Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Week 8: Monday, October 13th - Friday, October 17th

Note to instructors: The English Department's "Reading Days" are on Thursday, October 16 and Friday, October 17. Meeting for class during this time is optional. As a result, fewer activities are planned in the syllabus for this week. Since students will have completed Part 3 of Portfolio 2 - collecting sources for their annotated bibliography - you should point out to students that this is a good time to work on their drafts of the News and Issue Analysis. During this week you will also meet with individuals or small groups of students to confer about their progress with Portfolio 2. If you are teaching a T/TH section, you should cancel your Reading Day class for this purpose. If you are teaching a MWF section, you can cancel an additional class beyond the Reading Day. Plan to meet for 10 minutes with each student or for 20 minutes with small groups of students working on similar issues. You may choose whichever approach you prefer. Detailed instructions for what to cover during conferences are provided in the activities section for this week.

Goals for This Week

·      Complete the final draft of the Annotated Bibliography and prepare the other materials required as part of this portfolio. [Instructors: Discuss these with students at conference time.]

·      Review positions and move into shared perspectives or approaches, if not done already. Refer to the single source Position Analyses and the Composite Grid. If helpful, pull the NYT discussion of topics/issues back into this review.

·      Continue to collect news clips in the “contact zones”

·      Sign up for individual or group conferences

·      Meet for conferences outside of class

·      Assign students to read and analyze the introductions to three Issue Analyses in Talking Back as homework to be completed by the start of Week 9.

Connection to Course Goals

The work they have completed with the Annotated Bibliography will set them up for their News and Issue Analysis and will help them to meet the goal of showing that an issue is complicated and that perspectives on an issue are guided by contexts and values. Reviewing positions and shared perspectives or approaches will encourage students to think critically about their issue, specifically about the reasons why authors take certain positions on their issue and why it’s helpful to think about similar groups of positions as either shared perspectives or approaches. The discussion of these shared perspectives and the illustration of them through specific text evidence will provide the substance of the students’ papers. Conferences reinforce the idea that writing is a process involving collaboration and revision. Exchanging ideas with their instructors, students learn that college is a collegial environment and that professors can and should be approached. They also learn that writing is a process involving careful choices (in regards to purpose, audience, and context) and continuous, deep revision. They learn as well that they are responsible for integrating classroom learning and formulating plans for integrating their new knowledge into their revision plans, as evidenced in their conference discussions.

Be sure to maintain your efforts at connecting each lesson to the larger goals of the portfolio and course. Also, continue to anticipate the transitions in your lesson plans so that you can properly signal them as you proceed through a class day.

Reading and Assignments:

Students who complete the Position Analysis for several sources and bring them to conference will facilitate discussion. Encourage them to work on their analyses of sources and ask them to bring them to conference. You can assist them at that time with the Composite Grid or look over what they have done on the Composite.

[Instructor reviews annotated bibliographies before conference and has considered the shared perspectives or approaches implied by each student’s list and description of sources] Student brings a hard copy or, if previously arranged, refers to the Working Bibliography in Writing Studio while in conference

Meet for individual conferences. Remind students that they must come prepared—with all sources, process materials accumulated so far, for instance the position analyses, the composite grid, the annotated bibliography, and the news clippings that deal with issues in the contact zones. They should arrive ready to brief you on their analysis plans—how they see the individual positions clustering into shared perspectives and approaches and suggesting any additional research they think they need to do.

Potential Activities for this Week

Review positions and approaches: Most likely, despite the fact that you have now demonstrated the shared perspectives/approaches analysis at least three times in class, some students will still be confused about how to move from their analysis of individual sources (the Position Analyses) into an analysis of shared perspectives or approaches as aided through the Composite Grid. The goal for the activity today is to guide their thinking by providing an illustration of the process of arranging individual positions into shared perspectives or approaches. This activity will prepare students for the analytical thinking that we ask them to do in the issue analysis portion of this portfolio.

Use the board and follow these steps:

a.)   Choose a large topic such as gun control and ask students to write down what they think about this topic. Which arguments do they support and oppose around this topic?

b.)  Write students responses on board. Try to generate a large list of maybe 8-10 possible responses or reactions to this topic, e.g.,

c.)    If students don't include reasons for their positions, ask them why they take these positions. Explain that positions and perspectives are located inside the “why” or “because” statements associated with reasons. Include a reason to support each view.

d.)  Then, ask students to look for common threads or themes that cut across each response. Have them group the many responses into common approaches (maybe 3 or 4). Encourage them to create narrow categories (beyond pro and con). As you group positions into approaches, ask them to be attentive to what factors determine how positions get grouped (writers with common purposes, audiences, beliefs, values, background experiences, etc…)

e.)   Once you've arranged positions into 3 - 4 approaches, label each group with a phrase that accurately represents each the group. Explain to students that this is what they'll need to do with their own issue to complete the News and Issue portion of Portfolio 2.

f.)   Then, tell students that you're going to use this arrangement to illustrate what they'll need to think about for the issue analysis. The issue analysis will ask them to critically analyze the social and cultural factors that have shaped these positions and approaches. Students will need to consider why people take the positions they do. What has influenced their viewpoints? This is an essential step in the writing process, because in order for a writer to make an effective argument advocating his or her own views, he or she needs to understand where others' views come from. Also, in understanding others' views a writer is encouraged to look beyond personal (sometimes limited) views, and seek a fuller understanding of an issue. Often, a writer will change his or her original position based on new understanding of the origins of other writers’ positions.

