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I am continuing to look at suggestions for working with multilingual students in FYC and IRW corequisite classrooms. One area of concern for many instructors is plagiarism and patchwriting with multilingual writers. A number of researchers and pedagogical experts have weighed in on the causes of this particular challenge and ways to address it (see articles by Howard, Serviss, and Rodrigue, as well as Pecorari, for example).


I would echo one of their findings: for many multilingual writers, patchwriting often results from a novice attempt at paraphrase – an attempt that can be improved with an increased focus on instruction and practice. 

I begin a discussion of paraphrase early in my FYC and corequisite courses, since much of our text-based writing requires integration of source material via summary, paraphrase, or quote. When I introduce the concept, I ask students to consider how they are already making use of paraphrase in their daily lives. Multilingual students frequently negotiate conversations in multiple languages, and paraphrase is a strategic resource they deploy when moving between languages and audiences. We talk about the quizzical look we might get in our daily conversations, a look that signals that we have not communicated well. So we try again: we re-phrase, and we paraphrase. We also put paraphrase to work in teaching, coaching, parenting, mentoring, training, and encouraging—roles many of my multilingual students are quite familiar with. 


What students are able to see quickly is that paraphrase outside of the classroom is not about checking a box on a rubric; it’s all about communicating a message so that a particular audience can understand it. Our purpose is explanation, and the goal is comprehension. What we do in writing is essentially the same thing: we encounter interesting and sometimes challenging concepts and ideas from the texts we read, and our goal is to communicate those ideas clearly for our own readers. 


Having established the purpose of a paraphrase, students note quickly that paraphrase requires an understanding of the information being shared. The first step is successful paraphrasing is reading for understanding – often reading many times. 


I next tell students I am going to tell them how NOT to paraphrase. I take a sentence or two from a difficult text we are working with, such as this one from Elizabeth Wardle’s essay in Bad Ideas about Writing. We talk about what it means to “put something in our own words,” and I show them a strategy that doesn’t work: we go through and substitute synonyms or related words for each major content word in the passage. Students may use a thesaurus or translator for this activity. Then we look at the results we get. I ask the students to consider whether or not the paraphrase is successful, and most will readily agree that it is not: it doesn’t explain, and it makes no sense. Our criteria for judgment is not how many words are copied before one is changed; rather, it is the effectiveness of the paraphrase in explaining the ideas in the original text.


We also take a look at paraphrases generated by online paraphrase tools, which usually produce a word salad akin to the paraphrase we generated in our first version. We wrap our introductory overview of paraphrasing by looking at a variety of successful and no-so-successful paraphrases, with example of patchwriting thrown in. Setting up the discussion with the purpose of paraphrase allows students to focus first on the meaning communicated in the paraphrase, and second on the language used to convey that meaning.


Finally, I have students work in collaborative groups to practice. I ask a targeted question about a concept from something we have read, and I ask the students to draft a paragraph in which they first quote from the target text to answer the question and then paraphrase the quote they’ve chosen. Finally, they extend the paragraph with an example from their own experience, and we review the paragraphs to see if readers can identify the parts (quote, paraphrase, and expansion) and the boundaries between them.


In peer responses to the paragraphs, students get one more shot at practicing paraphrase: they read a classmate’s paragraph and attempt to paraphrase the topic sentence (main idea), using the following frame.


       “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that __________________, right?”


This intensive practice prepares students to work with blending partial quotes, paraphrases, and summaries later in the term. While the class sessions devoted to paraphrase practice early on do not fully eliminate patchwriting and plagiarism, they provide students with a strong base for continued practice and discussion.

Recently I needed a resource to help students understand brainstorming. I knew that they generally understood the idea, but I wanted to encourage them to try some new strategies and stretch their invention skills a little. After a few disappointing Google search results, I found myself at the “Tips & Tools” page of the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing Center site.

There, I found perfect resources to share with students, including a Brainstorming tip sheet and this Webbing video:

I quickly realized that the site had much more to offer. The “Tips & Tools” page features nearly a hundred resources, organized into four categories:

  • Writing the Paper
  • Citation, Style, and Sentence Level Concerns
  • Specific Writing Assignments for Contexts
  • Writing for Specific Fields

The handouts range from ideas on Thesis Statements to basic strategies for working on a Dissertation. Some of the resources focus on general writing advice, such as dealing with Procrastination and Writing Anxiety. Others address topics frequently heard in the writing classroom, like how to use Gender-Inclusive Language and ways to work with Writing Groups effectively.

Perhaps one of the best things about the site is that the handouts are published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License. That means, as the site explains in the footer, “You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Writing Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.” If you need a supplement for your class or a specific student, these “Tips & Tools” have you covered.

Have you found an online resource that is particularly helpful in the writing classroom? Please share your recommendations in the comments below. I’d love to see the sites you use with students.

Bohannon HeadshotToday’s guest blogger is Jeanne Law Bohannon, an Associate Professor of English and the Interim Director of Composition at Kennesaw State University. She believes in creating democratic learning spaces, where students become stakeholders in their own rhetorical growth through authentic engagement in class communities. Her research interests include evaluating digital literacies; cultivating community engagement pedagogies; and growing informed and empowered student scholars. Reach Jeanne at and her KSU Faculty Page.


