Seeing the big picture of your course design

Discussing the design of the entire course at this point may seem as if it comes in the wrong order, but typically instructors often find it easier to articulate their course design after working through some of the types of assignments they wish to employ. The most important question for you to answer is how your short and long assignments are related and why they are ordered the way they are. Many instructors design their courses around a unifying theme. Others have chosen to work from accessible texts to more difficult texts, to use history as the organizing principle, to give students opportunities to practice different kinds of inquiry, or to choose writers and tasks from a variety of disciplines. Whatever organizing principle you choose, all 131 courses should gradually increase the complexity of the writing tasks, with the most demanding tasks coming later in the quarter. For example, given how many skills need to be both taught and practiced in order to conduct successful research, an academic research project might work much better in the second sequence than in the first.

Making the Outcomes a Part of Your Course Design

It’s important to remember that your students need to hear, read, and respond to the language of the outcomes in some form throughout the quarter if they are to be expected to demonstrate and reflect on them in their final portfolios. Several interrelated issues make it important to introduce these goals early in the quarter:

  1. students often feel frustrated that what has worked for them in high school doesn’t guarantee success here,
  2. students often note that they “don’t know what you want” and interpret your responses to their writing as idiosyncratic, and
  3. students are not getting grades throughout the quarter, so they are anxious about what to focus on in their writing.

To address these concerns, you can use the PWR 100-level course outcomes in various ways over the quarter.

  • To communicate to your students how they can approach an assignment and what elements will guide your response to their writing: Because of the prevalent idea that “good writing” is a clearly defined and stable descriptor, it can take patience and perseverance to help students become aware of issues of context, audience, and genre in ways that help them to become successfully flexible writers. You can save both your students and yourself a great deal of frustration by ensuring that students understand and utilize the outcomes while writing. To this end, it is important to create opportunities for students to explicitly generate and ask clarifying questions about the outcomes (most students, when asked for questions, will claim to understand all of the outcomes perfectly). For this reason, we strongly recommend that you explicitly identify the outcomes/traits you are targeting in your assignments. You may also want to emphasize that these criteria represent the goals of the PWR for students in all 100-level English courses—in other words, that they are not just “yours.”
  • As guidelines for you to use in evaluating and responding to your students’ writing: Sometimes it’s hard to identify just why a paper—or a whole group of papers— isn’t working. These outcomes should help you remember things about constructing arguments that have probably become second nature to you as a writer. Some instructors even use these outcomes to create a rubric used to organize their end comments categorically, writing separate comments in response to student performance in each area. Whatever approach you take, be sure to use the language of these outcomes (especially ones you have targeted in your assignments) when responding and evaluating. This way, you reinforce and circulate the outcomes, keeping them active in students’ minds.
  • To raise discussion about the audience to whom students are writing. One of the most important takeaways from English 131 for many students is dispelling the myth of a singular form of good writing, or that one general academic audience exists on campus. You can further drive home this point by specifying the audience to whom students are writing for each assignment. Is it you as their instructor? Is it themselves (in a reflective piece)? Is it their peers in this classroom? Is it for a public audience (e.g., residents of their hometown or members of a campus organization or specific individual(s))? Note here that you can also encourage students to compose public-facing genres in addition to academic-oriented ones, allowing students to draw from their understanding of publics in which they are invested to compose arguments that matter.
  • As guidelines for structuring the content of your class. You will want to spend class time talking about academic inquiry and argumentation, academic conversations, rhetorical strategies, and the importance of presentation. Every issue addressed by the outcomes is worthy of some class time.
  • As an entryway into in-class analysis of student writing. You will want to structure some class time to examine a few of these criteria as they are (or are not) manifest in the papers students are writing.
  • As guidelines for structuring peer review. Students often come to a greater understanding of these ideas by reading each others’ work. Reading their peers’ writing is a useful way for students to practice identifying and discussing the course outcomes. This work then supports them in applying the outcomes to their own writing. We recommend that the peer review worksheets you design, then, give students practice with the outcomes language and understanding them in the context of course writing.

