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Today I have a classification activity that asks students to use visual design as they compare items by creating categories based on the visual qualities of the items they classify. The activity builds on designer Haik Avanian’s classification of 2020 presidential campaign logos, shared a few weeks ago by my colleague Shelley Reid.

In his Twitter update on the classification, Avanian explains that the logos are “loosely organized by visual qualities.” The original image included an incorrect logo for Tulsi Gabbard, so I have included the revised version (click the image to see an enlarged version):

Presidential campaign logos sorted by visual qualities

Share the image with your class to begin the activity, asking students to consider the categories and their effectiveness for organizing the logos. Encourage students to think of other visual categories that would fit the logos. The point is not to focus on the politicians behind the logos. Have students look at the designs and categories only. Naturally, if your class is discussing political issues, you can ask students to consider how political issues influence the logo choices as well.

Make Updates

Have students update the images as possible. Several of the campaigns have alternative versions. In particular, you will find color versions for most of the logos that are shown as black and white only. Students can consider whether the color versions fit the existing categories, making changes to the categories as appropriate.

Evaluate the Logos

Expand the discussion by sharing some of the replies that appear on Avanian’s Twitter update. Avanian analyzes some of the logos further in the replies, declaring Cory Booker the winner of the logo competition. In reply to a question, Avanian also explains this definition of visual qualities in art: “Visual qualities are essential elements that an artist uses in his art work. These are qualities that are visible and are used to express or convey the artist’s idea of his work. Visual qualities include color, shape, texture, form, etc” (emphasis Avanian's).

Expand to Other Political Campaigns

Finally, show students the collection of 2018 U.S. Congressional campaign logos from The Center For American Politics And Design. While the collection of logos is useful as it stands, the filters on the site allow students to narrow the collection by design features such as logo color, iconography, and font, as well as by features such as political party and the state represented. Using the site, students can assemble their own custom collection of logos and then create their own classification systems for the logos.

Move Beyond Political Logos

To extend the activity beyond political campaigns, ask students to apply these same analysis and classification strategies to other logos they encounter. Since nearly every business has a logo of some kind, students can likely find a focus that relates to their personal interests. Here are some ideas that come to mind:

  • Professional sports logos
  • Restaurant logos
  • Department store logos
  • Bakery logos
  • Extracurricular club logos
  • Sporting goods logos
  • Technology company logos
  • Automobile logos
  • Game app logos
  • Television network logos

Alternatively, you can ask students to ignore what item or organization the logos relate to by collecting logos that share a design feature, such as red logos or logos featuring a typography. Once they have their collection of logos, students can work to classify their logos, using some of the same ideas that were applied to the political logos.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest advantages of this activity is its flexibility. You can use it to talk about visual design principles, advertising, politics, and classification systems. Adapt the activity further by looking at changes to logos over time (e.g., how a corporate logo has changed), and consider why the logos have changed. Have students look at political campaign logos from another country, and ask students to consider how culture influences the logo design.

What ideas do you have for using this logo activity? I’m sure there are many more options, and I would love to hear what you could do with these resources. Share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

Kim Haimes-KornToday’s guest blogger is Kim Haimes-Korn, a Professor of English and Digital Writing at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning and critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy, and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at or visit her website: Acts of Composition


Although a relatively new phenomena, podcasts take us back to early media technologies (before television and computers) as audiences gathered around the radio to listen to stories. They also remind us of childhood memories in which we listened to stories read aloud to us before we could even read ourselves. Now, digital technologies provide easy access to expansive collections of stories where authors can create experience, develop characters, and engage through aural storytelling.


Studies suggest that audio stories are potentially more impactful than other media forms in which visual dramatizations direct the storyline. In this kind of participatory media, audiences engage their imaginations through individual visualization and are less likely to be influenced by preconceived depictions – an important part of oral storytelling. In the article, Inside the Podcast Brain: Why Do Audio Stories Captivate, Communications Professor, Emma Rodero, argues that, 


Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production, and that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.


When teaching digital storytelling I want students to experience this genre and explore stories that might interest them. I direct them to This American Life, a massive collection of weekly public radio podcast episodes that offer many possibilities for interest and engagement. With an extensive archive of over 6,000 stories that reach back to 1995, the podcasts combine the human interest of journalism and the engagement of stories. Their website explains: “Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”


This multimodal assignment asks students to choose a podcast series of at least five related episodes of a subject of their choosing. They listen and review series in an interactive blog post in which they present an overview, review each episode, and connect to larger ideas through the lens of their own perspectives. 

Background Readings and Resources



Steps to the Assignment


  1. Brainstorm: Brainstorm and create a list of ideas, themes, and subjects of interest.
  2. Review the site: Explore the webpage for This American Life.
  3. Choose a series of podcasts: Have students choose five related podcast episodes that fall under a similar theme, subject, concept or idea that they want to explore and consider from multiple perspectives. The challenge is to build a series and expand their ideas through an exploratory search for related, connected subjects. Their overview section will demonstrate the process of this search and connect to the related episodes. Encourage them to explore the many ways to search the site in different ways:

- Recommended: This is a good starting place for some interesting podcasts that are categorized for you. It also has folks recommending their favorites.

- Related: Each of the podcasts generates a list of related subjects below. This will help you to add to your list.

- Keyword Search: Use the search function to generate keyword searches that group your ideas.

- Archive: You can browse the archives by date. Each week has a different theme that can help you shape a direction. Start with those and then add according to keywords or related subjects.


Assignment Details and Requirements

On their blogs, students create a landing page with their overall review of their series and an exploration of their idea/concept/subject. They should create links and a drop-down menu to separate pages for each episode.  


The overall review should be 500-800 words and include:

  • an overview/review of purposes and connections that make up their series;
  • a written review for each episode with direct links to the podcasts;
  • at least five purposeful, related links (exploratory paths);
  • at least two multimodal components (images, videos, etc.); and
  • a list of references.


Each episode review (200-300 words) should include:

  • at least two embedded links; and
  • at least one multimodal component.


Reflection on the Activity

One of the most interesting parts of this assignment is when students research to find the subjects and podcasts for their chosen series. They often start out with one idea that morphs into something completely unexpected as they find related stories to make up their series. For example, Lydia explored “Reruns” as a metaphor for life, history, and personal perspectives.  Sean looked at “situations where we don’t belong” and explored podcasts on environmental, psychological, and physical dimensions of the subject. Others, like Emily, focused on a particular time – middle school – and explored personal connections, brain development, and external cultural influences. Sarah whose subject of “Prisoners” opened up to “prison as family,” “therapies with prisoners,” to DNA exoneration. Nick looked at the ways we interpret coincidences as signs and how unexpected situations draw us together. This assignment expanded their ideas on research and the learning potential in stories. In the reviews, students provided substantiated recommendations and reflected on the connections between these stories and the ways they contributed to their thinking and learning on their subjects.

If your Internet browser of choice is Firefox, then you are familiar with the way it provides you with a selection of readings when you visit its home page. I presume that my selections are based upon data-mined algorithms based upon my search history, because I get a lot of stuff from the Atlantic and the New York Times, as well as a lot of science readings. I'm not complaining, because while a good deal of what I see is simply clickbait, I have also learned some useful stuff from time to time. But what is perhaps most useful to me is what I am learning by conducting a semiotic analysis of the general themes that dominate my "feed."


Probably the most common theme I see appears in all the "how to succeed in business" articles that are always popping up: how to ace that interview, how to find that perfect job, how to choose the career that's best for you…that sort of thing. Tailored to sensibilities of the digital age, such advice columns belong to a long tradition of American "how to" manuals calibrated to a competitive capitalist society. Calvin Coolidge (who once famously quipped that "the chief business of the American people is business") would feel quite at home here, so I don't want to read too much into all this. But I do think that the preponderance of such pieces may well reflect a growing anxiety over the possibility of attaining a rewarding career in a gig economy where opportunities for middle-class advancement are drying up.

Some evidence for this interpretation lies in the remarkable number of articles relating to mental depression that also appear in my feed. Some of them are scientific, while others are also of the how-to variety, mental health division. The latter texts have recently been emphasizing the healing properties of the natural world, and I'm good with that. After all, that's where I go to soothe jangled nerves. But what, semiotically speaking, does this trend tell us?


My take on the matter is that even as Americans worry (with very good reason) about their career opportunities, they also are becoming increasingly depressed in the face of a constant barrage of signals from the traditional mass media and digital social media alike, all pushing them to compare their lives to the lives of everyone else. David Myers, over in the Macmillan Learning Psychology Community, has been exploring this phenomenon recently, especially with respect to teen-aged girls, and I am quite in sympathy with his interpretation. I would simply expand the scope of the problem to include pretty much everyone, who, facing a daily bombardment of images and stories about the fortunate few who seem to have everything that life can possibly offer, experience a depressing discontentment with their own lives.


And here is where nature comes in. Nature is not only filled with beautiful forests, mountains, rivers, lakes, seashores, deserts, meadows, canyons, valleys (pick your own favorites), it is not filled with people—or, at least, isn't supposed to be. "Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees," John Muir once said, and his words are even more cogent today than when he wrote them over a century ago.


