Assignments and Rubrics
English 125 is the first course in a two-part composition sequence that focuses on critical reading and academic writing. In order to facilitate students becoming more proficient in these areas, major writing assignments in English 125 ask students to develop a position or argument and to support their claims by drawing on sources.
English 125 requires four (4) formal writing assignments:
- Three (3) formal papers of 3-6 pages each;
- An annotated bibliography assignment that asks students to write on 3-4 sources.
Formal Paper Guidelines
At York, we see ENG 125 as the first course in a two-part composition sequence in which students develop their abilities to write expository essays: thesis-based arguments in which students will draw on sources to support their larger argument. We do not, in other words, see this as a course in which students write in an array of genres; rather, we see the course as a place to develop their abilities to formulate their arguments and support them across a series of essays similar in genre. While students might use comparison or narrative as a rhetorical technique within an essay, we discourage the framing of essays as “narrative” or “comparison/contrast,” etc.
The three formal papers should be engage with non-fiction texts; in these papers, students exercise, incrementally and repeatedly, skills of working with source material. Papers should make use of in-text citations and include a Works Cited page.
All formal assignments in ENG 125 should be written under "revision" conditions: drafts should be submitted for feedback on content and organization by peers and instructor. Students should then engage in revising and editing their work. Do note that this process often requires an extended period of time (at least 1 to 2 weeks) between the initial assignment and handing in of the final copy.
In ENG 125, students practice finding, evaluating, and summarizing sources and produce an Annotated Bibliography of 3-4 sources. They do NOT, however, use those sources to write a paper. This assignment focuses on search and evaluation skills as well as summarizing skills in order to prepare students for the research writing tasks they will need to engage with in ENG 126.
Sequencing the Assignments
In designing your paper assignments, consider the levels of complexity for each assignment and how each paper relates to the next one in the sequence. Aim to build up to higher levels of complexity with each paper.
The first two essays typically ask students to make an argument based on two to three of the sources that the class has been reading and discussing. We do recommend that you require students to begin working with multiple texts even in the first paper. Be mindful, however, that in the first and probably second paper, accurately interpreting the sources, selecting the best evidence for their arguments, and integrating that source material will be challenging. You will want to be able to focus on those elements.
For that reason, for the first two papers, we also strongly encourage the use of a question in your prompts rather than leaving the assignment more open by calling on students to find their own point of connection. Locating strong points of connection requires multiple additional stages of scaffolding. For that reason it may be more suitable for the last assignment of the course when students are more familiar with critical reading and the writing process.
The final, third, paper is often more complex in its requirements, possibly increasing the number of sources the students are asked to work with and/or asking them to find their own point of connection in order to develop a thesis. This is not, however, a research paper; students may write this essay based on texts that have been discussed throughout the semester just as they did in papers #1 and #2.
Writing Assignment Prompts
These suggestions came from a productive session we had with tutors from the CLC who revealed another side of the process: what happens when students meet with a tutor to discuss a paper.
- For formal papers, provide students with a written prompt. Oral instructions are important, but they do not substitute for the student having a written prompt to review and to take to a tutor for help. In fact, the first thing a tutor will ask the student for when they meet to discuss a paper is the prompt.
- Identify the task, the structure, and the genre of the essay explicitly on the prompt.
- Use the structure of the prompt to prioritize what is most important: keep in mind that whatever is discussed first is going to strike the student as the most significant. Privilege higher order concerns.
- When discussing a prompt, aim to hone in on key words such as “analyze” or “examine”. Be redundant about your expectations.
- Make sure to specify how students should handle citations and bibliographies. Typically in ENG 125, we ask students to work with MLA style. Using ethical attribution and citation is one of the Learning Objectives for the course, so requiring citations for all assignments and clearly spelling out these expectations will help those objectives be met.
- Overly detailed prompts or prompts that are too complex can be difficult to decode, so aim to strike a balance. In particular, John Bean, in his classic, Engaging Ideas, recommends that when setting a prompt question, it is better to ask a single, focused question instead of a series of questions.
Sample Final Paper (#3) Prompt (asks students to find determine connections)
Rubric design is left to the discretion of each instructor, but the following sample may be used and/or modified for all three of the formal papers in ENG 125.