Other Considerations while Designing the Course

  • How to accommodate and mobilize differences in students’ past writing instruction;
  • What knowledges about writing and the writing process students bring to the course;
  • How to take account of, accommodate, and mobilize students’ prior reading and research experiences;
  • How the readings will be set up to support the course goals for the students’ writing as detailed in the outcomes;
  • How to integrate issues of stylistic choice and grammatical conventions into the course;
  • How to talk about research and inquiry in a contextualized manner, so that students do not exit the class ascribing to the myth of the general research paper for a general academic audience;
  • How to ensure that space is made for students to bring their own diverse literacies into the course;
  • How closely your evaluation of students’ work matches what you spend time on in class; and
  • How you evaluate students’ participation throughout the various sequences.

Finally, you will need to consider how you provide opportunities for students to gather information for the final portfolio critical reflection. This requires that students have opportunities to practice the rhetorical strategies necessary for an effective critical reflection. In the final critical reflection, students will need to be able to argue for how particular selections from their work over the quarter accomplish and demonstrate fulfillment of the course outcomes. That means they will need to be given time and opportunities to reflect on what their intentions were in each assignment and how successful they think they were in meeting the goals of the assignment. Some instructors ask students to write journal entries reflecting on their work as they go. Others ask students to write a particular response to a single assignment. Some specific class time needs to be devoted to explaining the portfolio critical reflection, whether a cover letter or a web-based essay (if you are choosing to have students compose an electronic portfolio), as most students have little or no experience with these genres. It can be helpful to supply students with examples of both effective and ineffective reflections so that students can ask specific questions. These examples also supply students with models to reference when they are trying to compose their own versions.

Potential Assignments

As the previous section illustrates, there are a variety of ways to target the PWR 100-level course outcomes. Below we share a list of general types of assignments that will allow students to work toward creating a portfolio of written work to fulfill the outcomes for the course. These assignment ideas can be modified in large or small ways to fit the specific context of your class, and you are also encouraged to produce other types of assignments that will enable your students to meet the Outcomes.

Beneath the name of each assignment below we identify the key outcomes that this type of assignment targets. While all of the outcomes could be stressed and integrated in any of these assignments, this suggests some ways to imagine how you might put extra emphasis on one versus another outcome depending on the assignment. These descriptions are intended to serve as possible springboards for you to design your own assignments. To successfully use these assignments in your class, you will need to write a full assignment prompt (including expected length, due dates, the specific nature of the assignment, and expectations for students) and distribute and verbally explain the assignment to your students. There are examples of some of these assignment types in this handbook, and many more in the PWR Archive, which we link to later in this chapter when we offer some sample assignment sequences and materials.

Major Assignments

Revising for a New Audience (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

In this assignment, students are asked to write an argument-based paper relating to the reading(s) and topics in the course, then to revise that paper for a different audience. Audience here could be thought of in multiple ways (a different person? a different group? a different culture?). This could take the form of revising for an audience in a different academic discipline, or revising both audience and genre for a community outside of the university. This would entail previous short assignments involving researching various disciplines to learn what questions, genres, and rules such writers work with. The focus of this assignment is on comprehensive revision, meaning that students would make substantial changes to such things as the questions motivating the paper, the approach, the overall structure, the writing, and what counts as evidence.

Revising for a New Genre/Genre Translation Assignment (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

As the name suggests, in this assignment, students translate their writing from one genre to another and then reflect on the ways they navigated the conventional expectations of the new genre. This assignment parallels the Writing for a New Audience assignment in that it generally helps students transition from writing composing a genre associated with an academic audience (such as an Archival Research Paper) to composing a genre associated with a more public-facing audience (such as a podcast). To scaffold this assignment, you might consider explicit instruction on genre and how genres function as social action to reveal the values of a community that takes them up. A critical component of this assignment is reflection, giving students an opportunity to describe in detail the ways that they adapted their writing to meet the needs of this new genre, as well as the genre’s constraints and/or the ways that they innovated within the new genre.

Qualitative Research Paper Using Interview or Survey Data (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

In this assignment, students are asked to return to previous assignments in the sequence to produce a new, comprehensive, argument-based paper. Students need to have written both a critical analysis of a reading assignment and conducted interviews or surveys (Canvas works well for the latter) earlier in the sequence. In the assignment, students create an argument using both the reading(s) and data they have gathered on the topic. They begin with a research question, and the format of the paper follows the scientific method: Introduction, Methods, Results, Analysis/Discussion. These papers help students understand how to convert their writing to different academic/disciplinary audiences, because they don’t contain thesis statements and require students to engage and talk about primary research rather than extant (literary, scholarly) texts. They can also be a great way to work toward anti-racist praxis in your classrooms, because they treat students as experts in their communities and allow students to conduct research within and about those communities to contribute to a class or academic conversation. Qualitative research papers also allow you to teach students how to adapt their language for talking about research (qualitative papers are generally in APA, use different reporting verbs to talk about participant interview/survey data, require fewer/different kinds of transitions, etc.). STEM students in particular find this MP engaging and immediately relevant to their other coursework.

