Creative Writing

Fall 2021 Syllabus

Instructor: Professor Jessica Penner


Email: jpenner@citytech.cuny.edu / creative.writing.citytech2@gmail.com

Office Hours: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30 AM – 1 PM. I’ll be available through Zoom and will send an invitation via email that you should keep all semester. 


I have separated the one big document everyone gets at the beginning of the semester into two: the syllabus and the schedule.

This is the syllabus, which shares a lot of detail about the class. Questions about how the class is run, how you will be graded, etc., can be found here. The other document is the schedule, which shares assignments and due dates. Questions about what we will be doing each week can be found there.

Table of Contents

  1. Nuts & Bolts 
    1. How This Class Operates
    2. Aspects of a Writing Class
    3. Required Material
    4. Learning Outcomes
    5. Breakdown of the Final Grade & Grading Scale
  2. Details
    1. Communication
    2. Participation in an Online Course
    3. Behavior
    4. Office Hours
    5. Late Writing Assignment Policy
    6. Extra Credit
    7. A Few “Oddities”
    8. Formatting
  3. College Policies & Student Support
    1. NYCCT Policy on Academic Integrity
    2. Student Accessibility
    3. A Note on Course Workload

I. Nuts & Bolts

How This Class Operates

Some of you may have taken online courses before, for others, this may be a new experience. Like a face-to-face class, every teacher runs their class differently. Read on for a guide on how this class will be run:

  • This class is entirely online and hybrid, which means we meet via Zoom once a week, but there are assignments you have to do on your own. The day/time are as follows: Tuesday 10:00 – 11:15 AM.
  • Attendance and participation are crucial to earning a passing grade in this class. Each session you attend (and actively participate in) earns points that cannot be made up. I’ll “forgive” three absences at the end of the semester.
  • What is “active participation”? Just as in an in-person class, if you are online at the beginning, middle, and end of class, ask questions, contribute to the discussion in the small or large groups, and show that you’ve read the assigned assignments before class—all those things are active participation.
  • Some assignment deadlines are small, some are large. All of them count toward your final grade! Don’t assume that because you completed only the major assignments, you’ll get a passing, much less a desirable grade.
  • This syllabus is a living document, which means it may change. I will let you know as soon as possible if I make any alterations to assignments or due dates. Be sure to check your email and/or OpenLab on a daily basis to keep up with everything for this class.
  • You’ll notice I have two emails listed. The first address is my general NYCCT email. The second is just for your class. Please use the second email! Because all my classes are online, I get a lot of email every day, so your message can quickly get lost. If you use the second email, my response time will be much quicker!
  • All activities/information will take place on OpenLab.
  • Each week, I will post an Announcement (located under Activities) message in our OpenLab website. It will summarize what we’ll be working on for the following week.
  • I will also publish a weekly Assignment post (also located under Activities) each Friday, which will provide a detailed guide on what is due throughout the following week, titled “Week 1,” “Week 2,” etc. There will usually be two sections: Read and Write, with links to the week’s reading assignments and instructions on what you need to write in response to the assignment.
  • There are deadlines noted in the schedule (the other document) throughout each week. Most of the deadlines are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Some assignment deadlines are small (posts on the Student Work section), some are large (major writing assignments). All of them count toward your final grade!
  • Be advised that if you do not join in on Zoom and participate in the writing assignments, this will be noted by me. If you have not shown participation in this class within two weeks of the start of the semester, I will notify the administration and you will be dropped from the class. (Please note: If you wait until right before the end of the two weeks, you’ll discover that you’ve lost participation points!)
  • The responsibility to keep up with assignments rests on you. All the assignments in this class have specific due dates, which means once a date has passed, you cannot turn in the work and receive the points. I do not accept late work. If you have questions about assignments, please contact me and we can either work things out over Zoom or an email conversation—but this works better when you ask right away rather than wait until right before a due date arrives!

Aspects of a Writing Class

As you’ve probably guessed from ENG1101 or ENG1121, a writing class isn’t like a mathematics or computer programming class. Here’s some details about what this class will be like. Throughout this semester, we will:

Discuss – Suzan-Lori Parks once told The New Yorker: “I love my lecture tours. I get up onstage. I have my stack of books and a glass of water and a microphone. No podium, no distance between me and the audience, and I just talk to people and get all excited and tell a lot of jokes, and sing some songs, and read from my work and remind people how powerful they are and how beautiful they are.”

