The Content of English 110 and 120
This document was prepared with teachers of English 110 and 120 in mind, but might be relevant and interesting to students and instructors in other departments.
In writing classes like English 110 and 120, it can be difficult to identify the content (or teaching points)—they get obscured by the more general goals of writing effectively in a variety of contexts and genres, integrating knowledge and ideas, and understanding literacy. The following list identifies the content typically covered in English 110 and 120; instructors are not expected to cover ever single item on the list, nor use every single assignment, but they should be aware of what their peers are teaching, and they should try to align their teaching with others in the program. These items are keyed to Call to Write (CTW), but most of these principles can be found in other textbooks, and/or taught in a variety of ways. The “handouts” refer to handouts developed by Kevin Brooks and Amy Rupiper Taggart, available from them upon request.
Rhetoric and skills as content
This listing of “5 this” and “4 that” is meant to highlight the fact that CTW and other texts actually support some pretty specific rhetorical concepts and skills that we should be trying to teach to students (just teaching process is not enough). These items need to be taught with rhetorical sensibility in mind: the dividing lines between domains of writing, genres, organizational strategies, etc., are never hard and fast borders, but instead are meant to be conceptual guides or rough road maps. Students often need to be able to see that there are many stylistics or organizational options available for use before they can begin to make good choices about style, organization, etc.
5 Factors that Writers Consider: Purpose, Audience, Genre, Style, Social context. (CTW, 4th edition, pp. 2-4)
4 Domains of Writing: Home, School, Public, Work.
3 Styles of writing: informal, middle, formal. (Handout)
3 Break points in writing: beginnings, endings, transitions. (CTW pp. 535-41)
3-6 genres (or more): Appropriate genre chapters + handouts. Emphasize generic conventions AND flexibility.
3 purposes: to entertain, inform, persuade. (handout; CTW genre chapters address purpose)
2 audiences—addressed and invoked—3 distances: close, mid-range, distant. (handouts)
3 patterns of organization: Top down, culminating, open-form. (CTW pp. 521-34)
3 rhetorical appeals: ethos, logos, pathos. (CTW 70-73)
2 approaches to reading: close reading, rhetorical analysis; 3 stages: comprehend, evaluate, respond. (CTW chapter 2)
3 strategies for working with sources: Paraphrase, summary, quotation. (CTW 36 for summary; 444-45 for an overview of all three).
3 Domains of knowledge: library, surface web, deep web (handout, CTW).
2 principles of documentation: in-text and end-of-text. (CTW 451-67)
2 styles of documentation—MLA and APA—but emphasize the principles (CTW Chapter 13) and encourage students to find out what system is used in their major.
Analysis and Argumentation: Key concepts for a class in rhetoric.
While rhetorical analysis is a common and appropriate assignment for both courses, and avoiding plagiarism is taught in both courses, the other four points under “analysis and argumentation” are likely to be emphasized in English 120, rather than English 110.
• Rhetorical analysis has an important role to play in both courses, including rhetorical analysis of visual communication. (CTW 49-55; 93-97 for sample rhetorical analyses.)
• Avoiding plagiarism: distinguishing between your views and others’ (CTW 448-50)
• Four things readers expect from arguments: clear position, supporting evidence, explanation of how the evidence actually supports the position, a sense of the larger implications of the position. (CTW 61-62)
• The three rhetorical appeals—ethos, logos, pathos—should be points of analysis as well as appeals our students can draw on in their writing. (CTW 70-73)
• The six parts of an argument. Claims, evidence, and other nuances of argumentation: enabling assumptions, backing, acknowledging differing views, qualifiers. Focusing on claims and evidence is a pretty good start! (CTW 75-80)
• Types of evidence: expert opinions (from secondary research), evidence based on observation, interview, or surveys (field research), and evidence based on personal experience. (Relevant CTW chapters). Question to ask about evidence (CTW 77).
Many students simply have bad academic habits (and quite frankly, we all probably have some bad teaching habits). Here are some good habits we try to encourage in English 110 and 120.
1. 10 minutes a day: use in-class writing, journaling, blogging, or other strategies to get your students writing regularly.
2. Planning, Drafting, Revising: break the “last minute” habit. (CTW Chapter 16)
3. Seek out information and models: be an active composer. (handouts, activities)
4. Peer review: sideshadowing, using rubrics, giving and taking constructive criticism. (Handout, CTW peer review questions, assignment rubrics, regular practice)
5. Be observant, thoughtful, and curious: if you don’t have much to say, you might end up with a well-crafted but empty essay. (Explained on syllabus, orally re-enforced throughout the semester).