As I have reflected on some recent tweets calling out Spike Lee for his Oscar acceptance speech, I’ve also thought Atlanta Student Movement Signabout how we, as teachers of writing, can affect positive rhetorical growth for our students as they too reflect on social justice and turning their thoughts into scholarly action. Our students depend on us to provide mentoring and writing opportunities that help them engage at cultural points of need. In today’s post, I want to invite readers to check out and contribute to an assignment series that engages students as public, digital researchers with a topic connected to civil and human rights.


Context for Assignment

By researching historical civil rights movements and then developing digital content curating the rhetorical activities within these movements, students gain a deeper understanding of human struggles and are able to insert their own voices into recovering and analyzing them for 21st-century contexts.


Measurable Learning Objectives for the Assignment

  • Investigate a civil or human rights campaign
  • Apply peer review as recursive writing process
  • Create digital texts in a blogging genre for public audiences


Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of reading and viewing visual texts are ongoing processes for attaining learning goals in dialogic, digital writing assignments. Below, I have listed a few foundational texts. You will no doubt have your own to enrich this list.



Digital Deliverables for Classroom Use


In-Class/Out-of-Class Work

Students watch excerpts from a Civil Rights History video to introduce them to some key people and places connected to the 1960s movement. As a class group, students then choose two topics connected to the movement. Our class chose the Rich's Department Store sit-ins in Atlanta. Then, students diAtlanta Sit-Insvide into groups to craft two blog posts per group on people and places connected to their chosen civil rights topic (from either of the above sources), using the Blogging Guidelines. Drafting blog content can occur outside of class, but revision and editing are best-completed in-class. Use the Feedback Checklist to maximize effective peer time. If you can't get a computer lab (a frequent occurrence on my campus), host a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) day. Some of my students' best revisions are made on their tablets and phones! Budget time for at least one revision and two editing sessions, where students collaborate to research and insert tags, refine their conversational tones, design multimodal elements, check for accessibility and even integrate SEO analytics. 


This assignment lends itself to digital, democratic learning and unique contributions across types of classes, because students choose their methods of composition, reflect on their process, and have the opportunity to present their work to their peers and publics. 


Student Blog Examples


Check More Out...

Our class took these blogs a bit further and curated all of the blogs into a website: Anyone Sitting Here. Please also view a sample page: The Rhetorical Activism of Lonnie King. If your students have more content to add to our website, send it along, and we'll help get it published!

Our Reflections and Continued Work

Our class community engaged authentically with this assignment and it generated sustained work, writing and designing texts. The work brought all twenty of us together as a group, each person contributing expertiseAtlanta Student Movement Project and learning from everyone else. Our research has resulted in a living digital archive and a student-produced visual timeline of the Movement’s genesis (special thanks to Kelly Key, John Phelps, and Madison Urquart). As Andrea Lunsford has taught us: our writing is valuable when we share it with the world. Try this assignment and get in touch with us to contribute to our academic website



Want to offer feedback, comments, and suggestions on this post? Join the Macmillan Community to get involved (it’s free, quick, and easy)!

For quite some time now I have been intimating in this blog that entertainment may not be the most effective way of achieving political goals, due to the way that it can distract its audience from the task of actual political engagement. Thus, I was inevitably struck by Steve Almond's forthright argument to this effect in a recent op-ed for the Los Angeles Times. But while reading Almond's essay I found myself beginning to question my own position, and while I'm not quite ready to abandon it entirely, I do believe that it may need some modification in the light of recent developments in American political culture.


To see why, let's start with Almond's thesis. Arguing that the superb political comedy that has erupted in the wake of the Trump presidency has only played into the hands of a man "who relishes and exploits his beefs with comedians . . . [and who] doesn’t see them as degrading the office of the presidency so much as transforming that office into an adjunct of the entertainment industry, where what matters most is your ratings," Almond suggests that the "towering irony here is that the essential mission of comedians in the Age of Trump is identical to that of the man they mock." Thus, both Trump and his opponents "preach that our political and media classes are essentially corrupt. Both use shtick to convert our distress at this dysfunction into disposable laughs. In other words, both turn politics into show business." The upshot of all this, Almond concludes, is that "Halfway through his reign, Trump has reaffirmed a truth that extends from King Lear to Norman Lear: A kingdom that relies on court jesters to confront mad rulers is doomed. The Fool is not a redeemer. His role is to defuse, by means of laughter, the moral distress that presages redemption."


In short, comedians like the cast of SNL and Steve Colbert are making their audiences feel too good to actually go out and do anything (like vote). But there's a certain paradox here, for if Trump used comedy to capture the White House, so too can his opposition. In other words, if Almond's argument is right, it's also wrong. What worked for one side can work for the other. Maybe SNL and Steve Colbert (et. al) can help lead the revolution.


Only the future will reveal whether this will prove to be true, but for now we can take away one surety from Almond's essay: America's entertainment culture has engulfed our entire society so thoroughly that none of the old barriers between "high" culture and "low" truly exist anymore. Popular culture, with its mandate to entertain, is our dominant culture, for better or for worse.



Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3774381 by mohamed_hassan, used under the Pixabay License

Andrea A. Lunsford

Pay Attention!

Posted by Andrea A. Lunsford Expert Feb 28, 2019


It’s no secret that I am a fan of style and of teaching style, the third canon of rhetoric and, by any measure, an extremely important one today. So I’ve focused on style in all my textbooks and done a fair amount of research and reading about the history of style and about the fusion of style and “content.” More recently, I’ve thought long and hard about why style seems so important to me today and so necessary to teach our students to think about and to experiment with.


