Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Day 5 - Tuesday, September 8th

What You’ll Do in Class Today

  • Show students how to develop their responses with reasons and evidence
  • Engage students on the issue of urban sprawl
  • Do a mini-analysis of Steven Hayward’s writing situation
  • Introduce the second type of response - interpreting and reflecting on the text. Then practice applying this type of response to Hayward’s essay.

Connection to Course Goals

Discussing reasons and evidence helps students develop their own ideas with support. It encourages them write more focused and thoughtful responses, as opposed to a list of unsupported reactions.


1.      Model Introduction: “Today we’ll discuss two of the three types of response - agree/disagree and interpretive/reflective. We’ll focus specifically on developing reasons and evidence within a response, because that is one of the most important skills involved in writing. Writers who produce effective responses take the time to explain what they think, but they also show why they think what they do, providing clear reasons and evidence for their readers.”

2.      Informal discussion reviewing evidence (10 minutes):

·        What is evidence?

·        What are the different types of evidence (think back to the PHG)?

·        Where might you need to use some evidence in your summary/response essay?

·        What kind of evidence might you use in your summary?

·        What kinds of evidence might you use in your response?

3.      Have students revise their responses (10 minutes): Ask students to read back through their responses and to revise accordingly. Have them reflect on the discussion you just had and ask them to check for the following (put these on an overhead): Check to see:

·        that you've clearly made a point (agree/disagree)

·        that you are responding to a main idea from the essay

·        that you've given a sufficient reason for your opinion (tell us why)

·        that you've provided some well-developed evidence (show us why)

·        that your reasons and evidence are focused - they connect back to the overall point you’re trying to make

** Tell students that others will be looking at their revised responses shortly (this will be incentive to stay on task).

Model Transition: “At this point, I’d like to shift our focus from agree/disagree responses to interpretive and reflective responses. We’ll use Steven Hayward’s argument on urban sprawl as a means for practicing this type of response. Since urban sprawl is an issue of growing concern, let’s start with your ideas before we address Hayward’s views. This will help to get you thinking about where you stand on some of these popular issues, so that when it’s time for you to choose your own issue (for Portfolio 2) you’ll have given some thought to these things.”

4.      WTL (5 minutes): How would you define urban sprawl? What is your experience with it or knowledge about it? How has it affected you so far (your city or your neighborhood, your travel experiences, your recreational habits, your general beliefs, values or lifestyle)? Do you believe that urban sprawl is an important issue or is it, as Steven Hayward suggests, "the sort of issue that could worry only a fat and happy land"? Support your position with reasons and evidence.

5.      Discuss WTLs (5-10 minutes): Ask students to share their responses to the WTL questions. The goal of this informal exchange is to "hook" students. In order to encourage them to think more critically about issues, it is useful to start with their ideas.

Model Transition to Next Activity: Steven Hayward has a unique take on this issue. Most activists on sprawl tend to be environmentalists and democrats (people who oppose sprawl). But Hayward makes a strong argument against the negative effects of urban sprawl. We're going to look closely at where his argument is coming from so that we can talk about how you might respond to an essay like this - by looking at the main ideas and what they suggest.

6.      Mini-Analysis of Steven Hayward's writing situation (10 minutes): This activity is designed to prepare students to accurately represent Hayward's ideas and to look for assumptions and implications in his argument. In order to fully understand a writer's argument, it's important to understand the situation he/she is writing for. Likewise, in order to determine what assumptions inform a writer's argument or what their argument suggests, it is important to know where the writer is coming from.

** Create your own activity (overhead points, class discussion, group work, etc…) and incorporate the following questions:

·        Where was this essay published? (The National Review)

·        What can you tell about the Review from looking at their online subscription page?

·        (They're very conservative and anti "liberal media")

·        Who appears to be their target audience? Who do they hope to reach or affect?

·        What can we infer about the writer (Steven Hayward) based on this context?

·        What is the argument Hayward makes for this particular audience?

·        (Essentially that sprawl is not a significant issue and that smart growth plans are ineffective and doomed to fail just like urban renewal.)

·        How does he support this argument? (Ask students to reference specific places in the text and explain their answers clearly)

Model Transition to Next Activity: So now that we have a general sense of where Hayward's coming from and what his argument is, let's talk about how we might respond to the ideas in his essay.

7.      Discuss responding to Hayward's essay (15-20 minutes): The goal for this activity is to reinforce concepts from the agree/disagree response and to introduce a new type of response - interpreting and reflecting. On an overhead, highlight the three kinds of response from the PHG:

·        Agreeing and disagreeing with the ideas in a text

·        Interpreting and reflecting on the text

·        Analyzing the effectiveness of a text

Ask students if Hayward's essay lends itself to the agree/disagree type of response (it does). And invite them to elaborate on which ideas they might respond to in an agree/disagree format. Then, explain that you will use Hayward's essay to explore another kind of response - interpreting and reflecting. Note: Be sure that you explain the following points (include these on the overhead that you used for the types of response above):

·        The goal of an agree/disagree response is to emphasize one important idea from a writer's text and support or refute that idea using reasons and evidence. Here, you want to convince a reader that your position is a favorable one.

