Go Ahead! Open That Can of Worms: A Lesson for Introducing ChatGPT

“I don’t think you should be talking about this,” a ninth grader muttered under his breath as he gritted his teeth and sank a bit lower in his chair. 

No, this was not the response when I started a lesson about healthy relationships during our Catcher in the Rye study (everyone likes hearing their English teacher talk about dating and consent, right?); instead, it was uttered at the start of a lesson about ChatGPT. 

If you still haven’t taken the time to learn a bit more about what ChatGPT is, how it works, and how it will probably initiate the biggest shift in education since the arrival of the internet, now is the time. You could start here, with an overview from CBS Sunday Morning (I’ll have my French toast with a side of professional existential crisis, please!) or check out EducationWeek’s coverage, and you should definitely follow John Warner on Twitter and his continuing discussion of the topic. Susan Barber is offering ongoing and insightful reflection on the evolving technology, and so has our own Samantha Futrell! And for even more helpful links and some dynamite suggestions on how to use ChatGPT as a teaching tool, check out Brett’s webinar from January (available only until March 15!). 

Since this technology is evolving as I type, it might feel impossible to try to wrap your brain around it, let alone try to teach students about it, but, contrary to what my nervous ninth grader advised, I think it’s essential for students to learn about ChatGPT and then discuss together how to use it responsibly. And that brings me to today’s mentor text, a mentor text for YOU, dear readers!

Here is a slide deck with a lesson that will introduce ChatGPT, some of its basic capabilities, and some of its flaws to students (kudos to Slidesgo for the awesome design). Here is the handout to accompany the slides. Much of the lesson was inspired by an experiment performed by The Great Believers author and writing teacher Rebecca Makkai for an early January post in her Substack, appropriately titled SubMakk (you’ll need to sign up (for free) to read; her newsletter is worth the extra email!). You are welcome to use my lesson or make one that feels more relevant to your classes, but here are the basic steps:

  1. Invite students to brainstorm the plot/major details of a story (my example is about a fish in a flower shop)
  2. Invite students to share their story ideas
  3. Share a story (or a few stories) about the same topic that were written by ChatGPT (my handout shares versions of the story that were written a few minutes and one week apart)
  4. Ask students to critique the story (what’s working? What’s not? What’s boring? Why?)
  5. Invite students to brainstorm answers to a basic literary analysis prompt (I taught this lesson to ninth graders, so I used a prompt about a symbol in Catcher)
  6. Invite students to share responses
  7. Compare student responses to the AI-generated response
  8. Share examples of inaccurate or uninspired AI responses to complex or inaccurate prompts (for more on this, check out this report from NPR, overheard on my morning drive to school–today!)
  9. Share information from inventors of AI detection software about what they identify as the differences between human and AI writing (this NPR article on the work of Edward Tian was my source)
  10. Ask students to reflect on the “burstiness” and “perplexity” of their own writing
  11. Discuss what ethical use of AI might look like for students today and in the future (you can use the chart in my slides or make your own!)

By the time this lesson finished, my front row skeptic was less afraid that I was busting cheaters and more interested in thinking about the creative capabilities of AI. Two weeks ago, most of my ninth graders still hadn’t known that ChatGPT existed, and my hope is that, if their first introduction to the platform was as a tool for learning instead of deception, they will take control of it rather than letting its temptations take control of them. I let my administrators know that this lesson was happening, and doing so made space for a larger faculty-wide conversation to start. 

How are you introducing, using, or discussing ChatGPT in your classroom or your department? What’s the best resource you’ve found about this rapidly evolving technology? Please share your ideas in the comments below or on Twitter @MsJochman.

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