Activity for Memo Assignment: Defining a “Run-down”

shared by tballard on December 2, 2015

Activity Summary:

In this in-class activity, I use a video from the hit sit-com "The Office" to show how encountering a new genre in the workplace can be an intimidating experience. This activity engages students with genre issues in preparation for the memo assignment.



“The Office” is a hit T.V. sit-com series that aired from 2005 to 2013, with a total of nine seasons. A significant part of the show’s success has been attributed to its close-to-life situations. In the video included above, Jim Halpert’s new intimidating boss, Charles, asks him for a run-down of his clients. We see that Jim has no familiarity with this genre, and he tries a few different tactics to understand what it could be.

This activity could be used immediately after explaining the memo assignment to students in English 302 or English 314. In the memo assignment students are required to find multiple examples of a particular workplace genre, identify the generic characteristics, and write a memo to fellow students regarding this workplace communication genre. Once students understand the assignment fairly well, introduce the activity as described below:

  1. Introduce the video. Explain that situations do arise in the workplace where an unfamiliar genre comes up, and the purpose of the memo assignment is to help students learn how to cope with such situations. Ask the students to pay attention to how Jim handles this situation.
  2. Watch the video. I would recommend allowing the video to download a little before actually showing it, so consider opening this page and letting it buffer while you start class. Test this beforehand so you avoid any mishaps. You can expand the video to full screen by clicking the icon in the bottom-right corner. (I apologize for the poor quality of the video. I may try this again with better software and update the video in the next little while.)
  3. Ask the class generally what they think Jim finally did to write his “run-down.”
  4. Ask the class to come up with some likely generic features of a “run-down of clients.” List these on the board as students offer their ideas.
  5. Discuss how the class was able to come up with several features of this genre that they really don’t know much about. Tell them that identifying characteristics of a genre can be easy, but understanding what they are meant to do or why they are used can be much harder.
  6. Ask the students to think of a workplace genre or select one from the assignment sheet. Have them spend just a few minutes writing down features they think the genre will likely include. Ensure they understand that what they encounter may be different from these preconceptions, so they should be open to changing them as needed.

Although this activity doesn’t help the students to directly fulfill the assignment, it does help them realize that they know how to identify characteristics of genres (because almost everybody does). This should provide them with motivation and confidence to complete the memo assignment. The activity also demonstrates the importance of learning expectations for certain genres, as Jim was frantically trying to do.