Author Archives: jaccileslie

Low Stakes Assignment

What are some strategies or low-stakes assignments you might use to teach your students what genre is, and how and why we move between genres in order to reach our audiences and achieve our desired outcomes? Try to think of strategies that you might be able to use online.

I tried to keep the strategies very simple by explaining what genres are then defining discourse community. Once we had clear definitions, I used several different genres to support a video about African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in particular. The video is short but it explains the origins, usage, phonetics, and grammar of AAVE. Afterwards, my next two (2) classes were dedicated to reviewing different genres that discussed the same topic, AAVE or/and dialects.

  • Youtube, AAVE
  • Journal article, Smitherman et al
  • Personal narrative, Dowdy
  • Speech, Cosby

Then students spoke about rhetorical devices, audience, purpose, and which modal was most/least effective. For class assignment/low stakes, I have them come up with three (3) discourse communities and they each would bring a different genre to the class discussion.

Unit 3

For Unit 3, you will work in pairs and compose a multimodal project using all five (5) modals (linguistic, spatial, gestural, visual, and audio.) What does that mean? It means that you will create a multimedia piece with a written component. It can be any combination of text, visuals, audio, animation, graphics, or art. Your multimodal work can take a number of forms, but it is not you interviewing someone on your phone, and playing it for the class #boring. In other words, you will use research and reporting skills (honed from Unit 2) to create a multimodal project on a discourse community of your neighborhood choice in Brooklyn. This is an opportunity to be super creative!


For example, I am interested in the Discourse Community of natural hair braiders. I would choose Bed Stuy, Brooklyn for my Community Project. Based on Unit 2, I have four (4) different genres that I can use to research and further investigate things like: popular/unpopular, expensive/inexpensive hair salons that represent both Africans and black Americans; I would research the different African cultures that wear braids. For my multimodal component, I would, use statistics (natural vs. processed), record hair being braided while the stylist spoke, the end product is the art, animation is preparation involved in getting one’s hair braided, and graphics are the various hair salons in the community of Bed Stuy.


In Unit 3, you will be using your research to compose a document/artifact in a new genre. You might want to write a magazine article (for a particular publication), a comic book, short story or create a podcast, or a video essay. For sure, you have multiple publishing options for your Unit 3 genre. (Hint: think about your audience and the best way to communicate with them. Where could you publish or present your piece?)


The possibilities are virtually endless. The caveats are that you must:

  • have a rhetorical understanding of the genre you choose
  • make use of the research you did in Unit 2


You cannot simply write an “essay.” You will need to be specific, and the genre must contain words. It would help you to have a specific example (or model) of the genre in which you choose to write. You will have written about this genre, in some form, so use the knowledge you already have, and the knowledge you will gain from further research, to craft the best version of a document in the genre you have chosen. If you are choosing to do something say in video or song, you must transcribe the words.


Some ways you might want to get started:

  • Question your intent. Think, “What do I have to say? Why do I care about this topic?

What is the best genre for me to communicate what I have to say?”

  • Choose a genre you like and that you think best fits your intent. If you decide for

instance that you want to talk about bodegas, or your bodega specifically, perhaps an exposé is best.

  • The topic and genre should mesh.



Outline of Tasks and Points:


  1. View a list of various NYC neighborhoods by visiting:


  1. Research: select a few neighborhoods and Google them. Then, choose one (1) neighborhood in which you would like to do your observation about your Discourse Community. Once you’ve narrowed your focus/have chosen your genre, outline your argument. How will you support your general claim? What kind of sources would strengthen your argument? Which genre will serve as your primary text?


  1. Proposal. Consider again how your research and genre analysis in Unit 2 has addressed/influenced your line of questioning. What do you want to say? Why is your topic important to you and to the community at large? Which genre is best suited to communicating your message?
  2. Plan: spend at least two hours in that neighborhood walking around to gather your data on two (2) different days (i.e., Wednesday and Saturday).
  3. Create: be sure to include information about where exactly your neighborhood is (borough, direction in the borough, etc.), how you got there, what streets you walked on, what time of day and day of the week you were there and why you selected this neighborhood.
  4. Incorporate Modes:
  • Linguistic – word choice; delivery of spoken or written text (tone); organization into sentences, phrases, paragraphs, etc.; coherence of individual words and ideas
  • Visual – color layout style size perspective, Google My Maps to create maps that highlight specific locations, or create memes or digital posters.
  • Gestural – facial expressions, hand gestures, body language, interactions between people
  • Spatial – arrangement, organization, proximity between people and objects
  • Audio – use Sound Cloud or if you have a Mac, GarageBand can help you create a podcast; Buzzsprout, IG, Youtube, TikTok, and/or Facebookas a platform to host your product.