·        The goal of an interpretive response is to look critically at an argument in order to explain what it fully means. Looking critically at a text requires you to inquire beyond what the text actually says. One way to do this is to locate the assumptions that inform a writer’s argument and find out what the writer's argument implies. Along the way, you may find yourself agreeing with or refuting the writer's ideas and the assumptions and implications that are tied to these ideas.

·        The goal of an analytical response is to determine a text's effectiveness by examining its parts. You might look at the purpose, the intended audience, the thesis, the main ideas, the organization and evidence, and the language and style. Here, your aim is to point out an essay’s strong points and/or where it falls short. Analyzing the text's effectiveness allows you to make more informed decisions about the usefulness and credibility of a writer's argument.

** Inform students that you'll be focusing on the interpretive response for Hayward's essay. Since locating the assumptions and implications in an argument are an important part of interpreting an essay, you'll want to define the following terms for them as well:

Assumption - is what a person believes to be true. However, assumptions are not always true; they are not shared by everyone or supported by unquestionable evidence. Writers make different assumptions based on their background and experience. Assumptions inform a writer's argument. If you look closely at a writer's use of language, tone, and evidence you can sense the assumptions a writer is making about their topic and their audience (their beliefs, their values, and their expectations).

Implication - is a suggestion that is not directly stated. Writers may imply something when they are hesitant to write a bold statement or reluctant to make unsupported claims (for example, a writer may not state that the Vice President is too old to be in office, since this could be viewed as inappropriate. But their argument may suggest this none the less). This type of implication is usually driven by the writer’s opinions, so it tends to be hidden "between the lines." In order to fully understand an argument, you’ll want to locate the implications a writer’s argument makes.

Implications can also be the logical ramifications of an argument that the writer may or may not be aware of. For example, one of the implications of making abortion illegal is that back alley abortions would increase and the fatality rate, due to botched abortions, would rise. One way to look for this kind of implication in an argument is to ask, "What does this argument suggest is happening or could happen in the future? Does the argument hint at an escalating problem? Does it suggest anything in the way of “effects” or what could result if a particular action is taken?

8.      Practice using the terms "assumptions and implications" (10 minutes): Use the following questions or devise your own to get students thinking about what assumptions are:

What assumptions might we make about:

·        someone who reads the Collegian?

·        someone who reads the New York Times?

·        someone who watches Dawson's Creek?

·        someone who watches Star Trek?

·        someone who lives in San Francisco?

·        someone who lives in Salt Lake City?

** Use this activity to reinforce the point that assumptions aren't always completely fair and shared by everyone. Also, remind them that assumptions are shaped by one's own experience and environment. Include the following questions to show students why it is important to examine a writer's assumptions:

·        When are readers likely to agree with a writer's assumptions?

·        What assumptions does Hayward make (about sprawl or about his readers beliefs and values in general)?

·        Will all readers agree with his assumptions? Who won't?

·        How will looking at assumptions help you fully interpret Hayward's essay?

·        How might looking at assumptions help you write an interpretive essay?

Design an activity where you get students to practice using the term "implications". You might use advertisements, look at political cartoons/arguments, or develop sample claims/arguments that contain various implications. Be creative!

At the end of the activity, make sure students understand the distinction between assumptions and implications. If they don’t fully understand, inform them that assumptions already exist without the argument. Assumptions inform a writer's position. Implications result from the writer's argument.

9.      Model Conclusion: “Today we talked about how you might reflect on or interpret an argument more critically by examining an author’s assumptions, and the implications of their argument. We will continue practicing this second kind of response for one more class period before moving on to discussing our last type of response - analyzing the effectiveness of a text.”


Read comments from the in-class mini-workshop and complete a final revision for your response to Schrag. Then, read Steven Hayward's essay, "The Brawl Over Sprawl" (http://www.townhall.com/features/sprawl.html) and visit the National Review (http://www.nationalreview.com) to give you a sense of where his essay was published and who his intended readers are). Write a brief summary and a two page interpretive response to Hayward's essay. In your summary, represent the author's ideas fairly. In the response, expand on these ideas by reflecting on key passages from the text and interpreting what the argument means. Point out any assumptions that the writer is making about his audience or his issue (use textual evidence to support this). Then, reflect on any phrases and passages where the text may suggest or imply something more than what it actually states. Post your response to the SyllaBase Class Discussion Forum and bring a hard copy of your draft to class.