ENG 1101 Readings


Unit 1: Literacy Narrative


(Faculty choose at least one reading from the list below.)

Deborah Brandt: “Sponsors of Literacy”

Vershawn Ashanti Young: “Nah, We Straight”

from JAC, vol. 29, no. 1/2, 2009, pp. 49–76. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20866886

On Using “Nah, We Straight” in the classroom: This rich (if dense) reading can fuel wonderful classroom conversations about code switching, bilingualism, and how someone’s discourse community membership can influence choices with language. The text is pretty dense, if reading with students, a 2-3 page excerpt could be plenty. However, it’s a valuable framing device for understanding multiple literacies and what a literacy narrative might touch on in terms of understanding the story of someone’s language and literacy acquisition over time.

Keywords: code switching, literacy, multiple literacies, language, Standard American English, bilingual, discourse community


(Faculty choose at least one model text from the list below or similar outside readings of their choice.)

Robert Agunga:  “How Can I Help Make a Difference”

James Baldwin: “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then tell me What Is.” or https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/29/specials/baldwin-english.html

In this seminal text by Baldwin, he explores the connections between power and language. Specifically he considers how the language used by black Americans shows us how language use develops in relationship to one’s experience in society. The text is an excellent one to read with students to discuss the different ways that language shapes us and how different uses of language develop through power structures.  Baldwin asks us to think about what we understand language to mean, about our own experiences with language, and about how studying a language can reveal something about community, society, or an individual.

Keywords: power, language, identity, society, racism, language and identity, inequality, literacy

Suresh Canagarajah: “The Fortunate Traveler”

from Reflections on Multiliterate Lives : Reflections on Multiliterate Lives, edited by Dr. Diane Belcher, and Dr. Ulla Connor, Channel View Publications, 2001. 

On Using “The Fortunate Traveler” in the classroom: This essay is both an academic rumination on the power of literacy narratives and a lovely example of a literacy narrative in its own right. It can be formative for students and instructors alike in learning what kind of thing a literacy narrative is, and how it could be taught in the classroom. 

Keywords: literacy, translingualism, postcolonial, English, multiple literacies, academic discourse communities

Sandra Cisneros: “Only Daughter”

Sandra Cisneros’s personal essay is a good text to read with students to discuss writing experiences and to use as an example of a literacy narrative.  The essay explores the author’s background as a Mexican American and only daughter in a family of six sons. She discusses especially how her father’s treatment of her as the only female child impacted her and shaped her identity as a writer.  The text is a wonderful one to use to engage with topics of how language and culture impact identity as well as how one might rhetorically approach a personal essay. The essay can also be discussed to think about how families can influence our choices or goals; in this case, Cisneros explores her family background as central to her life as a writer.

Keywords: literacy narrative, immigration, feminism, identity, language, culture, assumptions, gender, gender identity, family, family influences, writing and identity.

Barbara Mellix: “From Outside In”

George Orwell: “Why I Write”

In Orwell’s famous essay, “Why I Write,” he explores what motivates him as a writer.  After sharing biographical information as well as discussing some of the factors that can motivate others to write, Orwell explains that he must write to tell truths about society and to fight for justice in an unjust world.  The text is a good one to consider in a discussion of the impact of writing on our world and how writing can represent protest. Also, in the classroom, we can think about what motivates or inspires each one of us to write and what we might be able to achieve through writing.  Further, the text can be used to think about and define rhetorical strategies and (of course) is a great example of a literacy narrative.

Keywords: writing, protest, identity, personal narrative, writing and politics, political voices, autobiographical texts, literacy narrative.

Lucas Pasqualin: “Don’t Panic: A Hitchhiker’s Guide”

(Student Piece)

Kiki Petrosino: “Literacy Narrative”

Richard Rodriguez: “The Achievement of Desire”

Nick Scala: “The Evolution of Educational Writing”

(Student Piece)

Amy Tan: “Mother Tongue”

On Using “Mother Tongue” in the Classroom: A tremendously accessible, straightforward, and impactful example of a literacy narrative for student consumption. Students universally tend to connect to the reading, and it can prompt stories of translating for immigrant parents and having to really become aware of “what type of English” students use. A winner and a classic literacy narrative for a reason!

Keywords: English, immigration, multiple literacies, code switching, bilingual, writer, identity

Malcolm X: “Learning to Read”

On Using “Learning to Read” in the Classroom: Malcolm’s passion for knowledge is palpable in this autobiographical excerpt. Students will be particularly motivated by the fact that, not only was Malcolm an autodidact, he had the courage and determination to teach himself while in prison. (His description of how he had to put away his flashlight while the guards did rounds at night is particularly affecting.) Students glean that the act of reading, in and of itself, can take the place of guided (“taught”) instruction if they truly apply themselves and read broadly. The implicit argument that a college education may not be all it is cracked up to be is fodder for good discussion. Books as objects worth owning (Malcolm asserts he can never be without one) is also a marvelous paradigm for students living in our digital age. 