  1. Write Rough draft. Begin writing. Bring in research and the methodological knowledge you’ve gained from our investigation into genre and rhetoric. Look to your source/mentor text for ideas about structure. Bring two (2) copies of your rough draft to class (or upload and email) to participate in the peer writing-workshop.
  2. Conduct further research, based on feedback on your rough draft, if necessary, to

support your claims/vision. Incorporate reflection and feedback in order to improve the final product.


  1. Reflect: write a two-page reflection paper describing your experience using the

information you gathered. Organize ideas by creating an outline before you write

your Reflection so you can be sure to include all of the information you gathered.


  1. Present: in a 20-minute presentation (15min+5mins Q&A) about your exploratory walk. Be sure to use all of the information you gathered during your observation and present it in a clear, organized, and concise interactive way. Use visual aids to support your presentation and index cards for your speech notes.
  2. **Final draft. Upload Unit 3 to Open Lab, and bring one copy of your full report to class (or email me at: on the due date.



  1. Genre Awareness. You must show an understanding of the “rules” of the genre you are working in. Part of the Unit 3 assignment is a “genre report” (similar to those you did in Unit 2). Is this thoughtful, and well reasoned? Do you follow these guidelines in your final project?


  1. Audience Awareness. Does your project do a good job at anticipating and accommodating the group to which it is addressed? Does your project make the diction, argument, genre, and design choices appropriate to your chosen audience?


  1. Care. How carefully have you constructed a “finished work” in the genre of your choosing? For instance, a great deal of care was put into how a documentary organizes information and image to convey a particular message to an audience. This criterion will vary depending on your genre, but you must in all cases turn in a finished, organized project that is consistent and free of typos and formatting errors. You should be able to explain why everything is where it is.


  1. Effectiveness of Message. Do you communicate a clear message to your intended audience? Your audience should walk away either having learned something that could change how they think about your topic, or else with productive questions about your topic. It should inspire nuanced engagement and curiosity in your audience.

Discourse Communities

Students should be provide visual images of certain communities if permissible:

Social organizations – Did you observe families, couples, children with other adults, groups of younger children, friends? Can you identify a specific class to which the members of this community belong? If so, why did you identify them as being from that class?

Customs and Traditions – How were people dressed? Were the women dressed specifically to the culture(s) you observed? Were the men? Did you see any sign of physicality within the groups (i.e. were mothers mostly holding their children’s hands?, did couples hold hands?, Did father’s have their hands on their children’s heads etc?). Were certain colors predominant? Did you see symbols or other visual evidence that identifies the culture (s)? If you would like to include a photo or a drawing in your presentation, please do. Did your neighborhood have certain scents that you would consider specific to a culture? Did you hear sounds that you think are unique to your location?

 Religion – What religion(s) seemed to be the most prevalent? How do you know? Did you see symbols of religion (cross, Star of David etc.) or buildings (mosques, churches, etc.,) How do you think clothing and religion overlapped for the people in the neighborhood?

 Language – Could you tell what the spoken language(s) was/were? Could you tell if everyone who spoke the same language (s) shared the same culture? Or did they come from different cultures? Did you notice people speaking English to one another? If so, did you notice any dialects/accents? Did you see any signs of body language being used between people (i.e., bowing, avoidance, facial expressions) What written language did you see on the signs? Did some retail establishments have specific language signs while others had different languages?

 Arts and Literature – Did you get a sense of the arts (music, fine art, theater) or literature people treasure in the neighborhood? If there is a public library, did you go in and see if some of the books at the front were in a language other than English?

