First Essay Assignment – Narration

First-year composition courses often address modes of discourse. Many educational sites, such as Owl  lists four: Narrative, Descriptive, Expository, and Argumentative.  Quite a few textbooks, however, subdivide them further: Process, Cause and Effect, Comparison and Contrast, Definition, Illustration, and Division and Classification.  Even though I prefer challenging students with provocative ideas and contemporary, controversial subjects early in their undergraduate education,  educating students on these modes helps them find the language of composition that is so essential to success.  Besides, most textbooks, such as Paul Eschholtz and Alfred Rosa’s Subject & Strategy, encourage students to combine strategies.

This assignment concerns narration.

In 750 to 1250 words, narrate an interesting and significant event (the event does not have to be long in duration) in which you learned something about one or both of your parents’ strengths, weaknesses, and/or limitations. You can substitute a person or person who raised you instead of your parent or parents; in other words, a grandparent or grandparents, adoptive mother and/or father, an aunt and/or uncle. You must narrate the event in such a way that the reader comes to understand what you have learned about your parent or parents.

Additional requirements:

  1. Part or the entire event must have happened in nature, and at least one other person other than you and the person or persons who raised you must be described in your essay.
  2. Your narration does not need to begin at the beginning: You can begin the narration anywhere; however, the narration has to be written in such a manner that readers can keep track of the sequence of what happened when and where.
  3. The paper must be formatted according to MLA.
  4. You must interview someone either face-to-face or e-mail. We will discuss the logistics and the formalities of interviewing, open-ended questions, and analysis of those questions.  All questions must be pre-approved by me.
  5. You must use the techniques of summary and scene as they are explained by our text and by my lecture.
  6. In your essay, you must describe in detail at least two things (persons or objects) using figurative language (metaphor, simile, etc.).
  7. You must submit your rough draft and two other copies of your draft by __________ so that you can actively participate in the peer-review process of your paper. I will not accept any paper that has not gone through that peer-review held in class.
  8. By ___________ you must submit your final draft online as well as submit in class  a folder that contains your final draft, peer review copies, revisions, and rough draft.

Sometimes I increase the minimum number of words as well as the maximum.  Often I have the peer-review process online in a forum. I do remember once that I had the students in the second half of the semester revise the essays they submitted for this assignment, using all the skills that they have learned up to that point; however, most students “revised” by changing a few words around and/or attempting to address the issues that I noted.



Revision Methods

Suggested Methods to Revise

(Effective Organization, Idea Development, and Elimination of Superfluous Material)

The following list of suggestions I distribute to students after a number of essays have already been assigned, composed, and evaluated. For the first two to three essays in a course, I always use peer-review sheets.  As their skills increase, the review sheets become more complicated. The second half of a semester I gradually move students away from peer-review to independent revising and editing.

  • For each paragraph other than the first (introduction) or the last (conclusion), write a sentence describing what the paragraph does, not what material the paragraph contains.   On a blank document, put each sentence on a separate line.  Then ask yourself, “Will the order be logical to a reader?”
  • For each paragraph other the first or the last, name the one word that describes the content of that paragraph.  Then put those words in order.  What can you deduce about the organization of your paper from that list?
  • For process, argumentative, comparison/contrast, problem/solution papers, outline your first or second revision. If the paper cannot be outlined, you know that your paper has organizational problems.
  • Retype the paper, which is an effective method used by many professional writers.  Do not pull up the original file, but print off a copy and retype the entire paper. As you retype, add or eliminate information.
  • Choose any paragraph other than the first or the last, and begin the essay with that paragraph, but retype the essay from that point.
  • Write to yourself about the organization of your own paper.  You might begin the discussion by describing your organization, and then asking, “What kind of issues does this organization create?”  You could begin by writing something like the following, “What information is missing? How can I obtain that information?  Is that information needed? Etc.” Then attempt to answer your own questions.
  • Have someone read your paper to you. While that person does, you take notes as to what you observe about the flaws in the content and organization.  Do not talk about the paper to your partner, for talking with another about your paper often stops the process of revising the written document.
  • Read the paper to another, but stop after every paragraph or so, and have the listener describe the paragraph and its content, and/or ask questions.   At that time, do not answer any questions that your partner has or engage in conversation about the paper; but do note the questions and the comments.  Later, before revising your paper, read over the questions and the comments to determine what answers to questions need to be included and what must be done to address any concerns that your partner raised.

Claim (or subclaim) plus evidence

linked together by logical reasoning equals proof.

  • For process, argumentative, comparison/contrast, problem/solution papers, double-check your reasoning by making sure that evidence and/or reasoning exists for each claim, and that each subclaim is connected logically.  Topic sentences are subclaims that prove the thesis.
  • For argumentative and problem/solution papers, pretend that you are your ideal resistant reader (one who disagrees with you), and then determine if that ideal resistant reader would be swayed by your argument.
  • For argumentative and problem/solution papers, pretend that you are your ideal resistant reader; and then list three or more logical objections to what you are advocating and provide evidence.  Then ask yourself, where in your paper did you address your opposition’s valid concerns.  How does your logical reasoning measure up to your opposition?  Remember argumentative and problem/solution papers are about compromise and about the best solution to problems.
  • For process papers that outline the process to build something or make something, watch as another person attempts to complete the steps that you’ve stated.  Where they are confused or perform a step incorrectly indicates problems with language and/or organization.
  • Create a flowchart that describes the organization of your paper.  If you can’t create one, even after seeking help from another member of your group, the paper probably has organization problems.
  • Draw a picture that represents the content of your paper.
  • Write a musical score that represents the content of your paper.
  • For a more advanced class, to address development and substance, after an initial revision addresses the paper’s organization by determining if paragraphs are in logical order, I have students pick one particularly problematic paragraph of some length.  Then I have each of them distribute a copy of that paragraph to their group, with the paragraph double-or triple-spaced.  For this particular exercise, groups of four or five are ideal.  Then I require that as each student reads each paragraph he or she writes down two questions for each sentence of the paragraph.  At the end each writer’s paragraph should have six to eight questions per sentence.


My question:

  • What revision techniques do you suggest to your students?