Keywords: autodidacticism, vocabulary, self empowerment, vocalization, dictionary skills, racial inequality, correspondence, penmanship

Units 2 & 3: Genre Awareness, Rhetorical Situation, and Discourse Community

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


Dave Bartholomae: “Inventing the University”   

On “Inventing the University” in the Classroom: This is what you might call a “composition classic.” It’s also a good way to talk about the University as a discourse community. It describes the ways in which students are asked to play the part of acting and talking like a student when they come to school. 

Laura Carroll: “Backpacks vs. Briefcases”

On Using “Backpacks vs. Briefcases” in the Classroom: Carroll’s welcoming tone and clear style of writing make complex issues of rhetoric understandable — without dumbing them down. As her title implies, the author wants students to become aware of the non-verbal interpretive “reading”  do they do every day (judging their professor by their clothes, for instance); she then adjures students to not let their innate desire to analyze (make “snap judgements”) go under their mental radar, unappreciated and untapped for its power and potential to make them better scholars and citizens.  Terms like “logos,” “pathos,” “ethos,” “exigence,” and “audience” are unpacked and addressed. The last section of this reading, entitled ”…Why Do This Stuff Anyway?” is a worthwhile summary.

Keywords: rhetorical analysis, persuasion, logos, pathos, ethos, commercials, rhetorical situation, appeals, media saturation, argument, context  

Kerry Dirk: Navigating Genres

On Using “Navigating Genres” in the Classroom: Kerry Dirk’s text is an incredibly helpful one to read with students— this is one of the best ones to utilize for genre discussions. Dirk maps out some of the most important ways that we can understand and define genre; as her title connotes, her essay helps us to navigate genres with our students.  She discusses many core theories on genre and responds to Amy Dewitt and Lloyd Bitzer’s theories among others. Dirk explains examples of rhetorical situations and breaks down the different ways one can understand genre. Dirk’s text is a great one to work with to establish genre awareness. The text is useful for faculty when considering the key terms that they can incorporate in their teaching and reminds us of the many types of genres that we can use in lessons, readings, and in the unit as a whole.

Keywords: genre, rhetoric, rhetorical situation, rhetorical action, genre knowledge, composition, composition theory, writing, teaching writing, genre theory, genre awareness, genre expectation.

Nelson Graff: “Teaching Rhetorical Analysis to Promote Transfer”

Highly Recommended!

On Using “Teaching Rhetorical Analysis to Promote Transfer” in the Classroom: Graff discusses the work that he has done with his students providing details of his rhetorical analysis project as well as some student responses to the project. He makes clear links between a focus on metacognition when teaching composition and how this can lead to transfer; when students have more awareness of their own writing practices, they can apply this to other disciplines and writing experiences. Graff’s text is especially useful for faculty to find ideas and examples for possible rhetorical analysis assignments.  Also, for those who might be less familiar with what is happening in the field of composition, this text is an excellent place to start.

Keywords: writing, metacognition, transfer, rhetoric, rhetorical analysis, composition pedagogy, writing pedagogy

Donna Kain and Elizabeth Wardle: “Activity Theory: An Introduction for the Writing Classroom”

On Using “Activity Theory” in the Classroom: Presents a brief overview of activity theory appropriate for undergraduate students, and describes how activity theory can be used to analyze texts as they mediate activity in different contexts.

Mary Jo Reiff and Anis Bawarshi: “Tracing Discursive Resources”

On Using “Tracing Discursive Resources” in the Classroom: This in-depth article details the results of a study done on composition students who studied genres, and incorporated their previous genre knowledge (usually from high school) into college level writing courses. The findings were that many students who were reluctant to try new writing strategies were often seen as “genre guarders” while the more adventurous “genre crossers” were more willing to try composing in new genres and incorporating strategies and awareness from previous genres of writing that they had worked in. Strengths as an instructor-facing text to support creation of genre awareness assignments and classroom activities to highlight the differences between genre-specific writing and more broad genre-crossing writing strategies in the classroom.

Keywords: Genre, rhetorical awareness, writing strategies, crossing genres, previous genre knowledge, studies of composition, students

Patricia Roberts-Miller “Rhetoric is Synonymous with Empty Speech”

from Bad Ideas about Writing.
On Using “Rhetoric is Synonymous with Empty Speech” in the Classroom: Describes what rhetoric is by acknowledging misconceptions of what it is not.

Bronwyn T. Williams “Popular Culture is Killing Writing”

from Bad Ideas about Writing

On Using “Popular Culture is Killing Writing” in the Classroom: Short essay that discusses genre theory in the context of teaching non-academic genres.

Tara J. Yosso: “Whose Culture has Capital?”

On Using “Whose Culture has Capital” in the Classroom: This article conceptualizes community cultural wealth as a critical race theory (CRT) challenge to traditional interpretations of cultural capital. CRT shifts the research lens away from a deficit view of Communities of Color as places full of cultural poverty disadvantages, and instead focuses on and learns from the array of cultural knowledge, skills, abilities and contacts possessed by socially marginalized groups that often go unrecognized and unacknowledged.


Nelson Graff: Several different activities, including the rhetorical outline

Rebecca Ramos: Sample Student Discourse Community Analysis

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

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

Sample Assignments

Rhetorical Genre Analysis (Professor Strang, MIT)

Kathy Yancey: Composition in Three Genres