But to achieve that peace, you need to get past the crowds, and, more importantly, all that social pressure that drove you to nature in the first place. It is therefore quite ironic that one often sees people in natural surroundings wholly absorbed in their iPhones, or taking selfies. This kind of hetero-directed behavior not only threatens to disrupt the healing powers of the natural world, it also signifies how, for many people today, social media have created an addictive spiral from which they cannot escape. Think of it: going to nature to escape the depressing impingements of social existence, only to seek approval from other people, and then, perhaps, to be depressed if you don't get quite the reaction you hoped for on Instagram.


Hence, the title of this blog.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 489119 by kelseyannvere used under the Pixabay License.


Tuesday, May 7, 2019, is National Teachers’ Day so I’m thinking about how I can thank teachers I know for the remarkable work they do every single day. I’ll start with my sister, Liz Middleton, who teaches high school in one of the poorest counties in Florida. I know that Liz literally saves the life of at least one student every year, some years more. I know that she continues to challenge them to reach beyond their grasp. I know that she expects the best they can do, every single day, and that she finds ways to help them do that best. I know that she cares. So thanks to Liz and to the tens of thousands of other teachers like her, working every day, at low pay and with few rewards, to offer opportunities to the young people around them.


You may know of The Academy for Teachers in New York, founded and led by Bread Loaf friend and extraordinaire Sam Swope. Sam started the Academy as a way to recognize and thank teachers, to “share the love” as he says and to celebrate good teaching. His dream is to establish a foundation for teachers—and he even dreams of a big building to house the Academy, a material place to signify that teachers matter, that what they do is crucial to national health and security.


The Academy sponsors master classes for teachers nominated from their schools. The classes are led by brilliant writers and thinkers who give their time to work with the teachers, and every May the Academy has a major celebration of teachers in New York City, usually featuring many celebrities and authors, all there to thank teachers. Since I don’t live in New York, I don’t get to attend these events. What I do receive as a contributor to the Academy, however, are copies of little chapbooks they publish, each written by a noted writer.


Recently I received one by Julia Alvarez, noted novelist (How the García Girls Lost Their Accents, Before We Were Free, and many others), whom I have met on several occasions on the Vermont Bread Loaf campus. Hers is called “Falling in Love” and begins this way:

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, I was a terrible student. I flunked every grade through fifth. The whole premise of going to school seemed so unfair: having to spend sunny days on a tropical island indoors. Then, after seven hours of this torture, I was released to go home and do my homework. Homework?! In my first and only recorded piece of writing before our departure to America, I handed my teacher a note: Querida profesora, I love you very much (start with the positive) but why should I work when I can have fun?


Alvarez’s grandmother agreed with her—girls did not need education, but her mother took another approach, and after they moved to New York she managed to get her two daughters scholarships to a boarding school in Massachusetts. That’s where Alvarez fell in love (puppy love, someone called it) with one of the teachers, Mr. Barstow, in whose classes writers began “casting their spell” on her. She ends the year with an A in English and accolades from Mr. Barstow and concludes her little chapbook by saying that “Sometimes we begin by falling in love with a teacher and land on what we love.”


I expect that all readers of this post have teachers they would like to thank, teachers from their past like Alvarez’s Mr. Barstow as well as ones from the present like my sister Liz. If so, May 7 offers a good opportunity to do so. This May, let’s all “share the love” of good teachers everywhere.  


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2093744 by Wokandapix, used under the Pixabay License


Rough outline of a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Cote on FlickI have asked students to informally outline all of their projects this term. I am not strict about the form of the outlines. They can use jot lists, topic outlines, tree structures, or any kind of map that shows their plans. I never use strict sentence outlines myself, but I believe that all writers can benefit from at least jotting down the plans for their documents.

As they begin work on their final project of the term, students will create visual outlines by designing their own graphic organizers as part of their work. Students are familiar with outlining and graphic organizers from their experiences before college. Both teaching strategies are widely used in K–12. After reviewing their prior knowledge on the topics, students are ready to create their own visual writing tools, as described in the activities below.

Background Readings on Outlines

Background Resources on Graphic Organizers

Class Activities

Think, Pair, Share, and Compare

This activity is a customized version of the active learning strategy Think-Pair-Share, which will help students recall their prior knowledge. Divide the class into two groups. Working independently, have individuals in one group think about and take notes on what they know about outlines while the individuals in the other group focus on graphic organizers. After students have had time to gather their thoughts, have them pair with someone who worked on the same topic. In their pairs, have students review their notes together and talk through their thinking.

Draw the class together as a whole and invites pairs to share their thoughts on how outlines work and then to share their thoughts on how graphic organizers work. Note their ideas on the board. Once all of the ideas have been shared, ask the class to reflect on the information and then compare the two strategies (outlining and graphic organizers). Encourage students to draw conclusions about how the two strategies connect to writing.

To strengthen their understanding of outlining and graphic organizers, ask students to read and review the background readings and resources listed above.

Design Graphic Organizers

Ask students to examine example graphic organizers (linked above) as a class or in small groups and to identify the features of the genre. In particular, encourage students to determine how shapes are used (like text boxes), how lines and arrows are used, and how labels and instructional text is used. Their prior knowledge about graphic organizers should allow students to gather this information in five to ten minutes.

With this information about graphic organizers established, students create graphic organizers for the kinds of writing that they are working on. Ask students to consider what they know about the kind of writing by examining examples and background material about the genre. Students can create graphic organizers independently, or you can walk them through some basic steps by asking questions such as the following:

  • What are the primary sections of the kind of writing you are examining?
  • What are the typical features of those sections?
  • What kind of information usually belongs in the sections?
  • How do the sections relate to one another?

Students can sketch out their graphic organizers on paper, and then use a tool like Canva to create final versions of their organizers. Note that Canva does have a number of existing graphic organizer layouts that students can use as models. Students can also create their graphic organizers in a word processor using the shapes and text box tools.

Do limit the time students spend creating their graphic organizers. The purpose of this activity is to learn more about how a kind of writing works, not to spend hours on images and design.

After students finish their graphic organizers, they can share them with the class for feedback as well as to create a library of graphic organizers that everyone can use. The organizers can be used both for writing projects and to organize the analysis of readings.

Final Thoughts

In my course, students are focusing on different kinds of writing, depending upon their majors and career goals. There is little to no overlap in the graphic organizers they are creating. With a more homogeneous class, students could design graphic organizers in small groups. They might work on the same task or on different aspects of the writing task, such as creating graphic organizers for gathering ideas, research, and beginning a draft.

This activity uses active learning strategies to get beyond customary pen on paper (or text on screen) strategies. Do you have similar assignments that break out of the traditional writing activities? I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below

Photo credit: Page 01: Idea for a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Coté on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts


Many of us will likely agree that orchestrating productive peer review sessions is incredibly difficult. Over the past fifteen years, I’ve tried every kind of strategy I could think of for supporting students in giving each other good feedback. I’ve created documents for students to use for written feedback with questions ranging from very specific to very vague. I’ve tried a number of different ways to “match” writers in terms of their abilities, the stage they’re at in the writing process, or the kind of relationship they have with each other. While I have had some success with these strategies in various classes at different institutions, I have never felt completely satisfied with the kind of feedback students give each other. Their feedback was either too vague, off the mark, or focused solely on grammar or mechanics.


I needed to try something different. So several years ago, I went on an internet hunt, searching for methods or information that might spark a new idea for peer review. I came across Peter Kittle’s article, “Reading Practices as Revision Strategies: The Gossipy Reading Model” and immediately felt excited. His peer review ideas had strong potential to help my students give each other good revision feedback. 


In the article, Kittle describes an activity he designed with Rochelle Ramay for a professional development workshop on teaching effective reading and writing. The activity asked teachers to employ a particular reading strategy to help them revise their writing: Ramay and Kittle named the activity “gossipy reading.” Gossipy reading asks participants to get into groups of three to review one member’s piece of writing. Here’s how it works: the writer remains quiet, while the two other group members employ the “interrupted reading strategy,” stopping at moments where they want to “gossip” about the paper, or in other words, raise questions, make a prediction, call attention to particular details, or make connections. After the gossip session ends, the writer joins in on the “gossip” and leaves the session with good honest revision feedback. This activity, unlike many other peer review activities, positions peers not as “fixers,” but as audience members who are constructing meaning of a text in real time.


Kittle’s peer review strategy is brilliant for a number of reasons: it positions meaning making and peer review as a dialogical interaction, and writing as a social act; it capitalizes on the affordances of talk, both in its ability to function as a site of invention and its invitation to violate “rules” attached to standard written language (an idea I talk about in my posts on The Benefits of Group Conferencing and Using Talk for Learning); and it frames an often dreaded activity as gossip, an activity associated with friends, fun, and a bit of scandal.


I adopted Kittle’s idea and adapted it to create “Gossipy Peer Review.” My version is more structured and directive than Kittle’s yet still maintains the “gossipy” sentiment. I’ve had a tremendous amount of success in using it in my classes and so have many of my colleagues at Salem State University. Below is the handout I give students for the activity.




Gossipy Peer Review Assignment

Step 1: Get into groups of three.


Step 2: Read the assignment aloud.


Step 3: One writer will volunteer their paper to be read aloud; the writer of the paper will remain silent throughout the process, taking notes on how his/her peers are discussing his/her paper.


Step 4: The other two members in the group will take on the role of reader or listener.

