class has responded with great energy and humor. Not only does it prepare students for supporting claims with evidence, but it’s also a great first step in building a comfortable classroom community. One difficulty I encounter every once in a while is the overly argumentative student who dominates discussion. The more I’ve approached the activity with humor and called on various groups and students to share opinions, the less aggressive students have derailed discussion.

About Author

Jennifer Burke Reifman

Jennifer Burke Reifman is a 5th year Education Ph.D. Candidate at U.C. Davis with an emphasis in Writing, Rhetoric, and Composition Studies. Her research focuses on technology in the writing classroom, writing program administration, and student identity and agency. When she isn't being a graduate student and writing teacher, she spends most of her time playing with her 3-year old son, tending her backyard garden, or diving into a video game.

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is a PhD candidate in the Joint Program in English & Education at the University of Michigan, where she also teaches in the English Department Writing Program. Her research interests include digital rhetoric, gender and discourse, and gaming studies. Her dissertation project explores how women use multimodal discourse—grammatically, narratively, and visually—to navigate online gaming ecologies.