Ranking Exercises in Sociology

‘Ranking is an academic exercise; through the exchange of opinion thinking is exercised and personal understanding is achieved of key issues and concepts. This results in deep rather than shallow learning.’ (1)

Ranking research methods, concepts, or even simple value-statements against some pre-set criteria is (IMO) one of the most efficient and useful* ways of developing students’ evaluation skills.

As with just about everything in life – all of this is explained much better through the use of examples, below are a few of my favourite ranking exercises:

At some point, hopefully very soon I’ll get around to putting the actual resources I use online somewhere so you can download them!

EXAMPLE ONE: Rank the RESEARCH METHOD according to the criteria…

Research Methods Sociology Ranking.png

  • Obviously provide students with the above cards so they can sort them!
  • Additional instruction/ criteria slides might include ‘validity’, ‘representativeness’ etc.

EXAMPLE TWO: Rank the RESEARCH TOPIC according to the Methods criteria

Very useful for Methods in Context this!

(Display on PPT): Rank the following topics according to how easy YOU would find it to gain access to conduct research.

Cards you could use (each bullet point on a separate card)

  • Researching how the values, attitudes, and aspirations of parents contribute to the achievement of certain groups of children
  • Why boys are more likely to be excluded than girls
  • Why white working class boys underachieve
  • Exploring whether teachers have ‘ideal pupils’ – whether they label certain groups of pupils favourably
  • Looking at whether the curriculum is ethnocentric (racist/ homophobic
  • Exploring the extent to which sexist ‘bullying’ disadvantages children
  • Examining how ‘gender identities’ enhance or hinder children’s ability to learn
  • Assessing the relative importance of cultural deprivation versus material deprivation in explaining underachievement

Example 3: Rank the ’causes’ of the social change

(Display on PPT): Rank the following reasons according to how significant they are in explaining the long term decline in the birth rate.

Cards you could use (with this topic I might actually include a bit more detail on the backs)

  • Economic changes
  • Changes in the position of children
  • Changing gender roles
  • Postmodernisation
  • Technological changes

Example 4: Rank the Example to how far it applies to men and women AND how liberating/ oppressive it is

I’m claiming this ‘double whammy’ ranking exercise – never seen it before. NB If you ‘spatialise’ this by making students hold one card each and go to different places in the room, you can even add in a third axis by getting them to hold the cards high or low.

(Display on PPT): Along the horizontal axis rank the cards according to whether it applies exclusively to men or women, or equally to both; along the vertical axis rank according to whether the experience is oppressive or liberating:

Feminism Diagram

Suggestions for cards (I use about 20 for this)

  • Becoming a police officer
  • Becoming a nurse
  • Becoming a soldier
  • Going to jail
  • Becoming a politician
  • Becoming a CEO
  • Being the primary child carer
  • Motherhood
  • Fatherhood
  • Being a victim of sexual harassment

Hints and tips for using ranking activities effectively

  1. Use them – they are very efficient – all you need is a set of cards with the words on that need ranking and a power point slide with the criteria and instructions **.
  2. I recommend having no more than 8 cards (it gets tiresome with more than 8), and you probably don’t want to do more than ‘4 rounds’ of matching with the same cards, students tend to get a bit sick of it after that.
  3. Technically I’m sure you can match and rank nearly anything against anything, so mess around with it, you might even get some lateral thinking going!
  4. Do I really need to remind you to make yer cards real perty and laminate ’em???

Sources and Further Notes

(1) Ginnis (2002) Teachers Toolkit

*There are maybe more useful ways, but for the busy teacher in mainstream state education, ranking exercises are extremely quick to produce.

**You could do this on paper, and just get students to write in the order (say 1-10), or I’m sure there are online versions too, but personally I like cards – they’re nice and tactile!

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