Mini-Ethnography

This activity was developed and submitted by Andie S. Malterud from George Mason University.


Learning Outcome(s):

(1) Students will participate in group activities.

(2) Students will be able to gather data and information to target their audience.

(3) Students will practice the Knapp's model of relationship development


Materials Needed: None.


Estimated Class Time Needed: One class period or can be done as an outside class activity with 15 to 30 minutes of in-class discussion.


Instructions for Students: In pairs, go to a public location on campus, preferably one that is busy. With your partner, select a group of two or more people to observe and sit far enough away that you cannot hear their conversation. Spend 15-minutes observing your subjects paying special attention to their nonverbal communication. You and your partner should take extensive notes on the interaction using specific details to support your answers. After 15-minutes have passed, return to the classroom to discuss your findings.


Together, take notes on your observations so that you may answer the following questions:

  1. What is the relationship between your subjects? (Are they roommates, friends, romantic partners, acquaintances, colleagues etc.)

  2. What about their nonverbal communication led you to draw the conclusion about their relationship? (Remember to consider their proxemics, facial expressions, touch, etc.)

  3. What do you think is the nature of their conversation? (Are they discussing work, making plans, working on schoolwork, having a disagreement, etc.)

  4. What about their nonverbal communication led you to draw the conclusion about their conversation? (Again, consider aspects of nonverbal communication covered in the textbook and class discussion.)

  5. What stage of Knapp’s Model of Relationship Development do you believe your subjects are in? Support your hypothesis with specific examples of nonverbal communication.


Instructions for Instructors: Instructors should give their students the instructions and the discussion questions. Instructors can have students write their answers in paragraph form or have students use their notes to discuss their findings with the class. If the class is focused on public speaking, having students share their responses with the class is good practice for presentations.


Once students return to class, have partners present their answers to the discussion question. Depending on the amount of time remaining for class and class size, ask for three pairs of volunteers or have each pair present for about three minutes. Alternatively, this assignment can be completed outside of class. Students can write a short reflection paper answering the above questions and then give a short presentation in class.


If instructors have not covered Knapp’s Model for Relationship Development, exclude the final discussion question and focus only on nonverbal communication. Dependent on class time and size, instructors may want to have this be a small group project (2-4 students).

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