Step 5: The reader will begin reading the writer’s paper and stop after two paragraphs[1]. The reader and listener will discuss the paragraphs. Discussion will entail one or several of these actions:

  • Reader and/or listener will summarize the overall gist of the paragraph;
  • Reader and/or listener will state what they understand or what is clear;
  • Reader and/or listener will state what they do not understand or what might be “fuzzy” or “confusing”;
  • Reader or listener will predict what they think is coming next or in other words, what they think the writer might do next;
  • Reader or listener will ask a question about the writer’s intentions, ideas, claims, arrangement, structure, transition or anything else related to the essay;
  • Reader and/or listener will talk about what’s “working” or not “working.”


Step 6: After the reader finishes the text, the writer will then have an opportunity to join in on the gossip. The writer may:

  • Talk about what they heard their peers discuss;
  • Help clarify anything the reader or listener did not understand;
  • Tell the reader and listener what they think they need to revise and ask for feedback on their revision plan.

What is the point of this exercise, you ask?

The writer is literally able to hear how a reader, or in other words, the audience works to construct meaning of his/her text. The writer will get a glimpse into the thoughts the reader/audience has when engaging with the texts, getting a sense of how his/her ideas, claims, evidence, arrangement, structure, and approach is received by an audience. From this gossip session, the writer will be able to identify parts of his/her paper that he/she should keep, discard, clarify, elaborate on and/or add. In other words, the writer will get feedback for revision.


After this activity, each writer composes a revision plan that describes how he/she will revise based on the feedback received during peer review.


[1] The number of paragraphs the reader will read will depend on the length of the draft. Longer drafts will demand the reader read more than two paragraphs.




There are a couple of challenges that instructors might face in facilitating a “gossipy peer review” session. Some students are shy and may feel reluctant to speak in front of people they don’t know. Thus it’s a good idea to pair shy students with classmates they know or are seemingly comfortable around. Another challenge, which Kittle notes as well, is when students take the “gossiping” too far, perhaps moving from talking about one’s writing to talking about one’s annoying roommate. I would recommend instructors walk around the classroom and listen in on the gossip sessions to intervene when students get off track.

We know what composition curricula looked like as far back as Aristotle’s time. Students were taught to present their compositions orally, but the compositions themselves, even that far back, were introduced in an order that matched the development of cognition. The narrative and descriptive assignments we used to teach at the beginning of the first-year writing course are now relegated to the first twelve years of education, but there has long been the acknowledgment that these assignments are the least challenging cognitively. Then comes exposition, followed by argumentation.


James Moffett, in works such as Teaching the Universe of Discourse, taught us to constantly cycle back through the easier modes of writing as we built into the increasingly challenging ones. He reminded us why some assignments are harder than others, relating each to time. A narrative looks at the past—what happened. Exposition looks at the enduring present—what happens. Argumentation looks at the future—what could or should happen. No wonder writing arguments is challenging. A part of argumentation is establishing that a problem exists; the other part is predicting how a suggested change would solve the problem. Having come of age as a teacher under Moffett’s influence, I tend to have students write three essays on the topic they choose to research. Having inherited Annette Rottenberg’s Toulmin method with Elements of Argument, I have to adapt that sequence to accommodate claims of fact, value, and policy. It’s not too much of a stretch to see that writing a claim-of-policy essay is the most challenging because of its future orientation, while claims of fact and value are less challenging. Students can accumulate a body of research and first write an essay supporting a factual claim about it, incorporating as few as two sources to start to establish their knowledge of the subject. Then they can support a value claim about it, going beyond the basic information to express an opinion. With those preliminaries behind them, they are better prepared to support a claim of policy—and to have worked out problems with documenting sources before the last assignment in the course comes along and it’s too late.


An example: One of my students wanted to write about the use of thalidomide as a treatment for cancer. Anyone tackling that subject must know the history of thalidomide’s use. If nothing else, the writer must be aware of, and inform the reader, that in the 1950s and early 1960s thalidomide caused thousands of birth defects when it was taken during pregnancy. An essay supporting a claim of fact could establish why the drug, understandably, fell out of favor. An essay supporting a claim of value could argue that the use of thalidomide under carefully controlled circumstances is worth the risk. An essay supporting a claim of policy would turn this research into an argument in favor for or against the use of thalidomide. There would be similarities among the essays. They would draw on the same body of research. Whole sections of an earlier essay might be incorporated into a later one. And they would get more practice getting the documentation right.


Too often in the “real world” we find out the hard way what should have been done. There is seldom an opportunity to write about the should-haves, to practice getting it right. It’s hard to write a policy against possible future outcomes. I think of the tragic death of a young student at the University of South Carolina who got into the wrong car, thinking it was her Uber. Along with his condolences, the university president sent USC students and parents a list of ways to avoid a similar tragedy. Students may have gotten similar warnings when they arrived on campus. Lyft and Uber are implementing new safety policies. However, the narrative of Samantha Josephson’s death and the generalization that it could have happened to anyone reinforced what should be done in the future. It’s clear now – too late – what claims of policy should be implemented.



Photo credit: “Summ()n – Exploring Possible Futures” by cea+ on Flickr, 2/7/12 via a CC BY 2.0 license.

This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.


People studying in a group

In this blog post, we’ll go back to some apostrophe basics.


Podcasts have been around for a while, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to maintain student engagement, accommodate different learning styles, and introduce multimodality.


LaunchPad and Achieve products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson about prepositions or find your class needs some more help with the topic, you can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about digital products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative. 


If you are using LaunchPad, refer to the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information on the support page "Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts."


If you are using Achieve, you will find a "Quick Start Guide: Grammar Girl and Question Bank" in your Welcome Unit. You can also find information on assigning Grammar Girl in Achieve on the support page "Add Grammar Girl and shared English content to your course."


Podcasts about Apostrophe Basics

  • Apostrophe Catastrophe 1 [8:12]
  • Apostrophe Catastrophe 2 [5:50]
  • Apostrophes: Is the Word a Possessive Noun or an Adjective? [4:37]
  • Contractions [6:24]


Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Use one of the following assignments to encourage students to engage further with the Grammar Girl podcasts.


Assignment A: Have students listen to a podcast on apostrophe basics, such as “Apostrophe Catastrophe 1” and then have them write a short response discussing and reflecting on the experience. (Remember that all Grammar Girl podcasts come with transcripts in LaunchPad—students can also read the podcast transcript to inform their response.) Have students consider the following questions:

  • How is listening to information about apostrophes different from reading about them? How is it the same?
  • What does the host do to connect with the listener?
  • What new information did the student learn about apostrophes? Can they pinpoint any element of the podcast that helped them remember this new information?


Assignment B: Ask students to all of the suggested podcasts. Have them also read at least one transcript. In addition to the questions above, have them write a response considering the following:

  • How do the podcasts compare? Does the information about apostrophes overlap, and if so, where?
  • What is different about the coverage of apostrophes in each podcast?
  • What content or information is conveyed through audio that does not appear in the transcripts? Is any additional information found in the transcripts that is not apparent from just listening to the podcast?


How have you used podcasts about apostrophes in your class? How else do you discuss apostrophes? Let us know in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 2557399 by StockSnap, used under a Pixabay License


This will be a brief posting as I am out of the country right now, sailing along what used to be medieval trade routes and learning all about trading patterns, trading wars, and cultural clashes of nearly a millennium ago. So I am learning a lot about the economic climate that surrounded the literature of the time, which I know fairly well. And enjoying every minute of this vacation!


Perhaps somewhat incongruously, I brought along reading not about medieval trade but about very contemporary technological issues, in the form of Clive Thompson’s new book, Coders: The Making of a New Tribe and the Remaking of the World. I’ve been following Thompson’s work for a long time since he was an early writer in Wired, and I very much admire his Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better, which seemed to me an astute and prescient read especially of how young people are using technology today.


I’m reading the new book slowly, enjoying jumping around in it (the chapter “The ENIAC Girls Vanish” is a favorite!) and then going back to re-read passages that stuck with me. In short, Thompson takes us inside the world of the people who have changed our world dramatically in the last couple of decades; coders, he says, are “the most quietly influential people on the planet.” Thompson’s detailed and intensive interviews with such coders helps us to see well beyond the stereotype of the young white male slouched over a computer and wearing a hoodie. Here we meet the architects (including, to my delight, a woman) of Facebook’s news feed, a revolutionary set of code that changed communicative practices forever, exploring the psychology and mindset of this group, with their near obsessive attention to efficiency and speed. He also reveals their (growing) concerns over ethical issues, including the need to engage many more people of color in this work. Thompson sees these concerns as pressing, but he is generally optimistic about the future of code and coding, noting the need for what he calls “blue collar coding,” that is the coding done by ordinary people to help improve their everyday lives.


