The assignments listed here include place-based readings and assignments (that is, assignments that use place as a relevant approach and topic). Some of them are culture-based, which means they use the culture, ethnicity, language, and traditions of people groups as engaging and relevant approaches and topics.
Keep in mind that assignments are effective when they use elements that are not only interesting to students but that also encourage them to write about their topic with a strong sense of responsibility to the larger audience or the greater good. Readings and assignments are most ideal when they can be individualized per student, relevant to the student’s major area of academic focus, and indeed, to the student’s life.
Success Skills for College Learning and Intellectual Growth
The Martian (released in 2015, directed by Ridley Scott, and starring Matt Damon), is a film about an astronaut who has been left behind on Mars. Even with efforts to rescue him and bring him home to Earth, he is stranded and must find both a way and his will to survive.
For this assignment, instructors should have students write an essay in which they select a series of specific problems that Damon’s character, Matt Watney, encounters.
Then students should explain the decisions Watney makes, the actions he takes, and how his growth mindset helps him overcome challenges so as to live. The way Watney manages his devastating challenges can serve as a model for students to consider when assessing their own challenges and responses.
Note: Instructors should put the film in “closed captioning” mode so students, especially those who are non-Native English speakers, can both hear and see the dialogue (or monologue, as it were).
Before watching the film, students should have read the majority of Carol S. Dweck’s Mindset: the New Psychology of Success. It might be advisable to have all students read chapters 1-3 and choose one chapter that best suits their lives from chapters 4-7, and have all students read chapter 8.
Annotation, Close Reading, Rhetorical Analysis
Students should read and annotate the following article written by a student:
With a partner, for 10 minutes (five minutes per student) students discuss what each of them annotated and why. They then take 15 minutes to label the different rhetorical modes and writing strategies the author used in each paragraph, and note how the author used them effectively (e.g., note the impact of the mode or strategy on the reader’s understanding of the topic). Next, the class notes and categorizes the modes and strategies used (in a Google Document or on a whiteboard) and discusses how the specific rhetorical mode or writing strategy was particularly effective in its purpose and in addressing multiple audiences. The class also discusses how the essay used diction for power and impact. The discussion can also ask: How does code-switching and multiple “languages” factor into and impact the essay? What kinds of communication powers and issues are observed in the essay? Do all readers respond the same way? If not, how do they respond, and how does the writing affect their response? Is the closing effective in leaving readers with a provocative thought to continue to ponder? During the discussion, students continue to annotate directly onto the printed article or in their notes.
Tracking Time and Activity
Students should create a document with 7 columns and 18 rows, labeling the columns from Sunday through Saturday and the rows from 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., with the 18th row labeled “sleep.” They may add additional rows if preferred. For two weeks, students then record what they did every hour. If they worked on English homework for two hours each day, they should label the appropriate starting time with “English” and draw an arrow through two hours of blocked time. If they were in transit for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, they should mark the appropriate times “Transportation.”
During the third week, students write a two-page reflection on how they spent their time, analyzing how many hours were productive hours in terms of work, school, family responsibilities, and other productive actions; how many hours were leisure hours (spent on social media, video games, shopping, watching movies, surfing, hiking, and so on); whether they were applying 9 hours per week to studying for each of their courses; whether they had enough time to accomplish all they wished to accomplish; and what changes they might have to make during the semester and throughout their college career in order to successfully earn their degrees in their preferred number of semesters (or years).
Essay Structure: Introductions, Body Paragraphs, and Conclusions
Pizza Pie Activity
Prewriting and Thesis
The Pizza Pie activity allows students the opportunity to practice writing an essay while discussing a topic on which they are knowledgeable. Ordering pizza prior to the activity makes for a more “scholarly” activity to engage in this important exercise in truth-seeking to investigate what makes a delicious pizza pie. This activity can take place in two class sessions or as a combination of class work and homework.
- The instructor leads the classroom in a brainstorm (on the board) around what makes a delicious pizza pie.