I refer to my lectures as discussions, because that’s how I look at them. I’ll passionately “talk” at length at times, especially when I’m introducing a topic, but I’ll also prod you for your reactions to the information via Discussion Boards, because each of you have a point of view that is unique and needs to be heard.

Read/Analyze – William Faulkner once wrote: “Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write.”

You will be asked to read material, analyze the work, and think about how you can use the example to benefit your own writing. I recommend you read the assignment at least twice—once for basic comprehension, the second time for details. If English is not your first language, you may need to read the assignment three or four times.

Write/Revise – Octavia Butler once wrote: “You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”

You will use what we have read as a jumping-off point for your writing. On a specific date, we will have a “peer review” (see below). After the peer review, you will be given time to revise, edit, and type a second draft. I will evaluate this draft. Be sure to keep the second draft once it’s evaluated! Don’t just delete it, because you’ll have an opportunity to revise that draft for your Writing Portfolio at the end of the semester!

Peer Review – Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote: “The waste basket is the writer’s best friend.” I add: “The peer reviewer is the writer’s next best friend.”

The class will be divided into a Cohort of four peers each. They will be given another student’s work and have time to read, fill out a peer reviewer’s worksheet, and discuss the work over email or text. You may be tempted to be “nice” and write nothing but glowing reviews during this process—please ignore this temptation. This is a time for you to work together for your common goal for this class: to become better writers.

Course Overview

All writing is creative, including the writing you do for school, internet posts to social media, and text/email messages. Where there was a blank page–virtual or otherwise–and you fill it with your words, you have, in fact, drawn on your intellectual resources to create patterns of meaning with those words.

“Creative writing,” however, generally refers to poetry, fiction, drama, and some forms of non-fiction–memoirs and narratives that use the techniques of story-telling.

We will focus on understanding how form and meaning work together and on understanding the types and complexities of each genre–notably, fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, and cross-genres–so each student can begin to develop their unique, individual voice.

We will be writing a lot—every day, in fact. You will be keeping a writing journal the entire semester to log your creative material and reflect on the process itself. I will be checking these journals occasionally throughout the semester—not to evaluate, but to ensure you are keeping up with assignments and know a little bit about what you are thinking as a writer.

We will be reading[1] a lot, immersing ourselves in the world of words–and analyzing forms of written expression, both student-produced and published work. Together, we will read, discuss and write memoir essays, short stories or flash fiction, and, time permitting, poetry and very short dramas (dialogues). In addition, we will give attention to the process of writing and the writing life and learn how to become adept critics by providing sensitive, useful feedback on each other’s work.

Required Material

  • First, make sure your email is one you check on a daily basis, because all announcements and email related to this class will go to the email address you have set in Blackboard. See this video for how to check/change your email address in Blackboard. Please be sure to check that email inbox frequently during the semester.
  • Make sure you have access to OpenLab.
  • Log in to your OpenLab account and follow these instructions to join this course. If you’re new to OpenLab, follow these instructions to create an account and then join the course.
  • You’ll be posting assignments on OpenLab, so you need to have member status.
  • We may be using Google Docs for some assignments. Here’s where you can get started if you’ve never used Google Docs before.
  • Have a notebook and a folder reserved specifically for this class, pens/pencils, and a laptop or tablet that has access to the Internet (since all reading material and other documents will be shared online).

Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

  • employ characterization, specifically the representation of characters through their actions, words, descriptions of them, and the responses of others to them;
  • create stories and poems with convincing points of view, specifically as it functions through the narrators of stories, speakers of poems, and characters of plays, and their perspectives on the subject matter of the works in which they exist;
  • create plots, specifically the selection and ordering of events as situations or scenes, to achieve suspense through exposition and action;
  • employ style, specifically its identifiable components: patterned sentence structure, word-order, manipulation of the qualitative and quantitative features of sound, and the choice of appropriate diction and tone;
  • utilize structure, as a planned framework for writing, selecting from several options to achieve most effective arrangement of parts, and the desired effect and impact of the work;
  • understand and demonstrate the use of symbolism and allusion in different cultural contexts;
  • conduct online, archival and primary research, to mine raw material for creative works.

Breakdown of Final Grade & Grading Scale

20% Participation

Completion of weekly homework assignments that will include critiques of published work by various authors and other reading/writing activities posted under Discussions by assigned due dates will earn these points. There will be 10 points possible for each assignment.