I’ve been deeply impressed with rhetorician Richard Lanham’s The Economics of Attention, which I’ve read twice and refer to often: in that book, Lanham argues that style is of the utmost importance to writing and speaking today because it is through style that we can get and hold an audience’s attention. Lanham traces the move from a “stuff” economy (think industrial revolution, Fordist principles, and manufacturing) to a “fluff” economy that deals not so much in concrete material objects but in immaterial ideas and information. Add to this shift the enormous changes wrought by technology, changes that make information more available to us than ever before, and the problem Lanham discusses comes into view: the ideas and information that will be effective and successful (often in monetary terms) are those that people attend to. Thus the “economics of attention” Lanham sees at work everywhere today. His analysis is astute and his advice straightforward: if you want to be heard in today’s society, you have to get people’s attention. And the major tool you have to do so is style.


Media consultant Howard Rheingold also writes extensively about the difficulty of getting and holding attention in Net Smart, another book I have learned a great deal from reading and studying. These two books are fairly old now, but they still strike me as prescient and accurate. Now I see “attention” commanding attention everywhere. In a recent issue of Wired, James Vlahos notes that “[In] the economics of the online world, …attention is everything,” and everyone from business CEOs to medical practitioners are talking about the “crisis” of being able to get their messages across and to capture the attention of audiences. Some of these folks are simply interested in building the bottom line or in making more and more money. But not all. Vlahos, for example, worries that the tech world’s search for “the perfect single answer” promised by Alexa and Echo and company (not quite there yet, Vlahos says, but very close) will reduce options and leave us at the mercy of single answers that have been chosen for us—and in that way choosing what we are able to pay attention to. Others like Lanham and Rheingold worry about how the truth (small “t”) can hold its own in getting attention with clickbait and lies.


As teachers of writing, we have a big stake in these debates and discussions, as do our students. In the long run, rhetoricians and compositionists need to be in on this conversation, carrying out research that can contribute to it in important ways. In the shorter run, we need to alert our students to the issues and especially to the need for them to focus on style as a means of getting and holding attention, and thus of having a chance to get their voices out there where they can and will be heard. Luckily, we know a lot about rhetorical strategies that can help command attention: everything from crafting electrifying titles and opening sentences to syntactic structures and word choices that pull readers/listeners along, to the use of visuals and graphics to hold attention, to the power of figurative language, and to the equal power of silence.


Still, I find that many teachers of writing say that there’s just no time to focus on style, that helping students with invention, with critical thinking, with organizational frameworks and drafting—all time-consuming and very important goals—seem more fundamental than style. I think it’s time, though, to question this assumption and to look at style as inseparable from inventing, thinking critically, drafting, and organizing. And then to create curricula that allow for this integration.


I would very much like to hear responses to these ideas and especially to hear of ways in which teachers of writing are already responding to the move I’m calling for. Please leave a comment below or write back to me directly at And thank you!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2365812 by rawpixel, used under the Pixabay License

Screenshot from Practical Strategies in Technical Communication showing a Thinking Visually featureI love the “Thinking Visually” resources in Mike Markel’s Practical Strategies for Technical Communication (2nd ed.). The example shown in the screenshot on the right outlines the six major characteristics of a technical document.

As you flip through the pages of the textbook, these full-page graphics stand out, catching students’ attention with their strong contrast and reader-friendly presentation of the information explored in more detail in the text.

The textbook’s “Preface for Instructors” explains the goal of this new feature:

Reflecting the increasingly visual nature of today’s learners and of technical communication itself, the Second Edition includes new “Thinking Visually” graphics, developed with feedback from instructors. This feature provides an accessible, modern take on key principles and concepts throughout the text.

The feature this quick summary presents definitely stands out, even in a highly visual textbook like this one.

[NOTE: The “Thinking Visually” infographics mentioned in this post are available in the short version of the text (mentioned above), Practical Strategies for Technical Communication.They are not included in the full version of the text, Technical Communication.]

I decided to create my own infographic resources to persuade students to think visually about the concepts in Technical Communication. I’m starting with documentation. Students struggle typically struggle with that topic, and its coverage in most textbooks is dense and text-heavy.

I began with this page (shown as an image) on the question, “Why Use Documentation?” It is also available as a Google Doc or a PDF to provide full accessibility to students.

Image of the Why Use Documentation? page

The three reasons that documentation is important listed in the resource come from the Appendix on “Documenting Your Sources.” The infographic is rather simple, but I hope clear and direct—just like those from Practical Strategies for Technical Communication. Tell me what you think. I plan to make several more before students begin their major research projects in a few weeks, so I can definitely use some feedback. Just leave me a comment below.


NOTE: Practical Strategies for Technical Communication has just been published (2019) in a third edition, but I only have access to the second edition presently. The “Thinking Visually” are included in the third edition as well.

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.


Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several conversations with faculty and graduate students about "buy-in" in the classroom.
Current and future teachers wonder: how do I get students to buy-in to the idea that writing and learning how to write well is important?

I’ve posed this question to myself many times over the course of my career and have actively sought different ways to foster student buy-in. Some ideas have worked and some have not. While there are many factors that play a role in the extent to which instructors can foster student buy-in, I have had success at different institutions with the activities and strategies below.