 Food – What kinds of restaurants did you notice in the neighborhood? By looking at the menus in front of the restaurants, did you get a sense of the kind of food the people in that neighborhood like to eat? Or what people don’t like to eat? Try the food, what did it taste like?

 Gender – Did you observe a predominance of one gender over another? Can you describe the juxtaposition of genders? Were you able to identify any signs of an LGBTQIA community or view same-sex couples?

Unit 2

What Are Your Curiosities: Rhetoric, Genre, Discourse?  (homage to profs. Clarke & Blain)

Unit 2 will be an investigation into and a report on a specific question about a topic that interests you. You will conduct research into various genres (four (4) sources), gather, and evaluate the information in those sources, and present a report on your findings. This report will be thesis driven based on your investigating, analysis, and thinking of your sources, and what you have learned from your investigation. You may arrive at an answer to your initial question, or you may find you are asking the wrong questions and will need to rethink your approach.


Basically, this is an investigation and report of findings (NOT a traditional research paper). I want you to investigate, analyze and report back on what you have found.   The goal is to find answers to your questions, but you may discover that you have come up with the wrong question or that you need to do more investigating.


As opposed to a traditional “research paper,” in this Unit, you should:

  • learn research skills that will transfer to other learning situations,
  • evaluate sources both in their content and context, and
  • synthesize sources from different perspectives with your own perspective


Outline of Tasks:


  1. Ask and develop a specific question. This should be something you care about, something you’ve always wondered about—something that will keep you engaged, as you’ll be continuing this line of inquiry in Unit 3 as well. Complete the Lenses Worksheet and have your question approved by me. (think: to what extent does….) If you change your question, your new question must be approved. (You cannot change your question past _______.)


  1. Research, gather information on, and analyze four (4) sources consisting of at least three (3) different genres.


  • Read and annotate sources with your question in mind. Complete the Fundamental Five Worksheet for each source. Then, to extend your analysis of each source, to think about the WHY behind the author’s choices. As you analyze each source, take into account and note the relationship between the source and your research question.


  • Now that the investigation, gathering, and thinking about are over, you will create something new that reflects your topic/idea and its connection to your Discourse Community. It can be anything from a song or lyrics, to a chapter of a book or part of a comic, to an article for an online news outlet, to an Instagram story, to a personal essay. This is all about sharing what you learned from your investigating, in a different way (new genre). Here are some ideas:
  • If you love a certain genre of music, write some lyrics for a song.
  • If you write, write a chapter of your favorite book or kind of book, a scene from your favorite tv show or movie.
  • If you think what you learned was important as news or facts, write a short piece for an online news or opinion site.
  • Or write your obituary (could be interesting)
  • You can also make a video of something you’re doing – like cooking with the family.

Get creative! And also share something important with your audience.


  1. You’ll also write a Writer’s Statement of at least 750 words to go with the above. There are three sections – here are the things you need to address in each one. Use “I” since you’ll be telling me what you did and why:


·      Describe what your goals were when you started – why was it important for you to do what you did? Who were you writing it for (assuming that everything we create is for an audience—we need to think about who we are creating for and why? What kind of response were you hoping for? What might people do with your piece?

·      Describe the choices you made and why you made them. Were there technical reasons? Did you keep coming up with better ideas? Did you re-think your goal? Be specific and point to the elements you included and chose to exclude, how you put them together, etc. Take your audience through the process of creating your piece – the good, the bad, the re-thinking, the awful, the pleasure.

·      Now that it is done, explain what you think is good about it as well as what you think you might have done better and why. Also talk about what you learned in the process.



  1. Reflect on your reading and writing in Unit 2 and write a reflective letter about the process. Consider: What did I learn from this process? About my own process of thought? About my reading process? My writing process? How can I apply what I have learned to other contexts? Due ____________ .


**Prepare the final draft of your report. Include a Works Cited page of your sources. The entire report consists of source analysis, introduction, and conclusion (excluding the Works Cited page.) Due ________ .


Grading Criteria

  1. Proposal & Question due: 20 points
  2. Research (2 copies) due: 30 points (including Revision)
  3. Writer’s Statement due: 40points
  4. Reflection due: 10 points.

**When submitting the final draft, you must attach (in the order listed)