I still have about a third of this fascinating book to read, but already I feel I understand the culture of coding in a more nuanced and helpful way. So I’ll keep reading as I sail along the trade routes of the middle ages. Happy reading to you too!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1839406 by Pexels, used under the Pixabay License

If you attended CCCC last month, you probably heard a land acknowledgment statement, which offered respect to the indigenous peoples upon whose lands the conference took place. For example, Asao B. Inoue began his #4C19 Keynote (video) with this statement:

To open, I humbly make a land acknowledgment I would like to recognize and acknowledge the indigenous people of this land: the Lenni Lenape, Shawnee, and Hodinöhšönih (hoe-den-ah-show-nee)—the six Nations, that is, the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Cayuga and Tuscarora (tus-ka-roar-ah). We are gathered today on Jö:deogë’ (joan-day-o-gan’t), an Onödowa'ga (ono-do-wah-gah) or Senaca word for Pittsburgh or “between two rivers”: the welhik hane (well-ick hah-neh) and Mënaonkihëla (men-aw-n-gee-ah-luh). These are the Lenape words for the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, which translate to the “best flowing river of the hills” and “where the banks cave in and erode.” While a land acknowledgment is not enough, it is an important social justice and decolonial practice that promotes indigenous visibility and a reminder that we are on settled indigenous land. Let this land acknowledgment be an opening for all of us to contemplate a way to join in decolonial and indigenous movements for sovereignty and self-determination.

Virginia Tech Land Acknowledgement PosterI recently added a similar land acknowledgment statement to my course materials, thanking the Tutelo/Monacan people upon whose land Virginia Tech stands. Inspired by a graphic from Northwestern University, I also created the draft image (shown on the right), which I intend to add as a poster on my office door after I receive feedback on whether it is appropriate. I admit it has taken me too long to add these statements to my course materials.

Angela Haas, from Illinois State University, shared the first land acknowledgment statement I ever heard at a Computers and Writing Conference session several years ago. I was impressed by the statement and wished I could add one to my own work. At the time however, I wasn’t sure how to construct a land acknowledgment statement, so I didn’t try. I was and am ashamed of my behavior. I let my privilege as a non-indigenous person serve as an excuse, telling myself it was better to say nothing than to piece together an acknowledgment I wasn’t sure was appropriate.

I want to share some resources readers can use to add a land acknowledgment statement to their publications, events, and course materials.

  • Check your campus for an existing land acknowledgment statement. Check with American Indian and Indigenous Studies student groups, cultural centers, and departments. If such resources do not exist, contact your office of diversity and inclusion. A research librarian at your school can also help. If you are working in Canada, such a statement is likely to already exist, so check with your colleagues.
  • Take advantage of existing resources if you plan to write your own land acknowledgment statement. If a statement does not exist, use the Guide to Indigenous Land and Territorial Acknowledgments for Cultural Institutions from New York University and the #HonorNativeLand Guide from U.S. Department of Arts and Culture to get started. Again, a librarian at your school can also help you find relevant resources.
  • Review land acknowledgment statements from other institutions. Check peer institutions your school uses for benchmarking purposes. Also look for examples from schools and cultural centers from your geographical area, which likely share the same tribal lands you do. These Example Land Acknowledgment Statements demonstrate the range of details and styles used in the genre.
  • Learn how to pronounce the names of the indigenous peoples included in your statement. As Kyllikki Rytov pointed out on the WPA-L listserv, “[I]n terms of erasure, getting names right is paramount.” Land acknowledgments must include pronouncing names with respect. The #4C19 statement above includes parenthetical pronunciation information, which can serve as a model for your own statement. If you are unsure how to pronounce a name, check with local tribal members or with campus American Indian and Indigenous Studies cultural centers, student groups, or departments. Your library’s research staff can also help you find pronunciation information.
  • Ask local tribal members or other experts to review your work. As I suggest in relationship to my image above, you need to check any land acknowledgment statements you create to ensure your words and images are appropriately representative of and respectful of the tribe(s) whose land you are acknowledging. If you have an American Indian and Indigenous Studies cultural center or department, ask them if they can give you feedback.
  • Once you have a land acknowledgment statement, use it and encourage others to use it as well. Open your events with your land acknowledgment statement. Add a land acknowledgment statement to your research and other publications. Include a land acknowledgment statement on your course materials.
  • Remember that a land acknowledgment statement is only the first step. It doesn’t immunize you against social injustice or colonial practices. Examine your reading lists to ensure they include indigenous authors. Include indigenous issues in your discussions. Invite students to explore indigenous readings and events in their work. Encourage them to add land acknowledgment statements to their own projects. Call out actions that demean native peoples. Make the arts, cultures, and concerns of native Indian and indigenous visible in your courses, research, and events.

I hope these resources will help you add a land acknowledgment statement to your work. The documents from the second bullet point include details on why land acknowledgments are important. You can use these resources to help students understand why you use the statements and help them learn strategies to make their work diverse and inclusive.

If you have a land acknowledgment statement you would like added to the Example Land Acknowledgment Statements document, please share it in a comment below. If you have other suggestions for acknowledging indigenous people, please let me know.

Senioritis blooms along with the forsythia, magnolias, and flip-flops, and is hardly restricted to seniors. This time of year, half the challenge of teaching seems to be convincing students to still give a … well, we’ll go with “hoot.” One remedy — and also a student-centered classroom ideal — is to structure the semester’s end so that students take increasing ownership of class time as the semester draws to a close. Students should be able to answer the “So, what?” question, not only for their own writing, but for their learning in the course, and for their time in the classroom. How have you structured the semester’s end to center student voices, and with what results?


Here, I’ll share some strategies I’ve used:


Task students with designing a final class teach-in, and invite friends and family

I often invite students to plan a final class day as a “teach in” that we open up to friends and family (to raise the stakes of a real audience). We think of it as an idea-engagement event, in which every student has to participate in some way. They might read aloud a short, provocative passage of their writing, share some resources on a course theme, offer civic action tools related to the course, or even provide a playlist of songs related to the course theme. This teaches students to engage with multiple ways of learning designed to explain their key insights to a fresh audience, and to offer specific action steps in response. For these “teach in” events, my students have designed bookmarks with key ideas as takeaways, set up photo “booths” with informational props and frames to share out on social media, created civic action kits for writing to representatives about topics, designed temporary tattoos and bumper stickers, printed out recipe cards with activist steps, provided course-themed coloring pages, and on and on. I often provide a bit of food and a bigger space for the final day, to make it feel like a celebration. Students can name the event, advertise on social media and with flyers, and in general turn the last class day — so often a let-down or a hurried final presentation day — into a celebration of intellect and engagement that they can look forward to and own.


Upping the Ante in Peer Writing Workshops

If a final-day celebration doesn’t fit into your writing classroom schedule, you might also be more mindful about handing over student ownership of peer writing workshops. In From Inquiry to Academic Writing, my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer specific guidelines for writers and readers of early, later, and final drafts. As students approach the final draft of an essay, I often require them to set the agenda for the peer-group discussions, so they can take ownership of what writers need in the final stage of the revision process. Handing students the chalk (or the marker) at the front of the room and having them crowd-source the questions that should drive the day’s workshops gives them ownership of the revision process (which is, after all, what we hope they’ll take from our classes), and gives you as the instructor some crucial insights about what they’ve gleaned about the writing process. Once they’ve set the agenda on the board, students can use their peers’ guidance for their writing groups, with each writer benefiting from the peer group’s focus on each draft, one at a time.


If your students need a bit of prompting, here are some guides for student peer-group discussions of later drafts:

Working with later drafts

  1. To what extent is it clear which questions and issues motivate the writer?
  2. What is the writer’s thesis?
  3. How effectively does the writer establish the conversation — identify a gap in people’s knowledge, attempt to modify an existing argument, or try to correct some misunderstanding?
  4. How effectively does the writer distinguish between their ideas and the ideas that are summarized, paraphrased, or quoted?
  5. How well does the writer help you follow the logic of the writer’s argument?
  6. To what extent are you persuaded by the writer’s argument?
  7. To what extent does the writer anticipate possible counterarguments?
  8. To what extent does the writer make clear how the writer wants readers to respond?
  9. What do you think is working best? Explain by pointing to specific passages in the writer’s draft.
  10. What specific aspect of the draft is least effective? Explain by pointing to a specific passage in the writer’s draft.



And heres what we suggest for final drafts:

Working with final drafts

For writers:

  1. What is your unique perspective on your issue?
  2. To what extent do the words and phrases you use reflect who you believe your readers are?
  3. Does your style of citation reflect accepted conventions for academic writing?
  4. What do you think is working best in this draft?
  5. What specific aspect of the essay are you least satisfied with at this time?


For readers:

  1. How does the writer go about contributing a unique perspective on the issue?
  2. To what extent does the writer use words and phrases that are appropriate for the intended audience?
  3. To what extent does the style of citation reflect accepted conventions for academic writing?
  4. What do you think is working best?
  5. What specific aspect of the essay are you least satisfied with at this time?


Ultimately, students will remember their ownership of ideas and their confidence in transferring ideas from your course into other classes and beyond. Like any effective piece of literature, our courses should offer our students a clear answer to the question, “So what?”


How do you do this in your own courses? What do you hear back from your students about the skills they leave with, and use?



Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

Miriam Moore

Finishing Well

Posted by Miriam Moore Expert Apr 17, 2019

Many years ago, during the panic-riddled days prior to my dissertation defense, an experienced friend encouraged me to see the defense procedures as a celebration of scholarship, something to be savored, not a hurdle to be feared or dreaded. While I was not able to embrace that perspective fully (especially the night before), I sensed a shift from “grilling” to intellectual debate after just a few minutes into the defense, and that shift came with a growing sense of confidence: I was ready. I had done the work, and I had something worthwhile to say. Those who attended listened, questioned, and affirmed.