- After webbing or clustering the ideas in this whole-group exercise, students choose the three most important parts of a pizza. The three popular parts are normally toppings, dough, and sauce.
- The instructor asks the class to create one thesis statement that describes the most important components of a delicious pizza.
- Next, the instructor divides students into three groups. To make things interesting, the three categories can be placed on different slips of papers; one member from each group should choose one.
The Body Paragraphs
- Each group takes a look at their strip of paper and creates a paragraph based on their topic, complete with a topic sentence, supporting sentences, examples, research if preferred, and a summarizing sentence.
- Each group elects a member who types this paragraph into a one Google Document (Google Doc) shared by the whole class and the insructor.
- All of the groups’ paragraphs should be entered into a single class Google Doc.
Introductions and Conclusions
- The class should divide into two groups.
- Each group writes either the introduction or the conclusion, using one of the methods discussed in class.
- Each group should continue entering their text into the shared class Google Doc.
- With the essay displayed on the Google Doc, each group reads their respective paragraphs aloud.
- The class offers feedback. Instructors and students may use comment features as well as the smart board to make editing suggestions in various colors.
- The team with the best paragraph wins.
Types of Essays
Essays that analyze literature, evaluate writing, and/or apply rhetorical analysis use methods that apply knowledge about writing techniques, textual structures, and rhetorical modes (also known as patterns of development, types of writing, and essay genres) and that analyze the effectiveness of those modes. The key to an analysis-plus-evaluation essay about another essay is to focus on the effectiveness of the writing (and not on tangential opinions about the topics covered in the essay—unless the assignment is about how an essay addresses a topic and what student writers think about that).
Evaluation: Rhetorical Analysis of a Renshi Poem—Four Voices on the Massie Affair
Students should read the four poems from the Bamboo Ridge Renshi Series, an online collection of renshi poetry written by and about Hawai‘i’s people.
In teams of three to four students, students discuss the meaning of these poems and what they reveal about the Massie case in Hawai‘i. Select one of the following prompts:
- Compare and contrast the diction used in two to four of the poems. How does diction impact the meaning of a line? How does it impact the overall meaning of a poem? Compare how similar words are used in similar ways across the poems. Contrast how similar words are used in different ways. Analyze and discuss the meaning of key words common to all the poems.
- Description: Analyze how the poems describe the Massie case and the people involved.
- Illustration: How are these poems illustrating the challenges faced by Native Hawaiians? What about Asians? What about other people of color? How about Whites? How about military personnel (who may be from various ethnic backgrounds and from various regions and cultures across the U.S. and Hawai‘i)? Do they connect with contemporary issues faced by the same groups of people today?
Persuasion: Primary Sources, Diction, Vocabulary within Context, and Close Readings—The Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail
When Dr. King was jailed for protesting against the abuses and systemic discriminatory and racist practices in the United States, he composed an eloquent letter from the jail in Birmingham, Alabama.
King, Jr., Martin Luther. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” AU, University of Alabama, April 16, 1963.
Students should read and annotate the text. Then select one of the following prompts: Depth, Effort, Format and Persuasion.
Consider the following questions and write a rhetorical analysis of this primary source and the effectiveness of the writing itself.
- What visual rhetoric (particularly formatting) of the original letter reveals the seriousness of this letter? What verbal rhetoric, especially diction, reveals the multiple meanings of the text, and how does that rhetoric do so?
- How do readers know whom the audience is?
- What is the ethos of the speaker?
- What is the kairos behind the diction, syntax, and organization (order of paragraph topics)?
- How would the recipients of the letter know what the main arguments were and what actions Dr. King was asking them to take?
- How does Dr. King add depth to each paragraph?
- What effort, energy, and time were involved in Dr. King’s creation of a letter that continues to hold historical and socio-political significance?
- How do all of these factors result in the persuasiveness of this letter, particularly in the eyes of its recipients? How do all these factors affect readers today?
- How do they inform today’s community, state, and national leaders and citizens—and non-citizens?