10% Critical Responses

Guidelines for critical responses to your peers’ work will be explained before our first major writing assignment. Learning to assess your own and others’ work and to offer constructive, specific feedback is a key part of our course. There will be 10 points possible for each Critical Response.

20% Journal

You will be keeping an online writing journal the entire semester to log your creative material and reflect on the process itself. I will be reading these entries—not to evaluate—but to ensure you are keeping up with assignments and know a little bit about what you are thinking as a writer. There will be 10 points possible for each Journal.

20% Writing

Throughout the semester, we will be writing memoir essays, short stories, poetry, and dialogues. You must complete each project on the due dates in order to receive points. There will be 100 points possible for each assignment.

30% Writing Portfolio

This will be a significant revision of three major writing projects and a final reflection essay highlighting how you’ve evolved as a writer. There will be 225 points possible for the Portfolio.

Grading Scale

A 93-100%

A- 90-92.9%

B+ 87-89.9%

B 83-86.9%

B- 80-82.9%

C+ 77-79.9%

C 70-76.9%

D 60-69.9%

F 59.9% and below

II. Details


I will be communicating via your City Tech email. Please check your City Tech email at least once a day. I check mine at least twice a day during the week. If you send me an email during the week, you can expect a response within 24 hours. If you write me on the weekend, I will respond within 48 hours.

Participation in an Online Course

Just because you’re logging on to OpenLab and Zoom doesn’t mean you are “participating.” Just logging on every once in a while doesn’t guarantee you will pass this class or get the grade you desire. In order to pass or get the highest grade possible, you need to do the following:

Complete homework before the due date. As I mentioned above, I do not accept late work. On a positive note, homework is graded upon completion. That means if you’ve obviously shown effort (answered the question, written the paragraph, etc.) you’ll get the credit.

How does a person show effort? For example, if I ask students to answer an open-ended question in a discussion or paragraph (How do you feel about your cultural identity? Why do people love or hate the Kardashians?), and one student responds or writes a single sentence, they have not shown effort, while another student who responds at length or writes five to eight sentences, they have shown effort.

It’s been my experience (and I’ve been teaching for over fifteen years) that those who do the homework fare better on the larger writing assignments than those who didn’t. If I’ve assigned something, I think it’s going to help you become a better writer, it’s not just “busywork.”

Finally, when we have first drafts due for Peer Review for your Cohort, be ready to present whatever you have on that date. Even if it’s incomplete, share what you have. If you don’t share what you have, your peer reviewers won’t be able to give you feedback on what’s good about your writing and what needs work before I evaluate it (this is invaluable information).


Even though this is an online class and we won’t be physically together, it’s important to behave in a professional manner. As you’ve undoubtedly seen on social media, things can very quickly veer from joking to antagonistic if participants aren’t careful, or perhaps a way someone words a post may offend a reader (when there wasn’t an intent to offend). So, when you’re responding to another student’s post on the Discussion Board, a peer’s essay, or in email conversations, please remember the following:

Respect – Students are required to show respect to the professor and other students at all times. This includes carefully reading content the professor assigns or a post made by another student, asking questions about the topic at hand, and refraining from name-calling or using inappropriate language (ableist, racial, misogynist, and anti-LGBTQ slurs, to name a few).

Participation – Students are required to participate actively in the class. This means doing all the homework assignments, connecting with your peers and instructor in a timely manner, and being prepared for each week’s assignments.

Many of you are taking this course to fulfill a Pathways requirement. However, once you commit to the course, you will be considered as a writer who cares about your work. Therefore, all of you are writers in this class and your work will be given the respect your efforts deserve

Office Hours

My office hours are at the top of this page. I’ll be available through Zoom and will send an invitation through email. Try to join my meeting at the start of the hour, not at the end—since I may be talking to other students or have another appointment after the hour is up. If those times don’t work with your schedule, we can schedule a different time. This means you’ll have to schedule an appointment in advance via email. In order to ensure we can meet, it’s important you contact me at least 24 hours in advance. For example, if you want to meet at 11 AM on Wednesday, be sure to email me on Tuesday morning; do NOT wait until 10:30 AM on Wednesday. I may have an appointment with another student or other responsibilities scheduled during that time. Please take advantage of this. It’s a time for me to help you with reading and/or writing issues or discuss any concerns you have. I really enjoy talking with students!