My first-year writing students have reached the final two weeks of the semester. As they are finishing projects and final reflections, I can see distress rising – many of them are taking three, four, or (in some cases) five other classes, and they have families, work, or even high school rites of passage that compete for their attention. As I conferenced with students this week, I listened to their stories, fears, and questions. I realized they need a context in which to finish well; I need to make the final two weeks a reminder of what they have accomplished and to celebrate the progress they have made. 


What specific steps create that context for finishing well? I look back and remember what contributed to a positive ending on my dissertation: time to do the work and reminders of how that dissertation fit into the larger picture of my education and training. For my students, time means our class meetings will be devoted to the projects they are working on: workshops, small group and one-on-one conferences, and peer review. And the big picture includes feedback, reminders of how concepts we’ve circled around all semester are relevant to these final projects. When a student asks me, for example, if I think her opening move makes sense, I first affirm the value of her question as evidence of her growth as a writer. When a student asks me how to cite an interview he conducted with another professor, I remind him that his view of source material has changed since we began, and then we think about resources for MLA citation rules. Another student tells me her thesis for the final project “just doesn’t feel right yet,” and I commiserate with her—while applauding her choice to listen to that intuition. Our workshops will provide a platform for her to talk through why her thesis draft is not working for her. Our talk about writing over these two weeks, while centered on their specific drafts and needs, will touch on the threshold concepts that have framed the entire course.


In one of my classes, students will write a final reflection letter during the final exam slot, and in the other, students will present their final projects in a poster session. While they have not finished their educations, they have completed a significant first step.   Our final sessions will be a celebration of finishing well. 


What do you do to help your students end well?


Every now and then, while driving to work, I've turned on the radio and have come in on the middle of a hauntingly beautiful, if rather grim, acoustic song sung by a gravely-voiced singer who seems to be singing about heroin addiction, or something of the sort. Knowing nothing about the song I've kind of assumed that it was about the nation's opioid epidemic and left it at that. But one phrase from the song really got my attention, and I finally entered the words into a search engine a few days ago to see what I could find out about it.


Okay, you know where I'm going now. I've used it in the title for this blog. The song is "Hurt," as recorded by Johnny Cash in 2002. But I was quite surprised to learn that it was written a decade earlier by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, whose own recording of it in 1994 is on a different sonic plane entirely, and even more nightmarish than Cash's dark retrospective. Wow, country meets industrial pop.


There's nothing new, of course, in an artist from one musical genre covering a song from another. After all, that's one way that music evolves: through a continuous mixing and fusing of different styles into new forms. And it isn't that Johnny Cash hadn't done this sort of thing before this is the country icon who teamed up with Bob Dylan back in the days when Merle Haggard was still "proud to be an Okie from Muskogee," and country music fans tended to be openly hostile to just about everything that folk and folk rock stood for.


Whether he put it in such terms to himself or not, Cash's collaborations with Dylan tapped into a common system of tangled roots from which country music and folk/folk rock emerged: the lives of the poor, the downtrodden, and the oppressed. Within this tradition lies the outlaw, a defiant (and often idealized) figure who breaks the rules in despite of society's laws. And so Johnny Cash went to Folsom Prison in 1968, thereby jump-starting his flagging career, and (along with Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and David Allan Coe), establishing outlaw country as a thriving musical sub-genre.


It's important to note that country music isn't the only popular musical form with an outlaw tradition these days. Rap, particularly in its Gangsta' incarnation, has its own outlaws, and its own taproot into the lives of the people. "Country rap," a rather uneasy and tentative fusion of country and hip hop, has even emerged to explore the possibilities of this common ground.


Given the highly fraught state of social relations in America today, I don't really expect that country rap will make much of a difference politically, but to get to where we want to go, it is always useful to know where we came from.  


Photo CreditPixabay Image 687631 by Ana_J, used under the Pixabay License.

Andrea A. Lunsford

Stylish Writing

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Apr 11, 2019


Those who read these posts know that I’m wont to talk about style and about its crucial importance to writers today. Responding to one of my posts, Tom McGohey wrote:

Took me years, but I eventually discovered that the key to integrating style in a meaningful way was tying it consistently to student writing throughout the semester, in daily informal reading responses and class exercises, and in papers. From day one, we discussed rhetorical situations and strategies. In particular, I emphasized ethos, and how style contributed to ethos, and how that in turn contributed to the impact of a piece in a particular rhetorical situation. With every reading assignment, we spent some class time examining how style and ethos affected their response to a writer and the advantages and drawbacks of a style. When and why did the writer employ this style in particular passages? All along, I encouraged them to consider their own style/ethos on the page and how they might make more conscious use of it. I encouraged them to imitate a writer’s style they really liked during in-class writing exercises.

Tom reported that such careful integration of style paid off and that “on the whole, students liked doing all the style work. It gave them a sense of control over their prose, and seeing an immediate payoff in their writing, even if it were just one small area like shifting from passive to active voice or punctuating a long sentence perfectly, spurred them to pay more attention to style.”  


I’ve had much the same experience with students over the decades, finding that taking time to get a sentence just right, to use an analogy to striking effect, to attend to the rhythms of prose, eventually got student writers excited: they too can “make sentences sing.”  So I wrote back to Tom thanking him for his comments and in return he generously shared an assignment he gives, called “Stylish Writing.” Here’s Tom’s prompt:

Rhetorical Situation: You’ve been invited to submit an essay to a professional journal titled Stylish Writing explaining your own development as a “stylish writer.” This journal is read by practicing writers who take a great interest in the craft of writing and who like to learn from other writers about the joys and frustrations of struggling to write well-crafted sentences. With your essay, you will be entering a larger conversation about the role and importance of style in writing.

Tom goes on in the assignment to give students a series of questions to help them begin to analyze and describe their own writing styles and to link their stylistic choices to the establishment of ethos and to the rhetorical effects achieved by those choices. Throughout the assignment, he encourages students to experiment, to take risks, and to have FUN.


This is just the kind of playful but serious assignment students can really shine on. Indeed it may be one you might like to try, or modify, in your own classes. Tom has generously allowed me to share it here. If you have an assignment that engages students with style and stylistic choices, please send it along!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 1209121 by Free-Photos, used under the Pixabay License

Asian woman pointing out information on a laptop during a College of DuPage Poster SessionLast week, I shared a series of active learning strategies focused on design principles, related to a research poster project that students are working on this month. That activity inspired me to consider how I could rethink active learning strategies to discuss design and visual rhetoric.

The result is my new versions of three activities, suited for analysis of a visual document design or a visual artifact (such as a poster). For each task, I explain how the original learning task is used, and then I follow with the prompt that I created for my twist on the strategy.

Active Learning Tasks

Muddiest and Clearest Points

Original: Muddiest-point and clearest-point tasks ask students to reflect on recent information from the class and identify the relevant ideas or concepts. The muddiest point is the idea or concept that the student understands least while the clearest point is the idea or concept that the student understands most fully.

The Twist: Examine the image or document and identify the muddiest point and the clearest point in the visual design. For the muddiest point, identify the place in the visual where the image, the text, or other aspects are hardest to identify and understand. It might be a place where the image is blurred, faded, overexposed, or in shadows. It could be a place where an element is small, cropped off or otherwise incomplete. Once you identify the muddiest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it is minimized in comparison to other aspects of the image or document.

For the clearest point, look for the opposite place, where the image, the text, or other aspect is clearest and easiest to identify and understand. It might be a place that it larger, sharply focused, brighter, or highlighted in some way. Once you identify the clearest point, consider what it contributes to the overall image or document and why it stands out so clearly in comparison to the other aspects of the image or document.

Four Corners

Original: This active learning strategy relies on the physical layout of the classroom. The teacher sets up a station—with a discussion topic, problem to solve, or issue to debate—in each of the room’s four corners. Students are divided into four groups and rotate through the stations, or they visit only one station and then share the corner’s discussion with the full class.

The Twist: Focus on the four corners of the image or document you are examining. Label them as Top-Left, Top-Right, Bottom-Right, and Bottom-Left. Think about what appears in each corner—text, color, drawings, photographs, shadows, and so forth. In addition to considering what appears in each corner, reflect on aspects such as the size of the elements. Take into account how the content of the four corners relates to the rest of the image or document and how the corners relate to one another. After your analysis of the four corners, hypothesize what the corners contribute to the overall visual design.

Background Knowledge Probe

Original: Background knowledge tasks can take various forms, from freewriting about a previous lesson or experience to a scavenger hunt. The teacher either asks a question that will trigger students to recall prior knowledge about the topic, or the teacher can set up situations that require prior knowledge to complete a task. This strategy tells the teacher what students already know, so she can avoid reviewing information unnecessarily. Further, it helps students recall concepts and ideas that a new lesson will draw upon.

The Twist: Take the idea of a background knowledge probe literally. Examine the image or document, and focus on the background of the design. How does the background differ from the rest of the image or document? Does it complement the foreground? Does it provide a contrast? Is it a simple, blank canvas, or does it add information to the message? Based on your examination of the image or document, explain how the background contributes to the overall visual.

Final Thoughts

Like the active learning strategies that I shared last week, the three active learning strategies above ask students to look at the design of an image or document from different perspectives. By focusing on a specific area of the visual message, students isolate how the various parts of the visual contribute to its overall message.