  1. Discuss the importance of writing inside and outside of the classroom

For a 15-20 minute in-class activity, ask students to respond to the following questions in a freewrite.


  • What do you want to do after you graduate from college?
  • What kind of writing do you think you’ll do at your job?
  • What do you think might happen if you’re unable to communicate effectively at your job?
  • What do you think might happen if you’re really good at communicating effectively at your job?
  • Based on these questions, why do you think writing and learning how to write is important?


Ask students to share what they wrote and make a list of responses on the board. Orchestrate a conversation wherein students engage with the list and brainstorm about what we need to learn and practice in class to in order to strengthen our writing abilities. I encourage instructors to be transparent about how the skills, abilities, and knowledge gained in the course are transferable across writing situations, including the situations they’ll encounter in the future workplace.


(I usually have this discussion on the first or second day of class, but it’s never too late to do so.)


  1. Assign lots and lots of low-stakes writing assignments

Ask students to write every day in class and out of class. For example, you might provide a brief prompt at the beginning of every class intended to either help get them thinking about course material or just to practice writing in general. Here are some interesting prompts that you may consider using in your class.


You can explain to students that research has proven informal writing assignments support student learning and function as ripe sites for invention work. Perhaps most importantly, research states that the more people write, the better writers they become. All of the writing students do in your class will sharpen their writing abilities and communication skills, which in turn will help them learn and succeed in other college courses and in the workplace.


  1. Analyze writing in the workplace

Ask your students to engage with research that reveals the importance of writing and learning how to write. For example, you may assign sections of two studies on workplace writing: “Writing: A Ticket to Work…Or a Ticket Out” and “Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government.” The findings from the first study reveal that most people (2/3 of 8 million surveyed) in business have writing responsibilities and that writing abilities play a significant role in promotion, demotion, and job loss. The second study reveals that all 2.7 million state employees surveyed have writing responsibilities and all agree writing is important. This study is perhaps most persuasive for student buy-in because it demonstrates that jobs and careers that may not appear to demand strong writing abilities and skills may in fact do so.



In using these activities and other variations of them, I’ve recognized that pedagogical and curricular transparency is effective in fostering student buy-in. When we tell our students why we’re doing what we’re doing and how our decisions are informed by research in the discipline, they are more likely to recognize the value of the work they do in the class. Further, I’ve learned that discussions and activities that draw connections between school and the workplace and that emphasize transferability make a strong impact on students, especially students taking required classes or classes they think are unrelated to their major or future career. In positioning students to think about other courses they will take as well as their futures, they are more likely to be persuaded that writing and learning how to write matters.

Guest Blogger: Rochelle Spencer is currently a scholar in Dr. Maryemma Graham's Black Book Interactive Project at the University of Kansas. Rochelle is author of AfroSurrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction (Routledge 2019) and co-editor, with Jina Ortiz, of All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color (Univ of Wisconsin Press, 2014). A VONA alum, a former board member of the Hurston Wright Foundation, a current member of the National Book Critics Circle, and co-curator for the Digital Literature Garden and Let's Play, Rochelle recently defended the first dissertation on AfroSurrealism.


How do we demonstrate radical love and trust towards our students, especially when exploring painful or traumatic subjects? If we, as a writing community, teach arguments and logos, ethos, and pathos, then it seems to me that we are left with critical questions: How do we create empathy? How do we decide when it’s “convenient” to care about someone?


These questions point to a community-centered pedagogy. Years ago, a student of color told me about being harassed by police right in front of the campus where I then taught. That student was Asian, and I am Black. I understood the student’s fear because I’ve been harassed by the police too. Last fall, as I prepared to teach a lesson on #BlackLivesMatter, I realized the bullying and intimidation my former student experienced may have happened to other students. Or they may have friends or family who have experienced police violence, perhaps while arrested or incarcerated.


Addressing these traumas while teaching argumentation, I have found that we’re always thinking about representation. I want to suggest to students that they don’t have to fit any particular image to be treated fairly. If someone’s skin is dark, or their pants sag, or if they wear a hijab or speak a language other than English, then should they be subjected to harassment or life-ending violence? It’s more than problematic to decide someone’s humanity based on whether they’re wearing a suit or tie--or a skirt with a slip. (We have a history of telling women and perhaps non-binary genders that sexual violence can be a result of the way they’re dressed. And I realize our brothers are raped and sexually violated but this specific condemnation seems mostly aimed at women.)


At the same time, I understand how people respond to those who [outwardly] convey power, through their dress or speech. We want our students’ voices to be heard and we want them to be taken seriously, especially as they work to create positive changes in their communities.

One lesson plan that grew out of this idea centered on visual arguments. In class, we watched  this video from CNN about Botham Sean Jean, who was killed inside his apartment by an off-duty police officer in Sept. 6, 2018, and Frank Ocean’s Nike 2016 video, which juxtaposed images of Trayvon Martin with sensual and surreal images. Using the following questions, we held a class discussion as a prelude to our writing assignment on visual argument:


  • Botham Jean’s family attorney says Jean “lived his life virtually without blemish,” how is that life portrayed in the video? Do you feel empathy towards Jean? Do you think this video generates empathy?
  • What do you think of Ocean’s incorporation of the Trayvon Martin photograph? Do you think it serves a purpose? Do you think the photograph is used respectfully? Why do you think Ocean juxtaposes so many contrasting images alongside the photograph? Does Ocean’s video create empathy?


