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February 19, 2018 Previous day Next day


“Yet one must also recognize that morality is based on ideas and that all ideas are dangerous — dangerous because ideas can only lead to action and where the action leads no man can say.” Student-selected quote from “Stranger in the Village” by James Baldwin (Notes of a Native Son 1955).



The following activity is adapted from several journal entry assignments that students were invited to write as part of preparing to draft the first essay of our spring semester course, the second semester of Stretch. Many of the students spent the fall semester of Stretch reading and writing about Baldwin, and some had requested that we continue this work in the spring. Because several new students joined our cohort, we began the semester with new material from Baldwin, a refresher for students enrolled in the fall semester and an introduction for students new to the cohort in the spring semester. We began with the often-anthologized essay “Stranger in the Village,” then continued with “Letter to My Nephew,” which serves as a model for the first writing assignment in the course.



Our first writing project asks you to write a letter to a younger audience about a contemporary issue of significance to you and to future generations. An example of this genre is James Baldwin’s “Letter to My Nephew,” first published in The Progressive in 1962, and republished in 1963 as part of Baldwin’s book The Fire Next Time.


James Baldwin uses this genre to introduce his main idea to his immediate audience (his nephew) and his wider audience (the general public and readers of The Progressive). After reading this letter, return to the first three paragraphs to observe how Baldwin creates an extended introduction.


  1. The first paragraph details Baldwin’s writing process and shows Baldwin’s relationship to his nephew and to his nephew’s father (who is Baldwin’s younger brother). Baldwin also introduces his main purpose for writing.
  2. The second paragraph describes Baldwin’s relationship to his brother.
  3. The third paragraph elaborates on Baldwin’s purpose for writing.


You can model your own opening paragraphs on this template:


First paragraph = direct connection to audience

  • Describe your writing process
  • Discuss your relationship to the audience
  • Introduce your purpose for writing


Second paragraph = background about why I am writing (choose from the following or add your own):

  • Events as you imagine them to be in the future
  • Current or recent events
  • Historic events that still hold relevance


Third paragraph = develop your specific purpose for writing:

  • To describe a specific problem faced in the current moment
  • To discuss a specific hope for the future
  • To create a specific plan for the future


The following is a student’s draft of a first paragraph, based on the model.


I have tried writing this letter and have evidently struggled to find the words to express the importance of words. It’s strange that something used in our daily lives could be so influential and important if used correctly. Words can either damage or heal and most importantly change the world. My hope is, dearest readers, that you never lose the fire in your soul. That you face the monsters under your beds with the utmost confidence and vaporize them with the power of your voice.


We workshopped this paragraph as a whole class, and discussed specific revisions:

  1. We pointed out the main idea of the paragraph (in bold), and suggested revising the paragraph to clearly present this main idea
  2. We were concerned that “dearest readers” was too broad an audience for the specific focus needed for this assignment.


Our suggestions here centered on finding a more concrete audience, even if that audience was imaginary for traditional-aged first-year students (grandson, grandniece, great-grandchild of my best friend, etc).

Today's guest blogger is Jeanne Bohannon is an Assistant Professor of English in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth though authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies and critical engagement pedagogies; performing feminist rhetorical recoveries; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at: and


Here’s the reality: many of us are Gen-X’ers (or older), and we sometimes (often) feel overwhelmed when we try to navigate digital writing spaces. We may even feel like imposters. But from social media posts to their own Tumblr or blogging pages, students are always already writers in digital environments, and we know that our students need us to facilitate their emerging expertise in these spaces.


Here’s the good news: we can mentor our students to use the same rhetorical behaviors that we know how to teach, just mixing up the texts they produce through these behaviors. Try one or both of the assignments below, using the guidelines for analysis as feedback tools that are familiar to most of us already. Let me know what you think in the comments.


Measurable Learning Outcomes

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze visual arguments in multimodal writing environments
  2. Apply criteria for analysis to everyday pieces of digital, public writing
  3. Create digital content for public consumption (Part 2)


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational items from Andrea Lunsford’s texts. 


Assignment (Two-fold)

Part 1: In class, students choose a website, blog, or other electronic text to visually analyze using these criteria.

  1. Aesthetics — How does the piece look to you as the viewer?  Is it pleasing, disturbing, ineffective, what?  How would you describe it to someone who didn’t have your educational or social experience?
  2. Characterization — Who or what are the players that relate meaning in this piece?  How are they related to each other, to meaning, to the audience?  What is their purpose? What is the author trying to say through them?
  3. Structure — How does the author organize the piece?  Does it seem effective to you? Think about how this structure impacts negotiated meaning of the piece.
  4. Meta-Discourse — What does this piece say in its sub-text(s)?  How does the piece comment on itself?  What does the piece say about the genre in which it resides?
  5. Cultural Impact — What effect does the piece try to have on cultural constructs such as gender, race, class, age? Is it a re/mix or an original analysis of these constructs? Is its message negative or positive?


Part 2: Out of class, students develop a webpage or blog post based on Guidelines


Academic blogs serve many of the same purposes as traditional essays.  Further, they also have the same parts, such as:


  1. Introduction - In a blog, authors use conversation as a rhetorical tool to convey a message and engage with an audience. Introductions will also have a banner, header, or image "above the fold" (no scrolling) that invites the reader to engage with the topic.
  2. Thesis - You state your purpose outright. In a blog post, it is OK to write "this blog post will..[insert your verb here]. You may write explicit elements of your claim, but more often bloggers don't. So, you must be mindful of your post's organization and make sure you stay on-mission with your message.
  3. Support - In an academic blog, support for your claim comes in a diversity of multimodal content items.  Make sure you frame each piece of support, whether you use videos, podcasts, images, or GIFs, or alphanumeric text. You frame your support in your own voice.
  4. Conclusions - Academic blogs do, indeed, have conclusions! You should expect to wrap up your argument and support in no more than three sentences. Always include an invitation for commenting and feedback. Re-iterate your contact information.


Academic blogs also have a few additional required elements:


  1. Tags - By inserting tags in your post, you help searchers find your post among millions of others on the Internet. Think of tags as digital keywords that describe your main argument and topic.
  2. Working hyperlinks - In blogs, hyperlinks serve as visual elements and way-finders to create a multi-linear, interactive experience for your audience. Double check all hyperlinks in multiple browsers to ensure viability.
  3. Accessibility Compliance - You must caption all videos, provide alt-text for all images, and use color schemes that are readable by all audiences.  To review ADA compliance, check out: "Learn About Section 508" and also Bohannon's post, Multimodal Mondays: The Importance of Designing for Disability Considerations



Students may already have their own blogs or websites on which they write. For instructors looking for free options, try WordPress or Edublogs, which provide intuitive, easy-to-use templates for web-composing beginners.  I participated in a Domain of One’s Own (DoOO) initiative several years ago and found it to be a useful platform as well. Instructors may also find web hosting services on Wix and GoDaddy and even their own universities.


Do you have an idea for a Multimodal Mondays activity or post? Contact Leah Rang for a chance to be featured on Andrea's blog.