Do you use active learning strategies in the classroom? How do you ask students to examine the way that visual design contributes to a message? If you have classroom activities to share, I would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below to tell me about your strategies.



Image credit: See Writing Differently 2018 7 by COD Newsroom on Flickr, used under a CC BY 2.0 license.

How can we encourage students to dive beneath the surface of complex readings? Each term I puzzle over this question and experiment with different responses. This year, the answer has been a puzzle itself: the jigsaw discussion.


I first encountered jigsaw classrooms almost twenty years ago, when I worked with a public elementary school as a teaching artist in creative writing. At the elementary level, the intent of the jigsaw is to enhance group learning. Each group works with a specific concept, and each group member focuses on a particular aspect of that concept. The idea is that students will cooperate in assembling the pieces of an intricate puzzle as they practice skills for cooperative learning.


This semester, I introduced jigsaw discussions for different purposes in College Writing 1 and College Writing 2. For College Writing 1, we worked together to analyze the film Black Panther. We had already practiced close reading through encounters with James Baldwin’s essay “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity” and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.” In order to create a synthesis essay, students needed to be able to find the interconnections. Part of the process of close reading of a popular film is to push past its popularity toward a deeper understanding of the many historical and thematic contexts of any cultural artifact. As I explained to the students, this was my intention for reading Baldwin and King, and watching Black Panther together for the same assignment.


Our first attempts to draw deeper thematic interconnections proved difficult. In particular we struggled with the concept of analyzing a scene from a film as one might a chapter of a novel. A film, the students reminded me, is not the same flat surface as a novel. There are sounds and visuals to consider, music and costumes, plots and characters. I wondered if jigsawing could help. Rather than trying to analyze a scene as a whole, we would break the scene into different categories, and from those categories draw deeper meaning and thematic interconnections to our readings of Baldwin and King. The students requested that we do this jigsaw as a whole class discussion, and asked me to take notes on their ideas. The first appendix shows the questions we asked, and the students’ responses.


In College Writing 2, our task was slightly different. In order to better understand the historical contexts of Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama, Raisin in the Sun, I invited students to read scholarship on the Great Migration and housing segregation in the northern United States. One of our readings was the introduction to Farah Jasmine Griffin’s 1996 scholarly work, Who Set You Flowin?: the African-American Migration Narrative. Nearly all of the students were approaching literary scholarship for the first time. Besides their introduction to a new genre, students would be dealing with unfamiliar references to literary sources.


For this jigsaw, we decided to break the class into groups of 2-4 students. Each student group was assigned to summarize two pages of the ten-page introduction. We opened a google.doc with blank spaces for each set of page numbers. When the jigsaw was complete, we had a concise summary of the article that we could analyze and discuss together. Students could experience for themselves the process of breaking down a complicated reading into its component parts, then reassembling the parts into a whole. The second appendix shows the directions for this assignment and a sample of one group’s brief summary (see example here).


In my college writing courses, students come together in the classroom through many varying intersectionalities of life experience, languaging, and college preparation. The conflicts and alliances that bring communities together-- and pull communities apart-- also play a role in how arrive in the classroom. Even with very hard work, it can be challenging to find common ground for class discussions across a multiplicity of identities, abilities, and needs, much less to learn to dive beneath the surface features of complex readings. Jigsaw discussions can help to experience the synergy that comes from the many voices present in the room.


*Spoiler AlertIf you have not seen the film Black Panther, you may want to skip Appendix 1.

For many years the elimination of the Electoral College in the U. S. was considered a stale topic for research papers. Arguing that it should be abolished was an academic argument at best because no one really thought that there would ever be enough support for the Constitutional change required to eliminate it. The Electoral College is now back in the headlines and newly relevant as a campaign issue because in two recent presidential elections—those in 2000 and 2016—the winner based on electoral votes was not the winner of the national popular vote; several candidates running for president in 2020 have come out in favor of abolishing the College.


The Electoral College might have made sense when it was established because of the difficulties of travel and the lack of rapid communication. An elector was trusted to represent the people of his state. Today, though, the process is pro forma since everyone knows what the outcome will be before the electors officially vote. Electors are bound by state law to vote as the state dictates, and all but two states—Maine and Nebraska—have a winner-take-all system that automatically gives all of the state’s electoral votes to the winner of the state popular vote. Thus even if the state popular vote is extremely close, all of the state’s votes go to the winning candidate. We learned in the 2016 election that electors will not go against the system to vote their conscience even with strong support from some constituents.


It is no wonder that many voters feel disenfranchised, and there is a good deal of validity to the argument that their votes don’t count. It is certainly not an incentive to get out and vote.


How do we approach this issue as a subject for teaching argument?


We can ask our students to write claims of fact, value, and policy about the Electoral College. Claims of fact can help them understand what the Electoral College is before they try to support more difficult claims. Claims of value can help them formulate their opinions about the College as it now exists. Claims of policy can express what should—or should not—be done about the Electoral College. One clear choice would be that the Electoral College should remain the means of selecting the American president. At the federal level, those who support eliminating the Electoral College have really only one avenue for change to offer: changing the Constitution.


A little research will show students the current situation at both the federal and the state level. Reformers have long assumed that change in our method of electing our president will need to be at the state level. States could individually choose to have their electoral votes divided proportionately by state popular vote. The most promising state action, however, is the passage of the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This legislation dictates that all electoral votes for the state would go to the candidate winning the national popular vote. The individual state laws will go into effect only when enough state legislatures have passed Interstate Compact laws to control the number of votes needed in the Electoral College to win—270. At this point, 189 votes are committed to the compact if the total number needed is reached.


Change in the old institution that is the Electoral College is suddenly in play. Students looking at the issue as argument must consider what assumptions underlie the choice to support maintaining or eliminating the Electoral College. Partisanship at this point in history makes Republicans want to cling to an old system that for now gives them an advantage, and Democrats to change a system that for now puts them at a disadvantage. (The same partisanship-based decisions can be seen in the recent Republican-led changes to Senate rules, requiring only a simple majority for a number of confirmations – most notably, those of Supreme Court Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh.) However, it may not always be the case that systems and choices benefiting one party today will continue to give them an advantage in the future. Partisanship aside, the most basic assumption underlying any change to make the Electoral College more fairly reflect the popular vote is that in a democracy, each citizen has the right to one vote, and one vote that counts.



Photo credit: “obama romney electoral college - end june” by brandopolo on Flickr, 6/30/12 via a CC BY 2.0 license.

Guest Blogger Sovay Hansen

Please welcome our Guest Blogger, Sovay Hansen!

Sovay Hansen is a PhD student in English Literature and a minor in German Studies at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She is a Graduate Teaching Associate in the English Department where she teaches first-year composition and is a Research Assistant for the Writing Program. Sovay’s scholarship investigates the world wars’ effect on the modern novel’s representation of the home. Before beginning her PhD in 2015 Sovay earned her BA at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington and spent a semester studying German Language at the Goethe Institut in Berlin, Germany. In the fall Sovay will teach an Honors English course called “Desperate Housewives: The Effect of the World Wars on the Home in Literature and Film.”


The Student as Critic and Creator: WID and Demystifying the Literary Text by Focusing on how Language Works

In the final semester of my fourth year teaching first-year composition at the University of Arizona, I finally went out on a limb and did an experiment: I wanted my English 102 course to move toward a Writing in the Disciplines (WID) approach and to represent the four programs (and thus, disciplines) in the Department of English: Creative Writing, Literature, Second Language Acquisition and Teaching, and Rhetoric and Composition.


My reasoning behind this can be traced back to my history of interdisciplinary and liberal arts education that has given me a preference for approaches to teaching that consider multiple disciplines.


Being a literature PhD student who specializes in British and German modern literature, the focus of my course was solidly grounded in reading such texts and writing about them; the major units of my course, though, were constructed with the purpose of allowing my students to inhabit multiple rhetorical situations as readers and authors of both “academic” and “creative” texts. Importantly, attention to the rhetorical nature of language and our role as rhetorically positioned users and interpreters of language can be seen in each unit of the course.


Major Units and Writing Assignments:

  1. Close Reading a Text. Students were in the role of the critic and learned to close read short stories and films and then wrote concise close reading papers in which they discussed the linguistic moves made in the short story. For this unit I drew upon L2 theories of reading literary texts in order to treat close reading a text in English as learning a new language (which it largely is for most first year college students). I have found that students allow themselves to be more playful with language when they are permitted to “be new” to the language rather than be expected to showcase their expertise. This unit brought together, then, the fields of literature and L2.
  2. Writing a Short Story. Students were in the role of the author/creator and got to make language do what they had claimed language can do in the first unit. This unit brought together the fields of literature and creative writing.
  3. Research Paper. Students played the role of the investigator and rhetorical analyzer and read about a critical conversation being had about an issue of their choice and added their small critical intervention into that discussion. It was important to me that students be allowed to choose their topic, though their idea had to in some way be inspired by one of the texts we read or watched and then analyzed as a class (which still ultimately made the potential research topics almost endless). My reasoning behind this was that I wanted students to witness the way literary texts always call attention to larger world issues (and other disciplines!) and are therefore fertile ground for asking new and interesting questions about the world.
  4. Portfolio. Students reflected on their learning over the course of the semester and how their different rhetorical positions gave them new and important perspectives on how language works and how it can be used for particular effects.