Late Writing Assignment Policy

ALL writing assignments not received by the due date listed on the syllabus will be recorded as an F. I do not accept ANY assignments after the due date (this includes the Writing Portfolio at the end of the semester). If you have life issues that may hinder your turning assignments in on time, talk to me before the due date and we can work out a specific new due date–that said, this has to happen at least 24 hours before an assignment is due, not five minutes before!

Extra Credit

I do not offer extra credit. If you complete the assigned readings, and turn in ALL writing assignments that have been thoughtfully written and proofread, you will pass this class.

A Few “Oddities” (and Other Notes)


A Cohort is a fancy word for a small group that works toward a common goal. In this class, you’ll be divided into Cohorts for to critique writing assignments. You will be with your Cohort all semester.

Assignments and Readings

Read with gusto and discernment. Learning to read well will enhance your ability to write well. Complete all assignments and write as much as you can. Of necessity, there will be overlap between drafts, with a new sketch or draft begun and another final draft due.

Writing Dos and Don’ts

Hate speech (racist, ableist, misogynist, anti-LGBT+, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, etc.) won’t be tolerated. Curse words are allowed, but only when there is a true need for the word (perhaps a character would use the f-word, etc.). Don’t get too stressed about grammar, but be sure your sentences are clear to the reader. More on this below…

Language Awareness and Precision

Not all of you self-identify as writers. Some of you do. All of you, though, come to this course with an interest in developing your writing and communication skills. A key goal is for students to pay attention to word choice and phrasing–and to work on exploring ways to communicate complex ideas, observations, and feelings to yourself and to others. Take risks in your thinking and writing. Use our readings as guides to genres and use of figurative language.

Peer and Self-review

Methods for responding to your own and others’ work will be explained later. Always try to understand what the author is trying to say. Suggest, rather than command, focusing on ways to bring out and shape the author’s meaning. All writers are sensitive to criticism. NEVER be rude or dismissive. All writers need to learn to accept constructive criticism. Therefore, provide honest, but gentle feedback, within the guidelines I provide.


As noted in the final grade breakdown, you will be keeping a journal on the class website. I have specific “journal assignments” that are meant to prompt you either to write creatively or reflect on the writing process. If you’re uninspired or unable to follow the prompt, go to the site: https://www.writersdigest.com/prompts or check the web for other writing prompts—just note on your post where you found your alternative prompt (make a hyperlink or write the URL).

III. College Policies & Student Accessibility

New York City College of Technology Policy on Academic Integrity

Students and all others who work with information, ideas, texts, images, music, inventions, and other intellectual property owe their audience and sources accuracy and honesty in using, crediting, and citing sources. As a community of intellectual and professional workers, the college recognizes its responsibility for providing instruction in information literacy and academic integrity, offering models of good practice, and responding vigilantly and appropriately to infractions of academic integrity. Accordingly, academic dishonesty is prohibited in The City University of New York and at New York City College of Technology and is punishable by penalties, including failing grades, suspension, and expulsion. For further information about plagiarism, cheating and academic integrity see page 57 of the City Tech catalog.

You will earn a zero on a plagiarized assignment in my class. You will NOT be able to “make up” the assignment.

Student Accessibility

City Tech is committed to supporting the educational goals of enrolled students with disabilities in the areas of enrollment, academic advisement, tutoring, assistive technologies and testing accommodations. If you have or think you may have a disability, you may be eligible for reasonable accommodations or academic adjustments as provided under applicable federal, state and city laws. You may also request services for temporary conditions or medical issues under certain circumstances. If you have questions about your eligibility or would like to seek accommodation services or academic adjustments, please contact the Center for Student Accessibility at 718-260-5143.

A Note on Course Workload

Per CUNY guidelines, please calculate two hours of work per credit hour per week, exclusive of class time. This means that for a 3-credit course, you will need to budget 6 hours each week for independent study/class preparation. Taking into consideration other professional, educational, and personal obligations, please make sure that you have the time to do the work for this course and successfully complete it.

  1. There are reading assignments that cover abusive relationships and death. If these topics are triggers for you, talk to me privately; we can discuss alternative readings or I can provide a summary that will let you know if these readings will be an issue. You must approach me before the reading is due. ↑

Print this page