Persuasion: Primary Sources, Diction, Vocabulary within Context, and Close Readings—Queen (Ke Ali‘i Nui) Lili‘uokalani Letter of Protest against the U.S. Assertion of Ownership of the Kingdom of Hawai‘i
Queen (Ke Ali‘i Nui) Lili‘uokalani wrote this letter to the U.S. House of Representatives to protest the U.S. assertion of ownership of Hawai‘i, which was recognized by multiple nations as the Kingdom of Hawai‘i.
Lili‘uokalani. Letter to the U.S. House of Representatives (protesting U.S. assertion of ownership of Hawai‘i), U.S. National Archives, Records of the U.S. House of Representatives, Record Group 233, Record HR 55A-H28.3, 19 December 1898.
Instructors may use this reading to demonstrate the skills students will demonstrate in argumentative and persuasive research assignments such as the Letter to the Senator. As a means of practicing the persuasive appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos, students color code this letter in groups. Red=ethos, green=logos, and yellow=pathos
Comparison and Contrast
Students should write an essay that compares and contrasts the letters from Dr. King and Queen (Ke Ali‘i Nui) Lili‘uokalani. The essay should also consider following questions:
- What is the power and impact of primary sources? How persuasive are primary sources?
- How powerful can one voice be in effecting change in the world?
Students should read the following document authored by Miriam Fuchs, a scholar and librarian at the University of Hawai‘i who described her experiences with and research into the diaries of Ke Ali‘i (Queen) Lili‘uokalani:
Fuchs, Miriam. “The Diaries of Lili‘uokalani.” The Significance of Primary Records, The Modern Language Association, originally published in Profession 95, 1995.
Students should first freewrite answers to the following questions before discussing their answers in groups of three or four:
- What did Miriam Fuchs assume about the diaries, at first?
- How did she find the original primary sources?
- What did the original primary sources reveal?
- What are important considerations when reading other people’s accounts of primary sources?
- What is the benefit of reading the primary source?
- What are the impacts of relying only on secondary and tertiary sources?
- What are the benefits of reading secondary and tertiary sources as additions to research in primary sources?
- What primary sources will students find (or have students found) to dive deeper into their research topics? How will they evaluate those sources?
Collaborative Research and Writing Incorporating Debate, Description, Comparison-Contrast, Essay, Slide Presentation, and Debate
Students should first look at, listen to, feel, and smell the wrapper and dimensions of a mini Kit Kat bar and a mini Snickers bar. They should note all the descriptions and observations they can think of, using specific adjectives. As they open each wrapper, they should note and record, in writing, the differences in “experiencing,” feeling, and hearing the wrappers as they open, as well as what they smell. As they slowly chew, taste, and experience the different textures of the candies, they should record in writing their observations, always using specific adjectives.
The class will then split down the middle of the classroom, into two groups. One group will argue that Kit Kat is the better candy, while the other argues for Snickers. Each group will compile and organize their lists of observations according to the 5 senses and other observations. They should each brainstorm the many reasons why their candy is better than the other candy. They should then research and evaluate sources, finding professional sources that discuss the merits of each candy, the history of its creation, formulation, and marketing, the nutritional aspects of each candy, and the business practices and philanthropic efforts of each candy company. As each team researches and takes excellent notes (for MLA compliance), the students list additional ways their candy is better than the other candy.
Each team should then brainstorm to build their thesis statements about their claim, as well as argumentation or persuasion techniques, such as how their candy appeals to readers’ needs (nutritional value; aesthetic needs, such as through the design of the wrappers; psychological needs, such as the need to include others, share, and belong), emotions (marketing appeals through commercials and print ads), and other rhetorical appeals.
Teams will then brainstorm and draft a CLAIM (a thesis statement expressing the superiority of their candy over the other group’s candy and previewing the top reasons and points of comparison). The claim should be written on the board or in a Google Doc, discussed, and revised, and the group should ensure consensus and/or compromise.