In their in-class writings, which addressed these questions, my students helped me to understand the Ocean video as commentary on our emotional landscapes. While a few students viewed the Ocean video as a disjointed arrangement of startling scenes, others argued Ocean‘s kaleidoscopic images make it difficult to view a man of color, such as Ocean--or anyone really--through a one-dimensional lens. These students argued for Ocean’s video, with its multi-racial and intergenerational cast, as depicting a pluralistic society and the ways people must work together and fight for each other’s survival.


If Ocean's work exploits respectability politics, then history's portrayal of Rosa Parks only further reveals their complexity.We know about Rosa Parks’ work as the leader of the Montgomery Bus Movement but, in the 1950s, if a young, pregnant, and unmarried woman  had led the movement, would her sexual history--rather than the cause--have been the topic of discussion?  We create narratives about people that omit details. I think we tend to think of Parks, perhaps, as a silent image; we remember the quiet and dignified black-and-white photo of her sitting on the bus, but less known is Parks’ work as an outspoken and ardent investigator and activist who fought for justice for Recy Taylor, a black woman raped by six white men.


The challenge for our students, and for all writers whose work concerns people and our relationships to each other, is figuring out how to show our complexity, our totality--while helping our readers understand and care about our stories.

One of the most common logical fallacies in argumentation is the either/or fallacy. We see this fallacy a great deal these days because our two-party political system is as deeply entrenched as it has ever been, and each party accuses the other of the most extreme positions on hot topics, as if no center ground is possible. Often, the either/or fallacy leads to the straw man fallacy, as the other side finds itself defending against a much more extreme position than what it truly supports.


President Trump wants a wall on our southern border. That leads Republicans to support the unfair assumption that anyone who opposes the wall is for open borders; Trump even went so far as to accuse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of supporting human trafficking because she opposes the border wall. However, immigration is not an either/or proposition. Both sides are in favor of border security, but if the Democrats must defend themselves against the false charge that they want no restrictions at all on immigration, they waste time and energy that could be spent on reaching common ground. Thus the straw man that Democrats are distracted by and find themselves attacking instead of the real issue.


New York’s new legislation about abortion is another example that can be examined in light of either/or logic. Some of those who oppose abortion assume that those who cheered the passage of the legislation must be willing to accept killing an infant in the process of being delivered. The law actually stipulates very specific circumstances under which a late-term abortion can be performed. That “if” clause is what opponents of abortion do not hear. The either/or fallacy comes in accepting that either one opposes abortion under any circumstances or accepts it under any circumstances. If those who support a woman’s right to choose have to defend themselves against the charge that they think it is okay to kill a baby during delivery, they are attacking a straw man rather than addressing the real issue of why a woman would choose a late-term abortion.


Any time a speaker or writer argues that if you don’t believe this, you believe that, it is worth pausing to consider if that dichotomy really exists. Is it true that anyone who supports gun control wants to take all guns away from every law-abiding American? Is it true that parents who allow their children to be vaccinated do not care about their children’s welfare?


The whole idea behind Rogerian argument is that it seeks common ground from which to work toward reconciling opposing or differing positions. That’s not easy when the issue is something as heated as abortion or the killing of black men by white police officers. It’s not easy because the first step toward reconciliation is being able to accurately state your opponent’s position. As long as every statement is weighed first in terms of its political impact, that step toward common ground will be slow in coming.



Photo credit: “Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant - Caricatures” by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, 2/12/14 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.


Black and white photo of a dctionary page showing the word "grammar"


National Grammar Day is nearly here! Each year, this lesser known (but no less important!) holiday rolls around on March 4th. The day-long celebration of all things grammar was founded in 2008 by Martha Brockenbrough, who is an author and the founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar. What better way to acknowledge the holiday in your own classroom than by listening to some Grammar Girl podcasts?


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 products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson on National Grammar Day and need some ideas, 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 LaunchPad products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative.


In your LaunchPad, see 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."


Podcasts about Grammar & the English Language

  • Top Ten Grammar Myths [5:31]
  • Stop Calling Yourself a Grammar Nazi! [6:10]
  • The Proto-Indo-European Language [15:44]


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: There are countless ways to look at and think about grammar—get your students in on the debate! Start by having students listen to the Grammar Girl podcast “Top Ten Grammar Myths,” either together in class or for homework. Have each student select one of the ten myths and research it more deeply. They might consider:

  • What is the history of this grammar myth?
  • What are the different points of the debate surrounding this myth?
  • Which sources agree that this is a myth? Which sources disagree, and think this is not a myth?


After researching, ask students to write a brief report arguing that their selected myth is not a grammar myth, whether or not they agree. Each student should include their sources. Have students share their reports, either in small groups or as a class.


Assignment B: Each of the three selected podcasts touches upon a complex subject. Ask students to choose one of the listed podcasts and listen to it (or, alternately, choose one for the class to listen to together). Then, have each student choose a grammar or language topic they want to know more about—either from one of the podcasts or another source—and research its background. After researching, have each student present a brief report on their selected topic. Some ideas:

  • What is the history of the comma?
  • How does grammar develop within a language?
  • What is the origin of their favorite English word?
  • What is the history of the word “irregardless”?


