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From trash to treasure! Turning junk into Christmas-time gifts
In this activity, students turn “junk” into gifts for classmates as they build relationships and rethink consumption practices in a fun manner.

By: I-Liang (Tunghai University)

Session type: Single session, Undergraduate/Graduate level, Small size


  • Cultural consumption values

  • Personal consumption

  • Games


Introduction to the teaching example:

The exercise asks students to exchange “junk”, to bring in something they no longer need and give it to a classmate as a Christmas present in late December. By this time, teaching is reaching the end, but still not over in East Asia. This is also when the course has covered topics of consumerism, social practices, and ethical consumption. Thus the purpose of this exercise is to stimulate reflections on material possessions, practices, as well as how the use of things are enabled or constrained by institutions and culture.

The activity takes three steps. First, students are asked to go over their belongings at the beginning of the semester and consider what can be presented once more as a gift. Second, by mid-November, the students are asked to design the gift exchange processes, such as gift wrapping requirements, exchange rules and steps, and compose a brief speech outlining the gift's purpose and intended use. Third, on the day of the exchange, students arrange their wrapped gifts on a table, and take turns to determine who receives which wrapped gift. My students decided to pick a draw.

During the activity, students are required to combine “doings” and “sayings”, by talking about the gift, themselves, and associated practices. When a student receives a present, the giver must explain what it is, where it is from, and how the recipient could find value in it. As students were encouraged to think about sustainability, some also talked about the materials they used to wrap their gifts. My students designed a game to cast ballots for the year's worst present after receiving their gifts from everyone. Once the exchange is over, students are encouraged to trade their gifts (without spending any money).

The activity is followed by a discussion about needs, societal values, and consumption patterns. Students are asked to talk about how they find junks and how they choose gifts. They were also asked to think about how cultural norms shape practices such as Christmas gifting and how to reconfigure practices using these activities’ experiences.

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