ENG 1121 Units and Readings

For each unit, faculty should choose at least one reading. Faculty are free to choose other readings that may not be on the list in order to supplement their course as they like.


Unit 1: Genre Awareness / Discourse Community

Key Terms: Rhetoric, Rhetorical Situation, Genre, Discourse Community

The goal of this project is for students to demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between genre, discourse communities, and rhetorical situations. The reason for doing so is that research shows that this study is key knowledge for transfer. By analyzing the features of specific genres and studying their related discourse communities, students learn that genre and discourse community are always connected. By doing so, students apprehend that learning to write in a new situation comes from understand the features of different genres and their related audiences.

This assignment offers a means for students to understand and use a variety of different types of research, including ethnography, analysis of artifacts, interviews, or other primary sources. The products for this assignment may take different forms. Students may do a genre analysis that explores the textual features, compares the similarities and differences across instances of the genre, identifies the discourse communities tied to the genre, studies how the genre and discourse communities have changed historically, and asks questions about who is included and excluded from the genre. Students may also choose to compose in a genre. In all cases, however, students should demonstrate in writing a deeper understanding of the ways in which discourse communities influence genres over time and rhetorical situations define exigencies for writing.

As with all the units in the course, reflection and transfer are critical, as Taczak and Robertson point out, “students who develop a reflective framework that allows them to understand writing in different contexts are able to reimagine previous writing knowledge that they can adapt to a new situation.” In addition to the main writing project, metawriting assignments should ask students to explicitly concern themselves with transfer. For activities in this regard, see Yancey and Beaufort.


Since this unit comprises the intersection of Genre, Rhetorical Situation, and Discourse Community, it is important that all three of these concepts be addressed.

Elizabeth Wardle and Douglas P. Downs: Rhetoric and Genre Excerpt

from Writing about Writing

This piece, written to students, gives a comprehensive overview of what we mean when we talk about Rhetoric and Genre. It includes helpful reflective activities.

Janet Boyd: “Murder! Rhetorically Speaking”

from Writing Spaces, Vol. 2

Laura Carroll: “Backpacks vs. Briefcases”

Kerry Dirk: “Navigating Genres”

Nelson Graff: “Teaching Rhetorical Analysis to Promote Transfer”

Joseph Harris: “The Idea of Community in the Study of Writing”

from College Composition and Communication 40, no. 1 (1989): 11-22.

Pairs well with Bartholomae’s “Inventing the University” and serves as an introduction to discourse communities.

Ann Johns: “Discourse Communities and Communities of Practice: Membership, Conflict, and Diversity”

Wayne Peck, Linda Flower, and Lorraine Higgins: “Community Literacy: Can Writing Make a Difference?

Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi: “How Students Use Prior Genre Knowledge to Negotiate New Writing Contexts in First-Year Composition”

Meghann Meeusen: “Taking the High Road: Why Learning to Write Isn’t Easy and What We Can Do about It

Jaqueline Jones Royster: “When the First Voice Heard is Not Your Own”

John Swales: “The Concept of a Discourse Community”

Elizabeth Wardle: “Identity, Authority, and Learning to Write in New Workplaces”

from Enculturation 5.2 (2004): http://enculturation.net/5_2/wardle.html

This article describes a new employee, fresh out of college, trying to communicate with a new workplace community and failing — miserably. The reasons he failed included a lack of authority in the new activity system, a specific form of rebellion against the values of that activity system that Wardle calls non-participation, and a sense of identity that conflicts with the new activity system


High Stakes

Natalie Saleh: “Crafting Theology: Toward a Theory of Literacysmiths

(Student Ethnographic Genre Analysis)

Ashley Serku: “The Art and Rhetoric of Letter Writing: Preserving Rhetorical Strategies Throughout Time

(Student Historical Genre Analysis)

Maegan Trinidad: “If it May Please the Court: Analyzing the Use of Rhetorical Elements in Courtroom Opening Statements

(Student Genre Analysis)

Medium Stakes

Nelson Graff: Several different activities, including the rhetorical outline
Rebecca Ramos: Sample Student Discourse Community Analysis
Professor Strang (MIT): Rhetorical Genre Analysis
Kathy Yancey: Composition in Three Genres

Unit 2: Inquiry-Based Argumentative Project

The purpose of this inquiry-based research is to spark and deepen student curiosity and scholarship. In this unit, students will further their research skills to investigate a problem of interest to them. This may be a problem in their communities,  that arises in the literature they’re reading, that arises from the discourse community projects or from any number of other places. The key here is that students begin their research with a question or a hypothesis as opposed to a thesis or an answer. Their research may lead them to an solution, but it is more likely that the research will lead them closer to a solution, or to a different, deeper question– and that’s fine!

Instructors can and should scaffold the problem-finding process, narrowing it down to a family of topics or otherwise helping students choose a place to begin,  but instructors should not prescribe topics to students wholesale.  Students will be expected to a variety of online resources and will also have the possibility of conducting interviews or other observation based research. Research will require that students use appropriate attribution practices including gathering and evaluating of multiple sources, both primary and secondary sources. Students will be asked to synthesize a variety of ideas and sources while they pursue their research goals and questions. Research assignments can be individual projects or group projects.


Ellen Carillo: “Navigating This Perfect Storm: Teaching Critical Reading in the Face of the Common Core State Standards, Fake News, and Google.”

Dana Lynn Driscoll: “Introduction to Primary Research: Observations, Surveys, and Interviews.”