Will you be discussing National Grammar Day in your classroom on March 4th? Let us know your plans in the comments! Read more articles about National Grammar Day by visiting the Quick and Dirty Tips website.


Credit: Pixabay Image 390029by PDPics, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about style and delivery. Listening to the President’s hour-long rambling, free-associating announcement of a “national emergency,” I wondered again how his style—bullying, belligerent, antagonistic, dogmatic, and clipped (he often speaks in tweets)—seems to appeal to so many people. And yet it clearly does appeal to many, who seem eager if not to be bullied then to be told what to think, do, and believe. Elsewhere I’ve analyzed passages of his speeches, which reveal that he speaks on about a third or fourth-grade level, using a limited vocabulary, relying on stoking fears of “others,” and using tropes like paralipsis or occultatio (saying what you intend to say by insisting you won’t say it).


It’s surely worth asking our students to carry out analyses of style and delivery (looking at not only the words, phrases, images, figures of speech, and so on, but at body language as well) both in order to sharpen their critical skills and to help them analyze their own styles and patterns of delivery. Many writing centers now even provide ways for students to get presentations video-taped so that they can analyze these performances, often with the help of a speaking/presenting consultant.


On a recent visit to Stockholm, I was reminded of a very different kind of style and delivery: that used by teenager Greta Thunberg in her call to arms against the deadly emissions that are affecting the environment. You have probably heard of Thunberg—a sixteen-year-old (who started her campaign two years ago) who leaves school every Friday in Stockholm to sit in front of the Swedish parliament, admonishing leaders to act.


Thunberg is sitting in this photo, but she is more often standing and delivering speeches that challenge those listening to her to act. Speaking softly and clearly, enunciating every word (and often speaking in her second or third language, English), she has a message that is anything but soft. Like America’s current president, she uses repetition—but not like a baseball bat and instead like a drumbeat that intensifies in urgency as she moves through her talk. Take a look, for instance, at a speech she delivered to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year. (She got there after an arduous train trek since she refuses to use the emissions-heavy airlines, and she noted the hypocrisy of those who come in “private jets” to talk about what they are doing to reduce emissions.) You can find a transcript and watch clips of the speech here, but for now here is a brief excerpt of the beginning and end of her speech:

Our house is on fire. I am here to say, our house is on fire...


Adults keep saying: “We owe it to the young people to give them hope.” But I don’t want our hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.


I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.


There is much to talk about in her speech: the explicit, plain language that makes her message absolutely and unequivocally clear. The very short sentences (like the last one, “Because it is.”) offset by some as long as 40 words that help achieve a dynamic and steady rhythm. The use of direct address (“I want you to act.”). The stark contrast between ineffective, dithering “adults” and young people on a mission. And, again, the use of repetition, which she uses throughout but perhaps most notably in the last part of the speech: “I don’t want; I don’t want” followed by “I want,” “I want,” “I want,” “I want,” “I want.” Thunberg stands straight and tall before her audience, looking directly at them and speaking as if without notes. “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Here her use of repetition is artful, expressive, intensifying with each clause. Soft spoken, steady, often understated—but carrying a big message.


Our students could learn a lot from watching one of Thunberg’s presentations and then studying the transcript with care. In an age of “optics,” when images reign supreme and sound bites dominate, she offers some of her own that are truly memorable.


I like to challenge students to take a subject they are passionate about and to prepare a brief oral presentation, using examples like this one from Thunberg (or other speakers) to inspire them to concentrate on style and delivery. Because they matter, perhaps more today than ever.


Image Credit: Photo by Leonhard Lenz [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons

I have a tender spot for students who struggle to find their tone as they enter an academic conversation. I remember writing my first (terrible) essay in college with no idea how to assert my heartfelt (and weak) claim: “Shakespeare’s Hamlet is brilliant!”


So, ham-handedly, I conjured an antagonist and self-righteously typed on my IBM Selectric something like: “While some people fail to recognize Shakespeare’s brilliance, I will argue that Hamlet proves Shakespeare is indeed a brilliant playwright.” The comments and grade on that paper were sobering, and (thanks to a skilled instructor) helpful to my growth as a thinker and writer. But I remember well the late-night struggle to enter a serious conversation about literature.


Early in each semester, my own writing students often reach for outrage as a conversational entree (“X’s idea is ridiculous!”) or sarcasm (“X claims to be a social justice advocate but totally fails to recognize their own privilege!”). In a recent accidentally amusing malapropism, a student trashed an author for being “totally hippocratical.” (Alas, the author in question was not a doctor.)


But who can blame students for assuming an "argument" must be built on forceful disagreement? Most of what we hear in the public sphere are gut-level judgments rather than reasoned analysis. Students can be forgiven for mistaking agreement with weakness, or believing that generous and empathetic readers simply are not tough enough to take a stand.


Our task, as writing instructors, is to model the tone of academic conversations, and to make the syntax of engagement transparent, so students can practice it. In 2019, I’ve found the Burkean metaphor (“Imagine a parlor!”) doesn’t take our students very far. So, in our book, From Inquiry to Academic Writing my co-author, Stuart Greene, and I offer steps to help demystify the process:


Steps to Writing Yourself into an Academic Conversation:

  • Retrace the conversation, including the relevance of the topic and situation, for readers by briefly discussing an author’s key claims and ideas. This discussion can be as brief as a sentence or two and include a quotation for each author you cite.
  • Respond to the ideas of others by helping readers understand the context in which another’s claims make sense. “I understand this if I consider it from this perspective.”
  • Discuss possible implications by putting problems aside, at least temporarily, and asking, “Do their claims make sense?”
  • Introduce conflicting points of view and raise possible criticisms to indicate something the authors may have overlooked.
  • Formulate your own claim to assert what you think.
  • Ensure that your own purpose as a writer is clear to readers.