In reading students’ reflections on unit 2 it became clear to me that the sequencing of the first two units was highly effective for them!


The pervasive sentiment was that close reading a text in unit 1 showed them what language can do, while writing their own short story forced them to actually do that showing and creating: to prove what they had claimed language can do in unit 1 by creating their own literary text that played with language.


These two units had the effect of students having to prove their claims about language twice: once by textual evidence from the short story they analyzed (unit 1), and once by writing their own short story that did what they had claimed the language was doing in their close reading paper (unit 2). The act of creating, rather than only criticizing and deconstructing, was the act that solidified “what language can do” in their minds.


Wearing both hats of the Critic and Creator gave students a new command over:


1) how language can be used to create particular effects, and

2) how literary texts are a particularly rich site to witness this language play.


In the end, an important effect of this assignment sequence was the way in which the literary text was demystified for students: they came to find that the literary can be in the everyday and that they themselves can create such texts. In his Unit 2 Reflection one of my students wrote something that I think conveys how effective the progression of the first two units was: “This project showed me that I have the power to do all of the fun things that my favorite writers do when they create a story. I’ve never been encouraged to weave in any type of meaning, or a central message in a paper before. It helped me realize that not only can I analyze and pick out rhetorical devices in the texts I read, I am also more than capable of creating my own rhetorical affect in my own writing.” Teaching English is made richer, more interesting, and more effective for students when we draw on its subdisciplines to inform our own.


Have you experimented with scaffolding critical and creative work in the first year English classroom? How did you gauge the effect on students? What other disciplines have you brought into your English classroom and how did you use them?


I wish all teachers of writing could have been with me at the Hazhó’ó Hólne’ Writing Conference, held in late March in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo Nation and centered around the theme of Revitalization. A project of the Bread Loaf School of English Teacher’s Network and funded in part by Ford, the conference brought together students and teachers in Next Generation Leadership Network (I wrote about the NGLN in a previous post) groups from Massachusetts, Kentucky, Vermont, Georgia, South Carolina, and the Navajo Nation to share the work they have been doing during the last year in their home communities and to write and perform together. This is the third iteration of this conference and it has been a true honor to participate.


The Conference was convened by distinguished Navajo poet and community activist Rex Lee Jim and welcomed by Navajo President Jonathan Nez as well as by Bread Loaf School of English Director Emily Bartels. Each day featured three “breakout” sessions that offered interactive workshops on How to Sing Stories, Telling Our Stories through Theater, Youth Voices via Multimodalism, Teachers as Writers, Imagery and the Sensory, Spoken Word, Writing for Healing, Story Circles to Build Community, Art Therapy through Writing, and much more. I learned so much more in two days than I can possibly express—experiencing the embodied Navajo songs and prayers and dances that stirred my spirit as the descriptions of community project and research-based efforts to improve conditions in local schools and communities kept me on my mental toes hour after hour after hour.


Hearing young people (most of them young people of color) talk about food literacy programs that are helping communities work toward sustainability, about free after school writing and sports-based programs for elementary schools, about oral history projects that are capturing the long-ignored history of African-American Atlanta—well, you can see why I came away with hope for our future, even in these dismal times.


Of all the projects I learned about, none was more important than that of Navajo youth reporting on the kidnapping of indigenous women. The student researchers shared horrific statistics—over 500 women missing or murdered in 71 locations just for a start—and showed how little has been done to address this epidemic. Most impressive was their grasp of the complexity of the problem, their understanding that there can be no quick fix. Rather, they are engaged in the slow, tedious, meticulous work of documentation and of raising awareness among those in power at the same time that they look for concrete ways to protect indigenous women in their communities.


Each day of the conference concluded with an open mic session as writers lined up to take the mic and share their work. Many read/performed pieces they had written or begun during the weekend, like a piece called “Pam Can Dunk.” This poem about a small town local hero who lost her life in a car accident a couple of years ago told the story of Pam, who loved basketball more than anything but whose father and coaches continued to tell her that “girls can’t dunk.” Beautifully rendered and delivered, this poem builds in intensity to the conclusion when Pam shows them all with an unexpected but totally powerful slam dunk all her own. The writer of this piece is still revising and polishing, but he plans to publish it locally as a way to honor the memory of this young woman whose story will now live on.


There were many moments like this one—not only poems but also short prose pieces, original songs, an amazing a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” and even line dancing and singing that everyone could join in on. So a lot of pure joy mixed in with loss, heartache, grief, and, always, learning about and celebrating language and words, both written and spoken.


During one of our breaks, I spoke with a student who said she didn’t much like school (“it’s just all about tests”) but who loved being part of NGLN: “That’s where we get to write all the time!” she said. And this writing all the time had kept her engaged in school as well, even when she didn’t much want to go. I know how hard most high school teachers work to engage their students, to get them writing “all the time” in spite of administrative obsession with numbers and tests. It’s an ongoing struggle. That’s just one reason I’m so glad that groups like NGLN (and lots of others) exist to help out, to allow student writers/researchers/speakers/performers to do real, concrete work to improve their lives and the lives of their communities.


As this description suggests, NGLN’s central activity is the “organization and networking of youth-centered think tanks, where youth and their mentors gather, both digitally and in person, to design and develop strategic plans for individual and collective social action.” You can learn more about this vibrant, vital program on their website and check out the videos that are posted there as well.


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2607131 by StockSnap, used under the Pixabay License

Open design sampler demonstrating the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximityMy students are beginning research posters this week, so the course is returning to information on effective design and in particular the design principles of Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity. In today’s post, I’ll share the active learning tasks I’m using to ask students to recall prior knowledge and give them hands-on work with the design principles.

Active learning tasks ask students to engage directly in their learning process by “involving [them] in doing things and thinking about the things they are doing” (Bonwell & Eison 1991).

A simplified explanation of this teaching strategy compares students' minds to sponges and to mechanical gears. Passive learning strategies, such as lectures, treat the student’s mind like a sponge, ready to absorb ideas as it creates a repository of information. It aligns well with Paulo Freire’s banking model of education. Active learning strategies, alternately, engage the student’s brain as if it were a machine made of interlocking gears, turning and churning as it tests hypotheses and creates knowledge.

The series of tasks I describe below asks students to recall what they know about the design principles, to apply the principles through several analysis activities, and to forecast how they will use the principles in their research posters.

Background Readings and Resources

Basic Activity Logistics

The course includes weekly writing and revision activities that students complete individually and in groups. Discussion prompts and related activities are posted as weekly activities. Since I teach a fully-online course, this work is submitted as a discussion post to me in the course management software. These tasks are much like the in-class activities that would be part of a face-to-face course.

The tasks below give you the short version of the prompt. I add more specific details on how to post, share, and reply to one another in the assignments shared with students.

Active Learning Tasks

Design Principles Scavenger Hunt

Go on a hunt on campus or online for a good or bad visual. It can be any kind of visual—a digital sign, a full-page ad in a magazine, a billboard, and so forth. It doesn’t have to be a research poster. Here’s one way to find a visual for this discussion: Find a bulletin board on campus. Stand across the hall from it, and identify the one piece on the bulletin board that grabs your attention.

Take a photo of the visual you find or save the visual if you found it online. Add a paragraph that tells us why it is a good visual or a bad one. Use the ideas from the textbook to support your ideas.

Design Principles Prescription

You are the Design Doctor. Choose a visual from the Design Principles Scavenger Hunt or one that you have found elsewhere, and consider how well the visual uses the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Respond in three parts:

  1. Describe how the visual uses the design principles.
  2. Diagnose the design shortcomings of the visual.
  3. Prescribe solutions that will improve the visual.

Positive Application Task

Choose a visual from a previous project in the course or one that you are planning to use in your research poster. Annotate the visual with details on how you have used the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. Label features of the visual with arrows that pair with related descriptions and explanations of the design principles. Use Figure 11.1 on pages 251–52 of Technical Communication as the model for your response.

Research Poster Design Plan

Based on what you know about the design principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity, create a design plan for your research poster.

  1. Brainstorm a list of ideas you want to emphasize in your poster.
  2. Apply design principles to the ideas, indicating strategies you can use to highlight the content on your poster.
  3. Create a style sheet for your poster, outlining the design decisions you have made. For instance, your style sheet should cover information such as the following:
    • What font and font size will you use for regular text?
    • What font and font size will you use for Level 1 headings? Level 2 headings?
    • What colors will you use on the poster, and where will you use them?

Final Thoughts

These four active learning activities seem relatively simple on the surface; however, they build on one another to lead students to recall how the design principles work and then apply those principles to their own work. What strategies do you use to encourage students to apply composing and design strategies to their own work? Please tell me by leaving a comment below.


Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active learning: creating excitement in the classroom (ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 1). Washington, DC: School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University. Retrieved from

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 30th Anniversary Edition (30th Anniversary edition; M. B. Ramos, trans.). New York: Continuum.


Photo credit: The Open University Brand Design Guidelines by DAMS Library, on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Tanya RodrigueToday’s guest blogger is Tanya Rodrigue, an associate professor in English and coordinator of the Writing Intensive Curriculum Program at Salem State University in Massachusetts.