Debate and Corporate Espionage
To find out what their opponents’ claims are, each team will take 7 minutes to present their argument to the other group. Everyone takes notes on the other group’s argument, as some people may have different notes from others. Team members can also “listen in” to the other group’s conversations if the other group is speaking loudly enough for them to hear. Teams should use their notes on the opponents’ counterclaims to brainstorm their essay section that acknowledges the opposing point of view (POV) and then either accommodates or refutes the opposing arguments.
The instructor serves as Supreme Judge and declares the winner of the debate. The winning team takes all the rest of the candy. For homework, the teams progress to their persuasive argument (aka their persuasive essay or argumentative essay).
Food Fight in Cyberspace—Via Collaborative Group Research and Essay
Using team emails and Google Docs, teams should compile their observations, research data, MLA Works Cited citations, draft thesis statements, list of key points, and list of points accommodating and/or refuting their opponents’ arguments or claims. Teams should decide on an organizational structure (chronological, priority, spatial) and rank their top key points supporting their claim that their candy is the better candy. Teams should then rank (in a bulleted or numbered list) the other team’s strongest arguments, then draft sentences and statements for paragraphs that acknowledge that there’s an opposing POV and accommodate and/or refute that opposing POV. They should also review how to successfully write college essays, especially essays using comparison, contrast, description, research, MLA guidelines, and argumentation and persuasion.
Teams should brainstorm topic sentences for all their key points and organize those topic sentences into the outline. Under each outlined topic sentence, they should list their supporting details (data gathered during their observations and from their online research, including the candy corporation websites and professional articles on the companies and the candies).
In their team’s Google Doc, each team should create a GRAPHIC ORGANIZER showing the title, thesis, introduction, body paragraphs (with evidence and reasons), and conclusion. Teams may consult their notes and their textbook for examples. Teams should also use brief phrases in the graphic organizer, saving full sentences and transitions for the essay.) Teams should ensure that they have at least one topic sentence and a paragraph summarizing the opposing team’s argument. That should be followed by their paragraph that refutes or disproves the opposing team’s argument.
An introduction and a conclusion should be brainstormed, so there are now at least 9 paragraphs indicated in the graphic organizer. Each person should select at least 2 paragraphs to collaboratively write with other teammates; teammate choices should overlap so that each person is working on 2 to 3 paragraphs with other teammates, labeling each listed paragraph in the graphic organizer with the names of the writers. (One strategy is to have at least 3 teammates writing paragraphs on more difficult topics; another is to have all teammates collaborate on the introduction and conclusion.) Into the graphic organizer add details that demonstrate the team’s TIME MANAGEMENT skills. Set various deadlines for all group members to review the graphic organizer, to agree to the outline, to sign up for sections, to write paragraphs, to review and comment, to edit each other’s paragraphs, and to proofread.
Teammates should use the Google Doc COMMENT tool to make suggestions, to ask questions of members and the instructor, and to hold group discussions online. For each topic sentence, the team members responsible draft a paragraph with all the supporting details. They should come up with sweet, solid illustrations (i.e., examples—not drawings) using all 9 patterns of development (rhetorical modes—each paragraph throughout the essay using at least one of the nine). Group members should each collaborate and contribute to their paragraphs by the deadlines they set. The whole team should review the whole essay by the review deadline, using the COMMENT tool to provide feedback, Peter Elbow style. (Highlight or select, click COMMENT, explain what they liked or didn’t like about that highlighted or selected section). Team members should review comments on their specific paragraphs and should then respond to—and revise according to—comments by the relevant deadline. The team should also work with their instructor to ensure no instances of plagiarism are indicated. Teams should ensure all outside sources are documented in in-text citations and in the Works Cited list, ensure that paraphrases and data are cited, and ensure everyone wrote in their own words. Everyone should also edit for grammar, punctuation, overall consistency of “voice” and style by the relevant deadline. Everyone should proofread one more time by the relevant deadline for the final battle and final revision.
After their essays are done, teams should create a Google Presentation to accompany their argument and to present to the class on the final day of debate.