You may have other steps you’d add to this list, and, certainly, as we close-read texts with students, we can name and “close write” additional rhetorical moves that academic writers make. Providing students the opportunity to name and practice these moves helps them see that syntax itself can guide their tone, helps them generate ideas, and provides structures for nuanced analysis.


Ultimately, our goal is to foster thinkers and writers who are inspired to engage meaningfully with ideas, as Bedford New Scholar Cecilia Shelton’s recent post demonstrates so powerfully.


By modeling thoughtful engagement with writers’ ideas inside our classroom, we can give our students the practice they will need to engage thoughtfully in the public sphere, too.



Photo Credit: April Lidinsky

I am continuing to look at suggestions for working with multilingual students in FYC and IRW corequisite classrooms. Here’s a simple activity that can support sentence structure development for all readers and writers, one that is particularly helpful for multilingual students. 


Select a short passage (3-5 sentences) from a classroom reading, focusing on an excerpt that illustrates clear functions or rhetorical purposes. For example, in my current IRW composition course, we recently looked at this short paragraph from Elizabeth Wardle’s article “You Can Learn to Write in General,” from the open-source text Bad Ideas about Writing:


There is no writing in general, and thus no single class or workshop or experience can teach people to write, once and for all. But people want to believe that it’s possible to write in general because this belief makes writing seem less difficult and allows them to believe that writers can get a one-time writing inoculation that will extend across all settings. If this is the case, then non-English teachers and employers are off the hook; they don’t have to help students learn to write in their classrooms or workplaces, they can just criticize writers for not being able to meet their expectations— and criticize English teachers for not doing their jobs.  (31)


As my class discussed this passage in the context of the entire essay, we looked at what the three sentences accomplish rhetorically. Sentence one, for example, presents a strong claim (“There is no writing in general”) and follows with the consequences of that claim (“and thus…”). The second sentence introduces a contrasting belief (“But…”), followed by a reason (“because…”). The final sentence looks at the implications of accepting the alternative (“if…then…”), adding additional ideas via a semicolon and a dash. 

This analysis led to a simple discussion of different ways to express frustration, especially frustration in relation to mistaken ideas. Instead of screeching, “That’s wrong,” Wardle’s paragraph illustrates a formal and more “academic” means of confronting a false or mistaken belief.

Next, I asked students to think about statements or expectations suggesting mistaken assumptions that they hear (particularly in college or work situations), and to create a paragraph expressing their frustration, following Wardle’s model:

There is no _________________, and so ____________________.  But _______________ because _______________________.  If ___________, then _________________; _____________________--__________________.


Students worked on the project in groups, producing paragraphs similar to this one:


There is no way we can get so much homework done so fast, and thus teachers can’t expect us to finish everything completely.  But teachers want to believe that major assignments can be done in a day or two because they think we students don’t have lives and jobs outside of school.  If this was true, then maybe we should have all assignments done before the next class; teachers could also lecture us about how we don’t listen or how we make excuses--and even make us hate coming to class.


Once student groups generated their paragraphs, we did some large group editing for spelling, agreements, and mechanics.  But each group was able to complete a thought-provoking paragraph with effective sentence structure, using the functions and sentence patterns we found in Wardle’s original.  


This activity builds confidence for students, and in this particular case, it also allowed me to hear and affirm the struggles they have regarding academic expectations of them:  in addition to typical student complaints about the amount of time and work expected from them, students also commented on frustrations with feedback and criticism, the stress of comprehensive and high-stakes testing, difficulties talking with faculty, and the sense that faculty are offended when students aren’t 100% engaged in every class. The large-group editing and review of the paragraphs led to a frank discussion about strategies for dealing with mismatches between faculty and students. We didn’t resolve all the frustrations, but student perspectives were seen, heard, and validated.


What are your strategies for helping multilingual writers build confidence using different sentence structures?

Black student working at laptop outsideFor students to do well in the courses I teach, they have to understand how the course software works. Since the courses are 100% online, the spaces that our course software creates become the classroom where we interact. If students cannot get to those spaces or do not fully understand how they work, they can fail the course.

Given this potential, I make time for software instruction, no matter how packed the course is with subject area content and related work. Generally, I approach software instruction as needed to complete activities in the course. For instance, I talk about how to use banded rows to increase table readability as students work on an assignment that requires creating a table. The software instruction is directly tied to doing well on the activity, so students are motivated to learn the related technical skills.

The challenge is knowing when students will need help with the software that doesn’t relate to specific assignments. Students come to the course with a variety of experience, so I cannot assume that they all need the same instruction. I encourage students to help themselves by linking to the documentation from course materials. Beyond that, I’ve relied on two strategies:

  • Wait until someone asks.
  • Look for patterns that suggest students need help.

In both cases, I either provide a link to the documentation or provide a customized explanation with video or screenshots. These techniques work, but I’d like to do more.