Now move into a discussion of explanations for shared perspectives/approaches

Ask students to discuss the social and cultural factors that have informed the approaches they’re seeing in the gun control debate. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:

  • What historical events might have influenced these approaches? (terrorist attacks, Columbine shooting)
  • What personal events/experiences? (a robbery at home or a break in)
  • What laws may have influenced these approaches? (background checks, safety locks)
  • What values are associated with each approach? (safety, freedom, choice,)
  • What are the goals or purposes for each approach? (to allow guns but make them safer, to eliminate gun sales, to allow gun sales for all…)
  • If each approach became an argument, who would be the target audience for that argument? Why?
  • How might purpose and audience shape the way those who take this approach present or “spin” the issue?
  • In turn, how might the various presentations of the issue affect the way readers react to it and thus affect the course of the debate? (Emotional appeals involving Columbine may create overly sympathetic readers who ignore rational arguments for gun use or scare tactic used by the NRA may frighten readers into supporting gun use.)

Finish by asking students why it might be important to think critically about the social and cultural forces that shape a conversation about an issue. Why might this be worthwhile for a writer to consider as he/she constructs an argument?

Discuss the analytic tool known as the Composite Analysis Grid (provided in the introductory pages of Portfolio 2). Show students how to take information from their individual Position Analyses and analyze them for similarities to produce a Composite Grid. [Obviously as part of this effort, you must locate the Composite Grid among your course materials and decide how you will present and disseminate it—perhaps they can copy it from the overhead or you can download it to Syllabase and have them copy it from that location.]

Independent Work on their own Composite Grids (20 minutes): After completing the activity above, allow students to work on grouping their own bibliography entries and Position Analyses into shared perspectives or approaches on the Composite Grid. They will need to have produced several copies of the Position Analysis template, of course, but they will only need one Composite Grid. In addition to grouping their sources, students should refer back to their individual Position Analyses to EXPLAIN the relationship between perspectives and the social and cultural influences. Students might also be asked to find specific text evidence to show these perspectives and to connect them to the values and beliefs that underlie them. As students work, circulate around the room and address their concerns and questions individually. If you are teaching a T/TH section, you might allow some extra time for this activity. Or you might have students peer review their grids in pairs or groups if they finish early.

Sign up for individual or group conferences (5 minutes): Tell students that instead of meeting for class, next time you will meet with them individually (or in groups). Pass around a sign up sheet specifying dates and times for conferences. Tell them to bring all their process materials, including their sources, their annotated bibliography, their Position Analyses, and the Composite Grid they worked on in class today and will continue to work on before coming to their conferences. Explain the reason for meeting with them, which is essentially to check on their progress toward completion of this portfolio. Your goals for the conference should include

1.    seeing how students are progressing on Portfolio 2 and clearing up any questions about the first three parts of the portfolio.

2.    easing anxiety by addressing their individual projects. Students may be somewhat worried about the final essay for this portfolio (the News and Issue Analysis) and may express this concern as “I’m confused about what I’m supposed to do with this paper.” Acknowledge their feelings, but remember that you’ve had them do a lot of things to get ready for this paper and that all these items lead directly to that product. There is no need for you to repeat the material you’ve covered in class. Remind them to look at the examples in the Talking Back online publication, and remind them that we have another week to work on the paper itself and to review its objectives. Remember that they’re paying us to challenge them; don’t apologize for asking them to work.

3.    Then move their focus (quickly) to the analysis they’ve done so far, using their Position Analyses, their Composite Grid, and their drafted Annotated Bibliography. Since you will have examined their draft Annotated Bibliographies already—you might want to have their bib in front of you on the computer when they come to your office. You will be in a position to guide their clarification of shared perspectives or approaches, but allow them to first try to articulate some groupings themselves. Also ask them to connect the perspectives they’ve identified to the values, beliefs, cultural influences, background factors, and affiliations that they’ve named in their Position Analyses and Composite Grid.

4.    Remember that jumping in and solving the intellectual problem of this analysis for them (here in conference or on work that they turn in for feedback) robs them of the very analytical task this portfolio requires. On the other hand, it will help them a great deal if you hand out a conference prep sheet for them to prepare before they come to conference. (See introductory materials to Portfolio 2.) Ask them a few simple questions that get to the heart of their ability to group their sources and provide meaningful analysis of the shared perspectives and clear distinctions among their collected sources. Remember that the goal of the conference is NOT for you to provide them with answers or the analysis they need to do; rather the goal is for them to try out (verbally, with you) their ideas.

5.    Finally, the more prepared they are, the better, and the deadline of a one-on-one meeting with you, accompanied by their organized materials, may provide the exact incentive they need to get this work done. Don’t be too casual about this. After all, if they’re not prepared for the conference, they’re not far enough along in the process to do well on this portfolio. Convey your concern very clearly. They do not have a lot of time to get their acts together at this point. [Note: you will need to move in a business-like fashion to accomplish the goals of the conference in only a few minutes. Welcome students at the beginning, but don’t spend more than a minute chatting or you’ll delay the next student’s conference.]


  • Come to your assigned conference with all process materials, as discussed in class. Also come to conference with the answers prepared on your conference prep sheet.
  • Preparation for next week should include reviewing the introductions to issues analyses published in Talking Back. Also read PHG on Explaining, pgs. 274-282.
  • Continue working with your sources to name their shared perspectives or approaches. Start locating specific text references that will support your analysis of the sources and the perspectives associated with them.
  • Also, bring your SAT sources from Portfolio 1 back to class next time. [Instructors: You may want to send an email reminder of this the day before class meets since conferences and several days will have intervened between this set of instructions and the next class meeting when they’ll need to have their SAT sources with them.]