Discourse Communities

A discourse community is a “group that has goals or purposes, and uses communication to achieve these goals” (John Swales). What does that mean? Like a sports team or a non-profit group or even the skateboarding community, a discourse community:

  1. has a broadly agreed set of common goals.
  2. shares specific values.
  3. has a specialized vocabulary.
  4. uses specific genres to communicate with its members.
  5. has a threshold of knowledge/skill that someone must meet in order to join the discourse community.

In other words, a DC is a group with shared goals, values, skills, language, and ways of communicating.

Of course, that raises a question about exclusion: how does somebody join one? How do its members regulate membership?

Here’s an example of how you might map a discourse community: DC example_1

And here’s how one high school student mapped a web of her own discourse communities: DC web

Literacy Sponsors

Deborah Brandt, in her work on literacy and the workplace, defined the idea of literacy sponsors this way:

“any agent local or distant, concrete or abstract, who enable, support, teach, model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy- and gain advantage by it in some way.”

This means our literacy sponsors can be either positive influences on us, or negative ones, or even both. Parents, teachers, classmates, a grandparent, a school environment — anything can have an impact on how we become literate, how we learn to read and write, whether we are comfortable with both, and how we see literacy as part of our everyday and work lives.


Compositionists think about writing as not just elimination of errors, or following a 5-paragraph template, or giving the instructor what they want. We believe:

  1. Writing is not just about what you say (content) but
  2. also how you say something (form),
  3. how you come up with your ideas (invention),
  4. how you go through the act of thinking and writing (process),
  5. and whether what you’ve said or how you’ve said it successfully meet the current situation (rhetoric).

In other words, writing is about communicating in ways that work—that do something in the world.

Freewriting about your writing concepts

IDEA: Writing is impacted by prior experience

  • Freewrite 1: Write about your most important memories of reading, writing, and speaking. What were your experiences at home and outside school? What were your experiences IN school? How do these experiences impact what you believe, feel, and do with writing and reading today?

IDEA: Writing helps people make meaning and get things done, but there are always constraints.

  • Freewrite 2: Write about a time when you wrote something and it didn’t work at all – people didn’t understand it, thought you had made terrible mistakes, ignored it, whatever. And not just in school, either. Describe the experiences and your feelings about it.

Pair-share. Square up. Whole class.

IDEA: “Good” writing is dependent on Writers, Readers, Situation, Technology, and Use

  • Think about a time when a rule or rules you were taught about writing by one authority (like a parent or teacher or boss) where changed or contradicted by another authority. What was the rule? Did you understand the reason for the change or contradiction? Were you bothered by it? Was the difference and the reasons for it explained to you?

IDEA: Schools are supposed to be places where the connection between literacy and democracy, between free speech and an informed citizen, is taught.

  • How does the piece from Deborah Brandt connect with the freewrites and thinking you’ve done today?

HOMEWORK: Look back over your freewrites from today. Jot down the rules that you find you keep saying to yourself whenever you write, especially for school. Also note the things that make it hard for you to write in general.

Read Rose. Do U1 blog post 2.

Then do GUM blog post 1.