This term, I decided to focus on software instruction from the first day of classes. I gave students a curated list of links to the student guide to the software. Focusing on the commands and tools that I knew students needed for the course reduced the number of documentation links 90%, from 241 to 24 links. No longer do students have to search through pages and pages of information to find what they need—and I benefit from linking to the official documentations, which I don’t have to maintain.

I asked students to read through the entire list. I don’t expect them to memorize the list or click on every link. I just want them to remember there was a resource that listed the main tools they need to use in the course. After skimming through the list, they chose at least one software task to learn more about. I asked students to read the details in the documentation and then try the tool.

For extra points, students could post a reply describing what they found in their exploration. To my happy surprise, the activity yielded 75 replies. Students explored a variety of tools, focusing on whatever interested them. Repeatedly, students explained that they had found some capability in the software that they never knew existed.

Will students remember everything they read? Undoubtedly not, but they do know where to find details on the key commands they need for the course. Since this was the first activity in the course, students and I can draw on it for the entire term. Overall, it seems like a successful strategy that I hope to continue using.

How do you make time for software instruction in your courses? What resources do you share with students? Tell me about the strategies you use by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

Photo Credit: _MG_3783 by VIA Agency on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Ashley ShawAshley Shaw is a graduate student at Kennesaw State University working towards a Masters in the Arts of Professional Writing with a focus on composition and rhetoric. She teaches First-Year English Composition and Rhetoric courses and works at a private high school during the day. Along with teaching experience, she has worked as an editor and a marketer and brings these experiences into the classroom to help students learn how they will use academic lessons when writing in professional settings.


“Do I really need to learn this?”

“Will I ever actually do this again?”

“I’m a [fill in the blank] major. Will I ever actually have to write this stuff?”


These are questions I hear all of the time from students. The short answer to these questions is, of course, yes. However, saying yes isn’t always enough.


Professional Writing in an FYC Classroom


Having worked in the professional world before coming back to school to teach, I have seen the effects of a lack of professional writing in FYC classes: Writers are not less capable, but, in my experience, they are less confident and less sure about how to begin a writing assignment in the workplace. Because of this, I use examples from various professions to show how the learning objectives and tasks of the class apply to the types of writing students will do outside of school.


Background Reading



Assignment: Writing for a Real Audience


In this assignment, I set out to show students how to focus on their audience by using marketing and sales strategies. Businesses conduct a lot of research to create something called buyer personas, which are detailed descriptions of unique audiences to whom the marketer markets and the salesperson sells. By having my students create buyer personas, I hope to instill in them an understanding of how to target their writing to specific groups of people in a wide variety of rhetorical situations.


Assignment Learning Objectives 

  • Students will be able to create audience profiles
  • Students will be able to recognize how audience affects all rhetorical choices (tone, medium, etc.)


Project Components 


Assignment Steps


1. Introduce the Concept of Audience in Professional Settings

This activity takes place in the class right after a lesson on audience in academic settings, and it starts with a demonstration of how audiences are used in the fields of sales and marketing. To begin, I show the class a couple of real buyer personas, examples of which can easily be found with a Google search. We then talk about what they are and how they help business professionals address specific audiences in order to be more successful with their sales pitches.


2. Set up the Sales Situation

Now that they understand what buyer personas are, the class divides into five groups. I then present them with a weird product that they will be “selling.” For example, last semester, we worked on selling Gelli Baff - a tablet designed to turn bathwater into gel.


Each group gets assigned a specific audience. For the bath gel, I used the following audiences:

  • Parents
  • Kids
  • Investors
  • Buyers at Toy Stores
  • Non-parent present buyers (grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc.)


3. Work with Buyer Persona Sheets

After they find their groups and get their audience, I hand out buyer persona sheets. In their groups, students research their target groups and how to relate to them before filling out the sheet. Boxes the students fill out include

  •  A representative name and drawing (“Grandma Gayle,” a retiree, for the non-parent present buyers; “Bill the Buyer,” a tired, middle-aged man, for the toy store buyer, etc.)
  • Goals, motivations, and hobbies of the group
  • Demographics (age range, marital status, and education level)
  • Expectations for their toy purchases
  • Word choice, tone, and preferred communication methods


4. Create and Share Sales Pitches

Once the groups finish creating buyer personas, they plan short sales pitches.

They make choices about what medium to use (as examples, the kids group and the parents group planned commercials, while the investor group planned a PowerPoint presentation) and what to say in the presentation (the kids’ commercial focused on small words and “fun” and “cool” concepts, whereas the parents’ focused on price and safety.)


After the groups finish planning their sales pitches, each group shares what they created with the class.


5. Reflect on the Activity

Following the sales pitches, we reflect. The class discusses how different each pitch was even though each had the exact same purpose. We then talk about how audience is this important in anything we write. We also talk about how doing the same types of thinking and research about audience can help us write anything, from a research paper to a cover letter to a text sent to a parent versus a friend.  




At the end of my English 1101 class, the students write a letter to next year’s students. The letter includes things like what they learned in the class, what they wished they had done differently, what recommendations they have for future students, etc. After I did this assignment, I was surprised by how many of the letters included some version of understanding audience and how to target writing towards that audience. Because of this activity, they expressed the ability to understand the rhetorical choices they should make surrounding individual audiences. Moreover, they learned that making the best rhetorical choices requires a little bit of thought and research into who the audience is. Doing this research helps them begin the writing task in a much more confident manner.