Cynthia Haller: “Walk, Talk, Cook, Eat: A Guide to Using Sources”

Steve Krause: “On the Other Hand: The Role of Antithetical Writing in First-Year Composition Courses”

Marcia Muth: “Using Sources Ethically”

Kyle Stedman: “The Annoying Ways People Use Sources”

Janice Walker: “Everything Changes, or Why MLA is Always Right”


Corrin Pickney: “The Effects of Internalized Oppression on the Black Community”

(Student Text)

Kira Pratt: “Why We Need to Get in Formation: the Rhetoric of BeyoncĂ©”

(Student Text)

Unit 3: Repurposed Multimodal Project

This assignment asks students to re-think, or re-envision, one of the assignments they have written previously in the semester, presenting it in a totally new genre, perhaps changing  modes: for example, a revision that goes from a written essay to an audio podcast, website, graphic, video essay, rap album, or mixed modal. This assignment builds on the generic, rhetorical and audience awareness that students have worked on all semester long, asking them to consider what discourse community they are trying to reach and, not only what diction, but also what mode of delivery would be best for delivering that message.

This “translation” is key to transfer, one of the core learning outcomes of this course. If students can take a message and transform it for different audiences and media, then they are well on their way to being able to transfer writing skills across fields, disciplines and discourse communities.

As with all the units in the course, reflection and transfer are critical, as Taczak and Robertson point out, “students who develop a reflective framework that allows them to understand writing indifferent contexts are able to reimagine previous writing knowledge that they can adapt to a new situation.” In addition to the main writing project, metawriting assignments should ask students to explicitly concern themselves with transfer. For activities in this regard, see Yancey and Beaufort.


Nelson Graff: “Teaching Rhetorical Analysis to Promote Transfer”

Brian Ray: “More than just Remixing: Uptake and New Media Composition”

Jaclyn Fiscus: “Genre, Reflection, and Multimodality: Capturing Uptake in the Making”

Julia Voss: “Who Learns from Collaborative Digital Projects? Cultivating Critical Consciousness and Metacognition to Democratize Digital Literacy Learning”


Justin Graffa: “The Art of Trespassing”

(Student Multimodal Project)

On Using “The Art of Trespassing” in the classroom: Graffa’s video is great to watch as an exemplary one in terms of student multimodal work.  Graffa’s video/short documentary seems quite professional and is incredibly well edited, arranged, etc., so it may be that Graffa had more time with the project than our students will.  His video focuses on “urban exploration” also known simply as trespassing. He looks specifically at those who go to abandoned buildings and other spaces and then share videos and photos online of these spaces.  Most interesting in his video is the discussion of how and why people share these images of abandoned and soon to be demolished buildings. He interviews and includes footage of interviews focused specifically on people who explore spaces in Detroit; Graffa considers the differences between those who want to share their work (photos, videos, etc.) to remember and record, and others who may simply exploit spaces of ruin for their own gain.  Thus the video ends up accomplishing many things–it becomes a response to the economic devastation that Detroit represents– and for this reason, it is a fascinating one to look at together with students.

Keywords: multimodal, examples of student work, visual narrative, video, video editing, music and video, image as archive, trespassing, trespassing as social act, documenting, documentary.

Chelsea Harrison: “College Students and Social Media”

(Student Graphic Text)

On Using “College Students and Social Media” in the classroom: This was a nice example of multimodal student work, which incorporated both detailed research and also a number of different types of sources — scholarly articles, fieldwork, interviews, and primary source research — into a nice and fairly focused argument about social media. It was great to use it with my students and offers them a wide menu of choices for their multimodal genre translation.

Keywords: multimodal, examples of student work, graphic essay, visual narrative, genre awareness, OER

Hanrick Kumar and Calvin Tiu: “To a Rapper’s Delight: An in Depth Look at the Construction of a Musical Collaboration”

(Student Audio Project)

Sample Assignments

Repurposed Assignment 1

Remediated assignment 2

Remediated assignment 3

Unit 4: Final Portfolio

The final portfolio assignment requires a minimum of 6,000 finished words written by the student. This means that all of the work should have gone through proofreading and editing, i.e., “finished.” Faculty should spend class time preparing students to write the final portfolio. It should include the following:

  1. Final drafts of major projects.
  2. Reflective pieces that are related to the projects.
  3. Abstracts/introductions or other prefatory remarks that explains how each major project has evolved over the course of the semester.
  4. A final self-assessment essay:
    • In addition to the revision and reflections of the individual pieces, students also write a narrative that explains their evolution as a reader and writer over the course of the semester. This narrative asks students to return to their first assignments and their reflective pieces they have been writing to describe how their thoughts and practices about writing have changed over the course of the semester. It is important to recognize that students should not simply state that their writing has changed over the course of the semester, but by drawing upon the learning objectives for the course as well as their own writings, they should be able to specifically describe with sufficient detail particular moments in their assignments and in the semester where they could substantiate how their own growth has taken place.  They should feel free to quote themselves, other students, and readings they’ve encountered in the class. 
    • Here is a sample portfolio assignment.

Further Reading

The work by Yancey, Beaufort, and Taczak and Robertson is essential for understanding the relationship between metacognition, genre, and transfer. Yancey and Taczak and Robertson ask students to develop a “theory of writing” over the course of the semester, one that students return to over and over throughout each unit and continue to develop through each assignment. A running assignment such as this links the reflective work students do in each unit together in order so they can work on and revise their theory of writing as they encounter new writing situations in the curriculum. While faculty are not required to ask students to develop a theory of writing, explicitly teaching transfer will help students write better in new situations than if teaching for transfer is not made explicit.