High-Stakes Writing Assignment Suggestions

Writing assignment suggestions for high-stakes essays
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As both a literature and composition course, English 126 serves two functions. One function is to expose students to a variety of genres of literature and aid them in developing an appreciation for and means by which to respond to the literature in a meaningful way. The second function is to continue to aid students as they move from novice learners to expert learners in the area of critical thinking, critical reading and critical writing within any discipline.

In order to facilitate students becoming more proficient in these areas, major writing assignments in the course might call on students to draw connections between texts, to understand how texts are closely related to other texts, both literary and non- literary, and to set the literary texts within larger frames for further investigation and analysis.

The assignments below were suggested by faculty members as part of the series of English composition workshops conducted in the spring of 2013.

Literary Analysis/Interpretation

  1. Give a brief interpretation of "Presentiment" and "Apparently with no surprise," by Emily Dickinson, and "The Garden of the Gold Valley" by Tu Mu. Then, examine a connection that exists between the three poems. Finally, identify which literary devices for poetry were used to create each poem, how they were used, and explain why you think each poet chose the genre of poetry for expressing their ideas.
  2. Select a specific theme that is common to two stories we have encountered this semester, and then compare and contrast how the theme is explored in each text. For example, what might Nathaniel Hawthorne and Shirley Jackson be telling us about our cultural reliance on ritual and blind faith? What are Charles Johnson and Ralph Ellison saying about the pernicious influence of racial inequality? What can be made if the inextricable relationship between the past and present in William Faulkner and Michael Bishop, or Annie Proulx and Steven Millhauser?
  3. In an essay of between three and four pages, compare and contrast at least two of the following poems, exploring images and ideas about the relationships between parents and children as you make these connections: “wishes for sons”  Lucille Clifton; “Those Winter Sundays” Robert Hayden;“The Possessive” Sharon Olds; “Metaphors” Sylvia Plath.
  4. This semester we have read three works that deal with the profound and lingering effects of racism: Toni Morrison's Beloved, Charles Johnson's "Exchange Value," and Flannery O'Connor's "Everything that Rises Must Converge." Compare and contrast Morrison's novel with at least one of these short stories, concentrating in particular on the role racism plays in the formation of identity -- that is, in these texts, how does racism influence the ways in which characters perceive themselves, and the world around them? What are the authors ultimately telling us about the impact that racism can have on our thoughts , attitudes and behaviors?

Connecting the Literature to Texts Within Other Disciplines

  1. After giving an interpretation of both "Metaphors" by Sylvia Plath and "The Mother" by Gwendolyn Brooks, draw a relationship between the poems and the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, and discuss the conflict between the two main characters in the short story. Last, review the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision and examine the decisions of the speakers in the poems and the characters in the short story as if they had made them after the Supreme Court decision. Provide cited textual references to support your ideas.
  2. Using "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien, and the class handout "Illumination Rounds" (from "Dispatches") by Michael Herr, write a 3-4 page piece that investigates how soldiers in Vietnam dealt with their fears and hopes when they were in battles or at war in general. Discuss what soldiers did and how they behaved under the pressures of fear and panic. What kinds of things did they wish for? Find textual evidence of how they revealed their true feelings, and how they hid them. Use both texts to flesh out your paper and provide an informed discussion.
  3. In a paper of roughly four pages, I would like you to discuss how the critical reading of ONE non-literary work impacts your reading and interpretation of ONE of the following literary works that we have been discussing in class. In other words, your essay should discuss how the non-literary work adds to your understanding of the literary work: James Baldwin “Sonny’s Blues”; Alice Walker “Everyday Use”;Charlotte Perkins Gilman “The Yellow Wallpaper.”The non-literary text that you choose might be either a popular or scholarly piece. Please be sure to discuss with me the appropriateness of sources you are considering.  For this paper, I ask that you donot use literary criticism.  In other words, do not research the use of metaphor in “Sonny’s Blues,” for instance, or the symbolism in “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Instead, investigate how other disciplines, psychology or sociology, for instance, address the issue identified in the literary work.
  4. (Research Paper)For this final research project, I am asking that you write a research paper of roughly 6 pages based on your reading of either “A Doll’s House” or “Antigone.”  Your  analysis of the work should be based on an academic frame that you determine based on research. For example your frame might be the roles and rights of women in the era of the play.As you draft and revise your research papers, you will be using 4 sources to illuminate a particular aspect of your chosen play. The goal is to investigate some of the context of the work and to integrate non-literary sources along with interpretation to address questions that arise in your reading of the work.

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