Week 5: Monday, September 22nd - Friday, September 26th

Week 6: Activity Ideas

backReturn to Overview


The suggested activities for this week include:



Exploring Ideas

Narrowing Topics into Issues

Discussion Questions

This week begins your weekly outline of goals/activities for Portfolio 2.  Notice that the activity times will NOT add up to a complete week of class time; you will need to add your own activities to fulfill the weekly goals in your class sessions.

As always, remember to introduce and conclude your lessons with previews and reviews. Use transitions to maintain a connection between daily classroom activities, assignments, and portfolio and course goals.



Back to Top 

Postscripts are an effective part of the writing process in that they encourage reflection. Postscripts are also useful when evaluating student writing because they provide students with the opportunity to recognize and identify their own struggles; they can be very insightful about what they've done most and least effectively. This recognition frees you from labeling such struggles as "problems" within your comments. Rather than directly stating that a student needs to develop a claim, state that you agree with the student's own observation that development is something that needs more consideration.

Additionally, this approach creates a tone of, "I'm here to help you" as opposed to, "I'm the expert" and allows you to incorporate the student's own voice into your feedback (e.g. "As you mention in your postscript, developing the evidence in your paper would help strengthen it most.").  Postscripts also help students to develop their abilities at critically examining their own writing. Such liberation from the necessity of obtaining the expertise and supervision of teachers is a desirable, but too often unstated, goal of the college composition course, which may well be one of the last formal writing courses students ever engage in. We want to encourage the enhanced ability of students to "write without teachers" to use a phrase coined by Peter Elbow.

You can use this activity to encourage students to reflect on their writing for Portfolio 1—or develop your own postscript that reflects your emphasis over the course of the first month of classes.    The postscript can be done on turn-in days or can be included among the required pieces in the portfolio and done before class. You may wish to establish a precedent for how you will handle postscripts and then apply it consistently.

WTL - Postscript for Portfolio 1 (10 minutes)

Possible postscript questions include the following (for clarity and time's sake, limit postscripts to about 4 questions):

  • What part of this writing process was most valuable to you and why?
  • Which parts of this portfolio were most challenging? How did you overcome these challenges?
  • What did you learn about writing or about yourself as a writer while completing Portfolio 1?
  • What is one piece of advice from the peer review that you used and one that you did not?  Why?
  • What do you feel the strongest part of your paper is?
  • If you had more time, on what would you continue to work?


Transitioning Between Portfolios

Back to Top

It is important to transition clearly between portfolios for students.  This way, they get a clear sense of where they've come from and where they're going - and they can see why.  Think of a major transition like this one the same way you think of transitioning between activities in a class period:  you want to provide an intellectual turn indicator for your students.

Introduce Portfolio 2 (5-10 minutes)

Distribute all assignment sheets—Topic Proposal, Annotated Bibliography, Issue Analysis and Synthesis—and let students read through them. Fill in due dates, highlight key points, and address student concerns along the way. Try to help them understand the sequencing of these assignments, and emphasize that all parts lead up to the Issue Analysis and Synthesis, which is intended for an educated audience of college readers—the class and their instructor. You may need to make a special case for the helpfulness of completing the Position Analyses for Single Sources and the Composite Grid homework assignments, since these are process elements of the Annotated Bibliography. For more assistance with planning this activity, read the section on "Planning to Introduce an Assignment" in the teaching guide, Planning a Class, on Writing@CSU (https://writing.colostate.edu/guides/teaching/planning/).

Introduce the Topic Proposal  (3-5 minutes)

Review the assignment sheet with students and answer any questions they may have. Remind them that their goal in this portfolio is to research a topic that an academic and public audience needs to know more about.  However, the primary audience for Portfolio 2 is themselves and the rest of the class.  Tell them that they do not need a bibliography page, but they should use author tags to credit ideas in their proposal.

Write a transition that explains the shift students must make from readers to writers as they move through the portfolios  (3-5 minutes)

For example: 

  • In Portfolio 1- you began as critical readers exploring an issue and examining different positions
  • In Portfolio 2 - you choose your own issue; then you research this issue, reading and analyzing the various approaches to writing about it
  • In Portfolio 3 - you become participants, writing arguments based on the research and critical thinking you've done in Portfolios 1 and 2
Transition between Portfolio 1 and Portfolio 2 (10 minutes)

Revisit the Writing Situation Model from Portfolio 1 to explain the transition between Portfolio 1 and Portfolio 2.  You can draw the model on the board or on an overhead and use it to explain that:

  • We begin as readers who encounter texts (starting, perhaps with the newspaper, and working outward from that) as a way to learn and explore what is happening culturally and socially.
  • Then, we become informed readers - drawn to certain specific issues that we want to learn more about.
  • We read and research various texts to locate the "conversation" that surrounds one issue we're interested in (find out what groups or individuals, who are active in writing about the issue, are saying).
  • Then, we analyze these texts to figure out how they are shaped by cultural and social influences. In turn, we consider how the texts that get produced are shaping society and culture.
  • Once we've critically examined the existing viewpoints on an issue, we become critical thinkers and informed writers. We then use our observations and critical thinking skills to construct new arguments—as we will do in Portfolio 3.
  • We write our own arguments for public discourse (that is, for a specific group of readers in society who are arguing about an issue publicly) in the hope that our opinions and views will influence that argument.
  • Through this process, we become active participants in society and culture.


Write a transition that moves the classroom discussion from topics/issues to the contexts that form and explain participant views on those topics and issues

Point out that students will be reading the Times with this new focus in mind during Portfolio 2. Specifically, students should continue to clip articles but now with the idea in mind of capturing both dominant and conflicting values, beliefs, and attitudes in U.S. culture. For instance, articles on educational issues suggest that there is a dominant belief in the essential right and obligation of all U.S. citizens to obtain at least a high school diploma—a "right" long protected by law and taxation. At the same time, "reform" movements are currently challenging the efficacy of public education and the current trend seems to be toward the privatization of education.


Exploring Topics

Back to Top

Often, the hardest part of research is beginning.  It is important to create an activities that help students come up with topics/issues about which they could research. 

Brainstorm Topics (10-15 minutes depending on the activity)

Please also now review the reason for having students collect clippings from the New York Times. Those collected clippings should reveal a variety of categories of public discussion, as well as specific issues for further research.

  • Create a discussion that asks students to come up with ideas they're interested in and that have been covered in our society/the world recently.  You might ask the following questions:
    What topics are currently debated in our society?
    What topics have you covered in your classes that you want to more about?
    What has local news covered recently?
    What topics have NPR or CNN covered?
  • You might divide the newspaper and class into sections/groups to discuss some of the areas of public discourse that emerge from coverage of current events—a.k.a. the News.  What do they see in today's paper?
  • Examples of categories (with innumerable subcategories) could also be drawn from the news summary on page 2. Topical areas illustrated by news coverage in the Times include, but are not limited to, education, science, technology, geography, finance, the arts, international relations, foreign policy, the environment, religion, government, the Armed Forces.
  • Bring in a list of topics you have made (or use/add to the one in the Appendix)
  • Place the class' brainstormed list on the board or overhead.  Or you might have a student scribe write it on the board and have another student take notes so that you can make an overhead or list of topics to post to a discussion in the Writing Studio.
Design a discussion of contexts (10-15 minutes depending on the activity)

The goal of this discussion is to explore factors which contribute to shared values, beliefs, and attitudes—what one might be inclined to call, in a derogatory way, "bias," but what might be thought of more constructively (and less judgmental) as an "explicable point-of-view." For instance, you might lead a discussion on a recent student effort to allow pets in the dorms. What context factors would lead students to hold various positions on this proposal?  Other topics might include the distribution of condoms in schools, keeping (or not keeping) "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, or creating less parking on campus, etc.

Cultural Contexts

  • Language/Media
  • Government
  • Shared cultural values and beliefs
  • Common traditions and documents that support that tradition (the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, for instance)
  • Large historical events (e.g. "Roe V. Wade)

    Social Contexts
  • Organizations, universities, schools, churches, businesses, environmental groups and other affiliations…
  • Family, friends and neighbors
  • Shared values and beliefs among smaller groups
  • Local events and traditions
  • Community concerns (e.g. planning for growth along the front range)


Narrowing Topics into Issues

Back to Top

For the purposes of a common vocabulary, focus and clarity, we distinguish between a "topic" and an "issue"  (see PHG pages 570-573). 

Develop criteria for what makes a "good issue" (10 minutes)

Since writing situations (purpose, audience, and context) determine what makes an issue "good" - begin this activity by asking students to consider their audience and purpose for writing their issue analysis. You may review the various audiences and purposes (as listed below). But emphasize that while students may have various audiences and purposes in mind, their primary audience for the Issue Analysis is themselves and the rest of the class. Their primary purpose should be to organize the "chaos" of information they find on their issue.



You (the writer)

and your peers


To analyze your issue as preparation for writing an argument in Portfolio 3.

CO150 Instructor

To prove that you can think critically about the writing situation (drawing connections between readers, writers culture) and show awareness of a specific audience

Here are some criteria to include for what makes an issue "good":

·      Your issue should appeal to an academic and public audience.

