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Essay Assignments--EN121--English Composition


Essay #1 Memory Project--The Personal Essay: Experience and Identity

What can we learn about ourselves (and our world) when we look closely at the experiences we remember and/or the stories we tell? How do images convey idea(s)? Why are specific details and examples crucial in reconstructing an experience?

Part One:

Write: Memory 1: Think about an experience that has a strong hold on your memory and that seems particularly meaningful. (At this point you don't have to try to define what the "meaning" is.) Think about an image or scene that lies at the center of that experience and try to bring it to life in your mind. Write about that scene. Be sure to choose a memory that you will be comfortable sharing with others--and a memory that has adequate substance for you to continue to explore in some depth.

This memory will serve as the first draft of Essay 1.

Be prepared to write questions and comments in the margin of your workshop partners' essays, and write an individual response to each one, addressing particular aspects of their piece. Tell them what you like about their piece, and point to places where you'd like to know more, or where you see potential ideas starting to develop. Pose at least three questions for the writer of each draft you read.

Part Two: Draft #2/Memory 2: Think about the experience you rendered as Memory 1. Think specifically about what lies beneath the surface details you remembered and selected.

This second memory writing builds on the first. Write about a second experience that you believe to be related to the first, an experience that "comments" in an interesting way on the idea that is emerging in Memory 1. This second memory will serve as Draft #2.

Part Three: Final Draft: This final piece of writing will weave your two related, but very different, memories together. What connects them? What is the "bigger picture," the larger subject, for which these memories provide illustrative examples?


Essay #2 Interview Project

We all come from families. Families don't only include biological relatives; we construct families of our own that are often more crucial to our lives than those we were born into. We all have family stories, traditions, and rituals. How are these family stories constructed? How are family roles defined? How do we fulfill those roles?

In order for you to do this assignment, you will need to interview a member of your family (you choose how you want to define the word "family,") or someone else's family. If you are ambitious, you might want to interview more than one family member. Do not use yourself as an informant. Although this essay sequence begins with an interview, your final draft will be a narrative in which you reflect on and analyze the information you have collected.

You will need to decide what kind of interview you wish to conduct. Do you want to present your informant with a prepared set of questions, or do you want to allow your informant to guide the interview? You may want to tape the interview, take notes, or have your informant complete a questionnaire via e-mail.

In order to successfully complete this assignment, the most crucial decision you will make will be in choosing the person you wish to interview. Make sure that the person is available and more importantly, willing to speak with you at length.

Here are some questions you may want to ask:

*What horrified your parents? What made them scold you?

*What topics of conversation were forbidden? How did you know they were?

*What ways of life or habits were out of the question?

*What do you think your father and mother never did?

*How would you characterize your relationships with your siblings and other family members?

I offer these sample questions as a guide. You may want to use these questions, maybe not. It's up to you.


Essay #3--Toys and Games--Research and Analysis

Toys. Games. They may seem like inconsequential items--a way to pass a rainy afternoon--a way to "waste" time when you should be doing something else--a way for parents to keep their kids occupied. They also teach us about competition, about what it feels likes to "win" or to "lose." When we win we rarely think about the ones who lose. Do you remember how it felt to lose a game? What if there was a game in where there were no winners or losers and the goal was just to keep the game going? Perhaps games are not so inconsequential after all.

What do the games we played as kids tell us about the world in which we grew up? What do they tell us about who we were as children? What about the games we play as adults? Don't tell me that no one amongst us has not whiled away hours that should have been spent doing homework playing Solitaire, or my personal favorite, Snood. What do these games say about our culture and our lives?

Draft #1: Choose a toy or a game that has meaning to you (you may define "game" in any way that works for you). Describe it in as much detail as possible. What do you remember about playing with this toy or game as a child? What were the rules? How did one win or lose the game? Did you play this game alone? With friends? With your family?

Draft #2: Looking back, what does this toy or game say about who you were? What comment does it make on the world you grew up in?

What do you know about the history of this game (here's where the potential for research comes in)?

