It seems like kind of a pattern that the past few years I’ve either ended the fall semester or begun the spring term with a big new thing to try, either research or teaching, that has something to do with writing. This year, over winter break, I was revising a composition course that doubles as introduction to literature since I have 3 sections of it this spring. I got the random idea that this semester I would work with students on a series of common problems or things students seemed to struggle with every term in writing assignments, the things I always seem to end up commenting on. I counted the number of class days I had to work with and, subtracting a few for things like the midterm and library research day, I came up with 28 class days for the semester. Each day could have one smallish composition related thing as its focus.
I eventually figured that this would make for a good warm up most class days. It did not take long to come up with the list. What took longer was trying to work out a good order (still working on that), and what components should be the focus of the 5-10 minutes of mini lecture/activity. I’m thinking already that I may end up wanting to reorder things.
What seems to be working so far (1 ½ weeks into the semester) is to tie the writing thing in with whatever the main literary concept of the day will be. I’ve annotated the first few days for example and also because I haven’t written the entire semester’s worth of actual notes or practice exercises yet. That’ll probably happen off and on every other week or so,
Writing Thing #1: Bibliography Citation (Bibliography vs Works Cited) MLA 8 for entry in anthology (prose or poetry) and complete work (like a novel) and web page (secondary)
Day 1 of class has no specific literary focus; it’s basically syllabus day. The main reason bibliography and general citation is first is that this will be necessary for nearly every assignment in class. I find this seems to be especially useful since there are always some students who don’t get the textbook right away for a number of reasons, and need to use alternative versions of the short stories for the first week or two. Thus, they need to provide a works cited in their homework so I know they are not leaving out parenthetical in-text references or getting the numbers wrong, but rather are using web versions without page numbers or simply a different edition.
Writing Thing #2: In-text parenthetical Citation for prose and poetry, both for quote and paraphrase
The literary focus is the short story genre, and plot graphing methods via line, circle, triangle/pyramid. The assigned story is Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find”., and a set of lecture notes covering various definitions of short story. The exercise: Paraphrase from Poe’s definition of short story to have a single sentence which contains the main requirements for the genre. Quote in one sentence the necessary components given by Werlock.
Writing Thing #3: Signal phrases with quotes: don’t say ‘x quotes’ etc, format (commas and final punctuation), purpose of the signal phrase/attributive tag/lead in/ whatever other term of choice
The literary focus is narrators and narration, and the texts for the day are Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado” and Millhauser’s “A Visit”. The exercise/discussion: Find where we finally definitively learn the name of the narrator in “A Cask of Amontillado”; hint: it’s located a ways into the story. Put together a sentence which includes a signal phrase and a quote (either the whole sentence or part of it) which responds to some element of why the name might be delayed.
Writing Thing #4: Quotation Marks: how and when to use when quoting and with titles (also use of italics in titles)
Writing Thing #5: Passive Voice: vs active, why to generally avoid it, when it’s ok; avoid ‘it can be seen/shown/proven etc’
Writing Thing #6: Pronouns- first vs second vs third (what they are and when to use), avoid generics (also expletive ‘it is’) as subject and why; also relatives (who vs whom, which vs that)
Writing Thing #7: Thesis Statements (detail and specific, ‘so what’ factor- meaning or importance)
Writing Thing #8: Topic Sentences- detail and specific, link to thesis, include ‘so what’ or meaning, placement, as transition and focus/forecast.
Writing Thing #9: Reasoning-Explanation of evidence; evidence supports not replaces argument or interpretation, must refer to details and explicitly reference evidence and reasoning behind how it supports idea(s)
Writing Thing #10: Comma use and abuse- joining clauses, oxford and with lists, with quotes, when to not use
Writing Thing #11: Colon and Semi-Colon- what they should be used for, not to be confused with/uses to avoid
Writing Thing #12: Grammatical person 1-2-3, and when to use what
Writing Thing #13: Introduction paragraph- provide context for subject and analysis (ie-thesis), not overgeneralized.
Writing Thing #14: Conclusion paragraph- review highlights, including thesis or main goal, final thought and/or why it might be important or useful to understand the way you’ve presented
Writing Thing #15: Supporting evidence- detailed, matched exactly to the point, cited
Writing Thing #16: Paraphrase- what it is (not patch-writing), when to use it, how to cite it
Writing Thing #17: MLA 8 Essay formatting: font, spacing, header, page number, bibliography, title
Writing Thing #18: Focus on the prompt- answer exactly what’s asked, note verbs and all required parts, don’t try to reconfigure too far to fit your ease/interest
Writing Thing #19: Focus and Interpretation- thesis and topic sentences, explanations (and evidence), detail, one point per paragraph.
Writing Thing #20: Reliable Sources (academic, general, popular) – author and date, publication source, use the works cited, when to use general or popular sources (and how to cite them)
Writing Thing #21: Using Dictionaries and Thesauri- know the exact definition and the proper context of the word.
Writing Thing #22: Synthesis- secondary source does not replace your ideas and need to be interpreted too as it suits your point.
Writing Thing #23: Fragments and Run-Ons- what they are, how to fix them
Writing Thing #24: Coordinates and Suboordinates conjunctions- what they are, which to use when
Writing Thing #25: Paragraph Structure review- point focused, specific; evidence- detailed, reasoning and explanation- focused and explicitly direct.
Writing Thing #26: Avoid- Generic statements, generalizing, rhetorical questions
Writing Thing #27: Web Searching- determining use and usefulness of source; can/should use this.
Writing Thing #28: Revision- order of revision: content (points and evidence, overalll structure), sentence-level, proofread, formatting.