Within your class, you will likely encourage your students to think about issues of race, class, gender, social justice, or maybe even the meaning of life (although the latter is an English class cliché you might want to avoid). Within the program, we have identified two big ideas we would like instructors to address:
Understanding Literacy (overly in 110; implicitly in 120): “According to [Mike] Rose, the central problem of university writers is that they have not developed critical literacy, which he defined as ‘framing an argument or taking someone else’s argument apart, systematically inspecting a document, an issue, or an event, synthesizing different points of view, applying a theory to disparate phenomena’ (188) (Robert Samuels, Integrating Hypertextual Subjects 64-65). English 110 and 120 should encourage students to work critically with the new technologies of literacy, to be aware of the specific kinds of literate skills expected in their major, while still challenging them to improve their already established literacy skills. (Assignments: research writing in major, join the “new literacy” debate and write a commentary, write a literacy memoir or a technological literacy memoir, etc..)
The English department has adopted “understanding leadership” as a content goal for English 120 because part of being an effective writer and communicator can also mean being an effective leader or collaborator. While civic leaders are often examples of good communicators, students should come to see through the collaborative assignments and explorations of leadership in this course that leadership can take many forms, and individuals who communicate well can either take leadership roles or support strong teams throughout college, into their careers, and within their communities. (Assignments: leadership profiles, collaborative assignments (“Taking the Lead” proposal), commentaries on social issues, etc..)
Typical challenges / problems
Based on years of research in composition studies, and based on 3 years of sustained assessment at NDSU, we can say with confidence that students new to academic writing face the following challenges. They have:
• difficulty with analysis and evaluation; they tend to summarize and report.
• difficulty with formal prose and incorporating others’ ideas; they have a preference for personal writing that does not use sources.
• difficulty developing ideas with concrete, specific language and examples; they say things like “you want five pages??!!”
• difficulty editing their own prose; they are reluctant to proofread and revise.
• difficulty reading or interpreting assignments; international students frequently show a much stronger grasp of assignments than do North American students.
Three points of emphasis in 110
1. Effective, close reading.
• More emphasis on reading instruction in class, and through assignments.
• Seek reading material that might engage under-prepared students.
2. Developing stronger habits—a stronger process emphasis in 110 than 120.
• Significant time invested in drafting and revising.
• Frequent short writing assignments with regular feedback, building towards more complex assignments.
3. Identifying strengths and areas in need of improvement: preparing students to succeed in English 120.
• One-on-one conferences used to identify strengths and areas in need of improvement.
• Introduce key concepts (5 factors especially) so English 120 won’t seem like a completely different course.
Three points of emphasis in 120.
1. Visual or design principles for writing:
• Genres have design conventions, and visual communication can be used for emphasis (logos) and appeal (ethos and/or pathos).
• Four “gestalt” design principles: group similar elements together, align visual elements, use repetition and contrast to create consistent visual patterns, add visual interest.
2. Research: all assignments should work from sources and involve research.
• Field research: Observation, survey, interview as ways of gathering information.
• Surface web, deep web, and library identified as the 3 major domains for secondary research; students are surprisingly unsophisticated surface web researchers, unfamiliar with the deep web, and reluctant to use the library.
3. Group writing, or collaboration:
• Stages of group work: forming, storming, norming, performing. (CTW and Handout)
• Various strategies for meetings, sharing work, staying on task (CTW Chapter 18).
• Types of conflict: procedural, affective, substantive. (Handout)
• Project management (handout).
• Role playing within groups: group manager, group recorder/communicator, idea generator, devil’s advocate, and roles specific to the tasks (CTW and Handout).
Extras: common teaching points, but we can only cover so much!
You might see a need to employ some of these familiar concepts during a 1-on-1 conference or in response to difficulties your particular class is having. Let the First-Year English committee know if you are having success teaching concepts or strategies nowhere to be found on these four pages.
• 2 types of prose: Reader-based prose, writer-based prose.
• Subject-Verb-Completer (SVC) and other sentence patterns.
• Compare-contrast as an important organizational or rhetorical strategy.
• Argumentative fallacies (lists of fallacies are easy to find on the web).
• Daily editing exercises: an icebreaker that gets students to think about editing. It can be an effective inductive way of teaching a variety of sentence-level concerns.
• Focus, organization, development, expression. A useful set of key terms, much like the five factors that writers consider. This heuristic doesn’t overtly remind students to think about audience, context, purpose—those are implied. This set of terms is text-based, rather than context based.