Final Draft: Think of your game or toy as a cultural and sociological artifact as well as a relic from your past. I am asking that you not simply describe the game or toy you've chosen, but to analyze its significance and implications in a deeper, more complex, and perhaps a more disturbing way.


Essay #4--Why Write?

Writing is hard. It's lonely and frustrating, so why do it? I can't tell you how many games of Solitaire and Snood I've played in the past week procrastinating, putting off the work of writing this new essay assignment. And then, I finally sat down, turned on my iPod, and all of a sudden I was off and writing, and this is the hardest confession of all--it felt good and I wondered why I waited so long to write.

You may have come into this class with writing as a part of your everyday life; you may see it as something that will be necessary for your academic and professional career; you may want to avoid writing as much as you can, but why do you write?

For the final essay for this course I'd like you to think about all of the writing you've done this semester. Besides fulfilling a course requirement I'd like you to consider why you chose to write the pieces you did and why you chose to write them as you did. What inspired you? You may want to check out the Bb site to read what previous writing students have written about why they write.

You may want to return to the essays we read by Joan Didion, Paul Auster, and Stephen King. They have been able to articulate why they write. Perhaps something they have written will resonate with you. You may want to include some of the writing you did this semester. You may want to look through the private journal you've kept and see if anything leaps out at you. I have no specific guidelines for this final assignment of the semester. I think it's time to let you find your own way and WRITE!



EN394--American Lives - Assignments

Autobiographical Fragment/Process Journal

Autobiographical Fragment:

*The parameters for this assignment are open. It is up to you to decide how you wish to approach this. You can write an extended piece about a particular moment/memory/experience. You can write several shorter pieces. How you choose to write your memoir is also a decision you will make.

*Enabling constraints: your midterm piece should be between 8-10 pages in length. Your final memoir will include 16-20 pages of finished/revised writing.

*As part of this assignment, you will present a portion of your writing to the class.

Process Journal:

Again, how you wish to complete this part of the assignment will be up to you. I would like you to consider and keep a record of the ethical questions and challenges you face as you attempt to write about/record/analyze your lives. You may want to write in this journal on a weekly basis, or as you complete a section of your memoir. It can also serve as a place to take notes, record ideas, and ask questions.

Midterm Portfolio

*Midterm Reflections Letter - an essay - you can write this in the form of a letter if that is more comfortable to you - in which you write about your experience in and response to this class. If you have suggestions for the second half of the semester, this is a good place to put them in writing. I would like you to think about the class with regard to your participation in it, both as a member of a small group and as a member of the larger group. I would like you to begin to develop evaluative criteria and apply those criteria to your performance. My criteria for evaluation are stated in the Course Description I distributed on the first day of class.

*Memoir/Process Journal-Final Draft (8-10 pages)

*Reading Journal Responses (two entries)--you will develop the postings you made on Bb into fully realized informal essays; the minimum length for each response should be two pages (500 words).

Final Portfolio

*Final Reflections Letter - an essay - you can write this in the form of a letter if that is more comfortable to you - in which you write about your experience in and response to this class. I would like you to think about the class with regard to your participation in it, both as a member of a small group and as a member of the larger group. My criteria for evaluation are stated in the Course Description I distributed on the first day of class. This response should also serve as an introduction to the work you have chosen to include in your portfolio. Each person's response, of course, will be different. There is no "right" way to do this. You may be as creative as you' d like; however, as with all of your writing, this should be a serious endeavor (500 words--two pages).

*Memoir/Process Journal-Final Draft (16-20 pages)

*Reading Journal Responses (two entries)--you will develop the postings you made on Bb into fully realized informal essays; the minimum length for each response should be two pages (500 words).

*Note: It is understood that all written work should be carefully copy edited for spelling and grammar. Any student who does not submit a complete portfolio will receive a failing grade.

Here is a brief description of the range of possible grades:

*A/A- Excellent work: reserved for consistently outstanding achievement
*B+/B Very good work: clearly above average
*B-/C+/C Average work: the requirements of the course have been met
*C-/D+/D Below average but passing work
*F Failing work