·      It should be complex enough to move beyond a simple pro/con debate.

·      It should be popular enough to find a range of opinions on (informative sources such as news reports from the Times are useful for learning about the issue, but convincing or persuasive sources, those that take a position, are needed for the analysis portion of the writing).

·      It should be fairly current or it should represent an ongoing concern. This should follow from the fact that the issue is present in a recent news article.

·      It should build off of existing arguments. For example, you wouldn't want to research an issue that has already been explored over and over (e.g. "Does the media negatively affect a woman's self image?") This question lends itself to no surprise since it has already been asked many times. Rather than "reinventing the wheel" find out how an ongoing conversation has evolved. See what direction it has most recently taken. Then, build on that recent thread of conversation (e.g. "Much research has already shown that fashion magazines have a negative effect on a woman's self image, but little work has been done to see how magazines affect men. With the production of men's magazines on the rise, perhaps we should begin to consider these effects.")

Discuss Narrowing Topics into Issues (10-15 minutes)

The first step in writing for Portfolio 2 is to have students choose issues to work with. Emphasize that students will be sticking with the issue they choose for the remainder of the course (about 8 weeks) so they'll want to pick something they're interested in and can sink their teeth into. The goal for this activity is to help students think about choosing topics and narrowing their topics into specific issues. Inform students that topics are too broad for the issue analysis and that they'll need to narrow their topics to issues in order to focus their writing for Portfolio 2. Use the grid below (or one that you develop) to illustrate the differences between topics and issues. Also, point out that issues are often defined in the form of a debatable question.






Nuclear Waste

Where should we store it?



How should we transport it across the country?

Should we continue to use nuclear energy when we don't have a reliable solution for storing its waste?

School Violence

What is the cause of the recent school violence?



What should teachers' role be in managing school violence?

Should the government fund more counseling programs in schools to reduce violence?

Brainstorm Student Topics and Narrow them into Issues  (10 minutes)

Have students generate a list of potential topics they want to work with on the board, drawing upon the New York Times clippings they have collected. Then practice narrowing these topics down to specific issues. Again, students should be able to find narrowed issues by looking more closely at the news clippings they have collected. The goal of this activity should be for students to formulate focused debate questions, such as those shown in the table above. If you want to assign this as a homework activity, consider using the brainstorming, freewriting, or looping activities covered in the PHG (pages 131-32) and in the CO150 Room in the Writing Studio on Writing@CSU. Also consider having students post their ideas to a discussion forum, perhaps labeling it "Debatable Issues Forum" or "Questions for a Debate Focus."

WTL - Practice narrowing topics down to issues  (5-10 minutes)

Have students list two or three topics that they might be interested in researching. Then, have them narrow these topics into 3 - 4 specific related issues. Ask them to form these issues as research questions. Since you've already modeled this activity as a class, you probably won't need to thoroughly explain it. Verbal instructions or instructions on an overhead should be sufficient.

Conduct a Peer Review Session for Issues (10 minutes)

Have students exchange their WTL's in groups of three. Ask them to read each others’ topics, issues, and research questions and then decide which ones would best meet the criteria for what makes a "good" issue. This peer review session could be conducted in groups over email or on a discussion forum. If the peer review is done over email, have the students cc to you, the instructor.


Discussion Questions:  Tannen's Article

Back to Top

Reviewing Tannen's essay "The Argument Culture" is important since Portfolio 2 aims to avoid us contributing to the "argument culture" by becoming knowledgeable members of all the sides in the conversation so that we can create a dialogue instead of a cacophony of monologue-diatribes about publicly debated issues.  The goals for this discussion should be:  to help students understand what is meant by the "dialogue" or "conversation" surrounding an issues, as opposed to a debate; to discuss the importance of looking at all sides when seeking "truth" on an issue in culture; and to explain the connection between Tannen's essay and the Issue Analysis Essay for Portfolio 3.

Facilitate a discussion for Tannen's essay (10 minutes)

Questions you might ask regarding Tannen's essay include: 

  • What is Tannen's main idea?
  • What factors does Tannen cite as contributors to our "argument culture"?
  • How effective is Tannen's evidence at supporting her claim?
    Do you agree with Tannen's assessment of how we treat argumentation in the U.S.?
  • How does Portfolio 2 tie into what Tannen is describing?  How might Portfolio 2 help us engage in a "dialogue" rather than a "combative argument"?

Note:  For more assistance with planning this activity review the teaching guides on Planning a Class and Leading Class Discussions on Writing@CSU.


Review the day’s activities (3 minutes)

When you or a student does this, take special care to make clear their connection to both Portfolio 2 and larger course goals. Take care to provide some sort of conclusion to each class.