Archival Research Paper (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

In this assignment, students learn how to use primary sources to conduct and write about historical inquiry. Archival research helps students think directly about genre, and how the same genres in different periods diachronically reveal changing community values. For their project, students can study a genre or set of genres of interest to their community (State of the Union addresses; “It Gets Better” youtube videos, UW student newspaper articles about student athletes, Vogue Korea magazine covers, Bollywood film advertisements) from multiple decades to analyze what these genres tell us about the social actions, relations, and ideologies they have mediated historically: shedding light on changing community values in that discipline/culture over time. Archival research papers should not be so focused on research that they do not involve complex arguments; instead, students should use research and archives to allow them to develop their ideas on the topic. Another benefit of an archival research paper on genre specifically involves your ability to help students cultivate meta-knowledge about writing at every stage of the research and writing process. A library orientation is suggested for this type of major paper assignment. You can arrange a library orientation for your class through this link:

Focused Question and Application (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

This might be the most common type of major paper assignment—one that asks students to respond to a focused question and apply key concepts from the reading. For instance, if students read “Panopticism,” they might be asked to answer the question, “How can Foucault’s ideas be used to make sense of a particular educational setting?” Students would then apply some of Foucault’s ideas (discipline, control, power, surveillance, etc.) in answering that question. Students reading “Handicapped by History” might be asked to explore one of their own textbooks in a way informed by Loewen’s readings and concepts. In this assignment, students are asked to develop an original claim, work with evidence, revise, etc. Note: a challenge of this type of assignment can be getting students to go beyond simply and uncritically applying the concepts from the reading.

Short Assignments

Reading Response (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2)

Reading response papers are typically opportunities for students to summarize all or part of a text (particularly if the reading is long) and respond critically to one or two specific features or sections. These short papers (often 1-2 pages) can be used to respond to a reading in the class and, thus, prepare students for in-class discussion, or reading response papers can be required for outside sources students will use in their major paper assignments.

Textual Analysis (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

In this short assignment, students are asked to focus on a particular aspect or feature of a text and analyze the argument, ideas, use of evidence, or other critical features. Note that the text could be written, visual, or both—an advertisement, say, or a film. As students often struggle with complex analysis, this type of short paper would help them develop complex ideas about a text.

Analysis of Rhetoric and/or Rhetorical Situation (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

This short assignment shares a number of qualities with reading response papers but is geared more toward having students focus on the language and rhetoric of a text, exploring what we can learn about the writers, readers, and situation of which that text is a part. This type of work involves detective work. For instance, students might isolate particular phrases and references in Stanley Fish’s article to determine Fish’s values, what he expects his readers to know and care about, and the key features of the conversation Fish is responding to.

Close Reading (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2)

In this short assignment, students are asked to closely examine and analyze a sentence or short passage from a complicated reading. Such a paper would probably begin with close scrutiny of the sentence or passage itself, then move on to make connections between the sentence or passage and larger aspects of the text. Students then move to arguing for the significance of both the passage and their analysis. Attention to language, sentence type, and the use of evidence can be valuable here.

Dialogue between Texts/Authors (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

This type of assignment is used in various ways and is geared toward having students explore and analyze how ideas are debated in academic discourse. Students may be invited to imagine a conversation, inquiring into, for instance, how Ramamurthy and Fish see the meaning of texts as determined quite differently. Alternatively, students could put a reading from the course into conversation with an outside reading. In papers like these, students are encouraged to focus mainly on ideas (culture, texts, or representation, say), or to focus on the types of arguments made by the two authors and how those arguments are presented (in terms of language, style, genre, etc.).

Analysis of Argument (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

This short assignment is a lot like other reading response papers, but focuses exclusively on the argument(s) in a text. Students are asked to describe the argument—identifying the main claims, subclaims, types of evidence, use of concessions, and warrants. Or students are asked to visually represent the argument, using boxes and connecting arrows, say. For extremely complex readings with multiple arguments, students might be asked to analyze just one argument in the piece and then present that aspect to other students in the class.

