The semester is broken into three units that focus on skill building. Unit I requires lots of reading (I use Signs of Life in the USA: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers by Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon). A heavy reading load can be difficult for the students, but important for them to make a reading/writing connection.
Analyzing texts about discourse communities as a class allows students to learn critical reading skills, and the variety of summary/response writing activities helps them process the information they are reading. Using a variety of formats is helpful as well -- allowing students to respond to articles on the class web page or via e-mail creates opportunities for sharing and response to one another's ideas. This further eliminates distinctions between the author as an authority and students as passive learners since they can all bring their own experience to the discussion and read about each other's.
The Inquiry/Synthesis paper gives students the chance to enter a discussion about a topic by examining a variety of perspectives (including their own). Students are encouraged to compare and contrast perspectives, a skill that will be useful in a variety of academic discourses.
Unit II helps students look into a future discourse community, that of their academic and professional field.
By reading and analyzing articles written specifically for their fields, students can learn conventions of larger, purpose oriented applications writing. For each textual analysis, students identify the purpose and audience, and speculate whether or not they are yet part of the intended audience. Unit II uses the skills of summary/response and synthesis by asking students to identify different communities within their fields, and also helps them build skill necessary for Unit III -- the arguing Unit -- such as audience analysis and evaluation of texts.
The purpose of Unit III is to take the analytical skills developed in Unit I, the information gathered in Unit II, and apply them to a topic in the student's own potential academic field.
Students can engage with issues directly related to their own fields by researching issues, finding a debatable claim, and researching to find evidence to support their claims. The assignments in the unit are purpose and audience based. Students are encouraged to identify a very specific audience that they can convince. Students use summary/response, synthesis, and textual analysis in this unit in addition to applying traditional rhetorical strategies to appeal to a specific audience and purpose.