I am currently in the midst of holding individual conferences with students in one of my writing classes. These individual conferences, which last anywhere from 15-45 minutes, are extremely valuable for many reasons. I get an opportunity to not only give individual, customized feedback but also to have productive conversations with students about their ideas, their writing process, their drafts, and their revision plans. Also, these conferences help me get to know my students better, which often times leads to more investment in the course and in their writing projects. While individual conferences have clear benefits, so do group conferences. Group conferencing can help students become stronger writers and better at giving helpful revision feedback to other writers; they also have the potential to save instructors’ time.


Before I explain the values of group conferencing in detail, let me describe this kind of conferencing and provide one possible structure for organizing conferences.


Group conferencing simply entails an instructor meeting with two or more students to provide feedback and have a discussion about a draft of a writing project. When I hold group conferences, I often ask students to exchange papers prior to the conference and be prepared to give specific feedback to their peer related to the assignment guidelines and assessment criteria. I ask students to informally jot down notes that they can reference during the session. In preparation for group conferences, I follow the exact same steps as my students. I often meet with two students at a time for 20-30 minutes, but the conference length will depend on the nature of the writing assignment and the amount of pre-writing or drafting work students have done beforehand.  


Below are some reasons why group conferences are valuable:


  1. Group conferences provide instructors an opportunity to model what productive feedback is and sounds like.

It is valuable to hold group conferences prior to facilitating peer review so that students can learn the kind of feedback that is helpful to give for revision and the kind of language that is productive in talking about another writer’s work. Orchestrating a productive peer review session is incredibly difficult, most of the time because students don’t know what it is or how to do it. As a result, often times, even with a specific prompt, students resort to giving feedback on grammar or mechanics. In a group conference, students have the opportunity to witness the instructor’s thought process and how they support each student writer. Further, the instructor can help redirect student comments that focus on lower level concerns as well as praise or help students further develop or elaborate on their comments. Instructors may consider asking students to compose a brief reflection noting what they learned about giving meaningful feedback in the group conference.


  1. Student writers have the opportunity to witness how an audience takes up and understands their writing.

In a group conference, the instructor and students are a real-life audience. The student writer is able to visually see and hear how a real audience engages with their writing. Further, instructors and students inevitably offer different feedback. The instructor and student might focus their attention on completely different aspects of the paper, which may be helpful in understanding variances in audience engagement as well as differences in how people perceive what constitutes strong writing.  


  1. Feedback offered on one student’s draft often prompts another student(s) to reflect on their own draft.

In a group conference, students get to hear two sets of feedback on two different papers. Regardless of whether or not the students are writing about the same topic, students will often hear feedback on someone else’s writing and use it to think about their own writing. A student might say, “I really like the way Suzy organized her paper. I think it works better than how I did it” or “I did that too! I’m happy to see we both are meeting the expectations of the assignment.” In my experience, moments like these illustrate the value of group conferences.


  1. Oral feedback often times is more productive than written feedback.

I have written about the value of using talk in learning environments in a previous blog post and some of what I say there about audio process notes applies to group conferences. For both the instructor and the students, oral feedback, as opposed to written feedback, offers the opportunity to be informal and conversational. Talk invites dialogue, divergence, and unexpected or surprising moments that often lead to good ideas and thus strong feedback for writers. Unlike written feedback, the instructor and students don’t have to worry about complete thoughts or sentences: the opportunity to ask questions or ask for clarification, for example, is a strong affordance of face-to-face interactions.


  1. Group conferences often take instructors less time than individual conferences or providing written feedback.

When instructors are faced with teaching anywhere from 50 to 90 student writers, the amount of time spent on giving feedback on student writing is an important consideration. In my experience, group conferences save time without shortchanging good revision feedback. This is especially true when both the students and instructor come to the conference prepared and ready to engage in meaningful conversation.


There are three major challenges that I’ve faced when conducting group conferences: students not submitting their work to the instructor and peer prior to the session, students being ill-prepared to give feedback, and student lack of engagement during a session. In efforts to foster “buy-in,” instructors should talk to students about the value of group conferencing, what they can learn from engaging in them, and what they need to do—both before and during the conference—to make the session as productive as possible. Instructors may also want to consider attaching a grade weight to the group conferences.

Brody SmithwickBrody Smithwick is the founder of Lion Life Community, a non-profit organization that offers educational services inside of jails in North Georgia. He is also a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working toward a Master’s Degree in Professional Writing with concentrations in both Creative Writing and Composition and Rhetoric while teaching First-Year Composition courses at KSU.


Let’s be honest, teaching how to compose and use an annotated bibliography is not something that often induces uncontrollable excitement in our students. However, it is a necessary and useful instrument to put in their academic toolbox. While the formatting and summarizing components are important, getting students to analyze and synthesize their sources is where the magic happensor doesn’t. In this assignment, we’ll take a look at how you can use podcasting to supplement your annotated bibliography assignments to get your students to engage in quality analysis and synthesis.


Background Reading for Students and Instructors


Assignment: Analyze and Synthesize Sources via Podcasting

Assignment Learning Outcomes

  • Integrate appropriate source material for a variety of rhetorical contexts
  • Read and analyze a rhetorically diverse range of texts
  • Compose a variety of texts using key rhetorical concepts
  • Synthesize source material


In this assignment, students will learn how to engage in quality analysis and synthesis by creating a podcast about their annotated bibliography sources. Put students into groups of twos or threes. With completed annotated bibliographies in hand, your students will pick two or three sources to discuss in the podcast. They will create a podcast script as a deliverable that also aids in ensuring the podcast runs smoothly. If you want, you can give them some stock questions to ask one another during the podcast that you know will guide the conversation towards strong analysis and synthesis. While not a necessity, I think this assignment works best if there is an overall theme to the class or if you group students together who are writing on similar topics. 


Assignment Steps

  1. Introduce the Assignment and Explain the Technology

Link your expectation of the production quality of the podcast to how much time you are willing to spend on explaining software/hardware and editing tools. Sure, some students will be tech gurus and produce something ready for BBC on the first go. On the other hand, many students will struggle greatly with the technology component. That being said, you can either spend ample time in-class or make yourself available beyond the classroom to teach the technology side. Or simply lower your production quality requirement.


Here is a list of the free technology and other resources I provide to my students. I let them use what they are comfortable with even if I’m not familiar with it. Instead of requiring them to submit their podcast via our university’s learning management system, I ask that they turn in their work via email with very specific instructions on what to put in the email subject and how to name their files. This method has worked wonderfully for me so far.


You will also want to set a time limit on the podcasts. You would be surprised at how long these podcasts can run if you do not put a cap on them. I require a minimum of 20 minutes and a maximum of 30 minutes.  


  1. Have Students Complete an Outline of a Podcast Script 

By giving students an example outline, or Podcast Script, you will get a much higher quality podcast, especially because not all students regularly listen to podcasts. While podcasts can often sound like two or three pals simply shooting the breeze on the latest trends in quantum mechanics, they are not completely effortless and take time to produce. In fact, my students are often surprised that a podcast script is a real thing. The podcast script also gives you a chance to provide feedback mid-composition if you have students turn the script in before they create the podcast. 


  1. Emphasize the Importance of Making Connections and Asking Questions

During the podcast should talk about how each source specifically pertains to their topic. Although they have already completed their annotated bibliography, their co-hosts will need a brief summary of the source. From there, you’ll want to coach them to explain how this source is functioning as a piece of evidence that supports their claim and how they specifically plan to use it in their essay. They’ll need to be familiar enough with the source to be able to field questions from their co-hosts. This where your stock questions can really come in handy for students that may struggle with coming up with questions off the cuff.  


An example of how a discussion may unfold could look like the following: If Jim’s essay “Weimaraners: The Intelligentsia of the Canine World” is arguing that Weimaraners are the most intelligent breed of dog on the planet, one of his sources for the podcast might be a book about William Wegman’s amazingly talented Weimaraners. Jim briefly tells his co-hosts that Wegman is a popular American artist whose photography and art of Weimaraners dressed in human attire gained him a considerable reputation in the Seventies and Eighties. His art has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney, and The Smithsonian American Art Museum just to name a few. Jim has made the connection that this breed’s high intelligence allowed Wegman to create the portraits he is now so famous for. Jim plans to use Wegman’s work as a primary example of how Weimaraners have accomplished feats that shaped modern culture and that no other breed could possibly be capable of. At this point in the podcast, questions from the co-hosts will typically ensue.


Encourage your students to go where the conversation takes them and to become curious in one another’s work. Let them know that they should feel free to ask questions or challenge their co-hosts arguments--respectfully of course. This assignment puts students in a position of authority, as they are the expert on their topic and sources during the podcast. Many students seem to thrive when given that position. I think they truly feel as if they have a voice and something to add to the larger conversation.



In so many ways, talking is composing. Aiding students in discussing their sources with their peers, without the presence of the professor, yields rich conversations full of more in-depth analysis of their sources. Students move naturally into synthesizing their sources when their peers inquire about certain components of their research project or source. The podcasts my students create are often full of wit, humor, heated debates, and brilliant insights. After completing an annotated bibliography and doing this assignment, the general consensus of my class is that they feel well equipped to tackle their research projects. I like this assignment because it can be dressed up or down depending on your desired outcome. I plan to always incorporate podcasts into my course designs going forward.