Analysis of Genre(s) (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

Genre analysis can take several forms, all of which are aimed at getting students to be more aware of the larger contexts texts are part of. Students might analyze the genre of the book review, say, identifying key features of that genre and inquiring into what larger purposes and social structures the genre serves and represents. After analyzing such a genre, having students participate in that genre can be a way to utilize their knowledge in powerful ways.

Analysis of Multiple Audiences about a Single Incident (Possible Outcomes: 1, 3)

One way to teach students to be increasingly aware of the strategies writers use in different rhetorical situations is to have them produce different responses to a single incident. For instance, students could write short emails about the writing they do in their courses to a parent, friend, and as a letter to the editor of the Daily. This exercise would be followed by a short paper analyzing variations in language, style, structure, and ideas in their responses or those of other students.

Analysis of One Audience About Different Incidents (Possible Outcomes: 1, 3)

This assignment is similar to the one above, but targets how content and genre (not just audience) determine a lot about how writers compose and present information. Here, students are asked to write to the same audience (a parent or family member, say) about various events at the UW. For instance, students might be asked to write a letter about having broken their foot, an email apology for doing something bad, and a note arguing that the family member should read an article from the class. This exercise would be followed by a short paper analyzing differences between the texts.

Dialectic Essay (Possible Outcomes: 3)

One way to encourage students to develop complex thinking and writing is to have them write a formulaic short essay that embodies a dialectic. This means that they write from at least two points of view and develop a complex synthesis of those points of view at the end. In such an essay, students would: 1) argue on behalf of a prompt you give them, 2) argue against that position (citing evidence), and 3) conclude by synthesizing between the two points of view. (Note that a dialectic essay of this kind is required in the MCAT.)

Personal Essay (Possible Outcomes: 1)

While personal writing has been one of the more hotly contested topics in the field of Composition, your students may benefit from writing a short personal essay as part of one of your assignment sequences. If students were reading Loewen’s article, for instance, they could write a short piece reflecting on their own experiences with high school history courses. This would give students a text (of their own creation) to compare with Loewen’s argument. Alternatively, students might benefit from writing about their own cultural background (or other cultural knowledge that they have) if your major paper assignment asks them to explore cultural identity. But be careful: personal writing can be extremely hard to assess, and students who have experienced severe abuse and/or trauma may take this as an opportunity to write about it, putting you in a difficult position as an instructor.


Class Discussion (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3)

Class discussion can be used to support and inform student work at any stage of an assignment sequence (see Chapter 7 of this Manual for more detailed treatment of class discussion).

Group Work (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

Having students work in groups can be a very effective way to get them to explore multiple points of view on a subject, to understand and apply a reading more fully, to see connections between ideas, to scaffold class discussion, and to work toward greater complexity in their writing (see Chapter 5 for more about designing group work activities).

Peer Review (Possible Outcomes: 1, 2, 3, 4)

Peer review sessions can be orchestrated in numerous ways—using writers’ memos, formal rules for response, or informal written comments on the back of each essay. In peer review sessions, students both respond to texts and use feedback from their peers to revise their own papers (see Chapter 5 for more on using peer review). Tutors from the Odegaard Writing and Research Center are happy to come to your class to model and lead peer review sessions. Email Director Erin Cotter at to arrange an appointment.

Writing Conferences (Possible Outcomes: 4)

Writing conferences can also take numerous forms and happen at different stages in the writing process. Early conferences might focus on developing an argument, while later conferences would likely focus on revising that argument, working more effectively with texts, making the stakes of the argument apparent, and beginning to edit (see Chapter 7 for more on conferencing).

Writing Center Visit(s) (Possible Outcomes: 4)

Some of your students will not be able to get a 2.0 without regular visits to a campus writing center, such as the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) or CLUE. Such visits can be required by you and something you assess at the end of the quarter (as part of the participation grade or as part of a major paper assignment). In these visits, students can focus on a range of tasks, from generating ideas to revising in order to create argumentative papers that matter in the academic context.

Editing Workshop (Possible Outcomes: 4)

While seldom a focus of most writing classes, you can devote class time or particular assignments to editing. Here, students would focus on assessing how well their grammar choices match their rhetorical goals as well as on correcting errors in grammar, punctuation, and mechanics that interfere with reading and understanding (see Chapter 6 for more on grammar and editing).



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2023 English 131 Instructors Manual Copyright © 2022 by kersch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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