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Grumpy Cat holding an ethernet cable
Protest Poster showing Grumpy Cat holding an Ethernet cable, with the message, “#NSA Killed My Internet. Now I have to build a GNU one.”

Sometimes a LOLcat is just a humorous comment on life. Other times, there is a specific social, political, or cultural message behind it. Take the Grumpy Cat protest poster on the right. The description on Flickr explains that the image is from “the ‘Freedom not Fear’ protest rally against global internet surveillance at 7.9.2013 in Berlin, Germany.”

This Grumpy Cat poster is part of a presentation I will give at the Computers and Writing Conference in East Lansing, Michigan this summer. To provide some background, the proposal for my session, “Making Memes that Work for Change,” explains:

Political messages in the news and on social media timelines frequently borrow from the strategies of familiar Internet memes, like the captioned images we see on Facebook and Twitter. The rhetorical choice of memes for these political messages enables their authors to respond pointedly to issues that affect them, for as Limor Shifman (2014) explains in Memes in Digital Culture, “[P]olitical memes are about making a point—participating in a normative debate about how the world should look and the best way to get there” (121). In short, political memes work to persuade, to engage, and to move the public to action, all as the authors work to communicate their views of the possibilities for the future.

In the case of this Grumpy Cat poster, a well-known Internet meme (Grumpy Cat) is used to communicate the protesters’ dissatisfaction with Internet surveillance. To kick off my presentation, I will ask participants to try the following scavenger hunt activity that I use with students, using the Grumpy Cat as inspiration. The goal is to provide a quick introduction to the political moves that are used in these memes and build a collection to use as the class (or presentation) explores deeper issues.

Political Meme Scavenger Hunt Class Activity

Find political image-based memes that feature

  1. An animal (cat, dog, bird, etc.)
  2. A new take on a well-known meme
  3. Puns or other word play
  4. A stock photo
  5. A still from a video (movie, tv show, YouTube, etc.)

Be sure that the memes you find are appropriate to share with the entire group. Aim for an image that would be appropriate for a PG-13 movie, and language that is no worse than an R-rated movie.

While you are free to share your political beliefs, what you share must align with the Virginia Tech Principles of Community. If you are unsure about any meme, ask me.

I’ve included details in this activity to avoid potential problems that can arise when students examine memes. First, I suggested five specific kinds of memes that students should find to keep them from searching endlessly. They need to find five, so they have to use their time wisely.

Second, I provided standards for the images and language that are acceptable. I want to avoid some of the gruesome memes I have seen, but I did not want to censor topics. For example, there are some graphic abortion memes that I find unacceptable for the classroom. I want to avoid anything of this sort that might trigger students. The movie rating system has always worked well for me. I do make sure that everyone is familiar with the system, as there are occasionally international students who are used to different ratings standards.

Finally, I don’t want to force students to approach topics from any particular stance. They should be free to share any position: pro, con, or somewhere in between. That said, there are some topics that are not appropriate. Students usually understand that things like hate speech are off limits, but my reference to the Virginia Tech Principles of Community reminds them.

I did not include details on how the memes will be shared in the activity. The particular class circumstances and resources determine what will work best. Options I have used include the following:

  • Share the memes in a discussion forum, especially if students are doing the activity for homework.
  • Post the images in a collaborative Google Document or Slides file, which is useful for small group work (give each group its own document).
  • Paste the images in an online white board, like Padlet or, which is fun for real-time, whole-group discussion.
  • Email the memes to you (the teacher) and then choose those to share in class, which allows you to review the images beforehand.
  • Enter the link to and name/title of each meme in a Google Form, which will create a list of the memes that you can use later in the course.

Once the memes are collected, you can use them to discuss argument and persuasion, the underlying political messages, symbolism, language strategies, and visual rhetoric. They also provide the background knowledge for a meme-making assignment—and I will share resources for making memes next week, so be sure to come back! Meanwhile, if you have a suggestion or reaction to today’s post, please leave me a comment below.

Credit: Grumpy Cat by Frerk Meyer on Flickr (CC-BY-SA 2.0).

you make kitty scaredWriting a simple email message can turn me into an overthinking scaredy-cat. Am I using the right phrase? Do I sound like I’m apologizing too much? Am I oversharing? Am I being too vague? Ugh.

I end up evaluating, re-evaluating, revising, writing, and then erasing any time I have to send an important message. What should be an easy message telling someone my manuscript will be late or I can’t make a meeting becomes agony.

Imagine my joy when a friend shared Dani Donovan’s “E-Mail Like a Boss” matrix on Twitter. Even better, her “Write This, Not That” style suggestions are a perfect model for a classroom activity.

In the image below, Donovan (@danidonovan) concentrates the kinds of sentences I struggle with into short, direct ideas that avoid unnecessary apologies or padding:

E-Mail Like a Boss, by Dani Donovan

For students, this matrix can demonstrate two things. First, there is the obvious face value of the information: students gain some stronger ways to say things in emails and elsewhere. Second, each pair demonstrates the value of revision, showing stronger ways to phrase the same idea. To use the matrix in class, I would follow these steps:

  1. Students can work in small groups or as a whole class to discuss how the suggested alternatives improve on the original.
  2. Together, brainstorm other email sentences and messages that can be difficult to write. Students are sure to come up with some ideas immediately, such as telling a professor that they are ill and won’t be in class. While you will want to keep the scenarios they come up with appropriate for the classroom, try to push students to get beyond simple scenarios.
  3. If time allows, students can search their email for messages that they have struggled with and add those ideas to the list.
  4. As a class, review the brainstormed lists and identify nine situations to focus on.
  5. Assign each of the situations to a small group or pair of students. Ask students to create their own “Write This, Not That” style suggestions, using Donovan’s matrix as their model. The groups can record their suggestions in a shared class document if desired.
  6. Once all the groups have completed the task, ask groups to present their recommendations to the class, and arrange for everyone to have a copy of the suggestions for future use.

To go beyond the original matrix, students can think about other writing situations that they encounter frequently, creating “Write This, Not That” suggestions for other tasks they complete, such as description, persuasion, and research essays. As another option, students can review their own drafts, identify sentences or phrases that they have struggled with, and then work together to create “Write This, Not That” alternatives in a group peer review activity.

Final Thoughts

If you use this “E-mail Like A Boss” image with students, be sure to share Donovan’s ADHD Explained Using Comics collection as well. Donovan explains these ADHD webcomics this way:

ADHD can be difficult to explain, and even harder to talk about. We're creative, friendly, and misunderstood by a lot of people. My hope is to help people with #ADHD feel understood and seen, and be able to share their experiences with others.

Her comics can inspire other writing activities as well as discussion of how to communicate ideas that readers may not be familiar with. If your class is exploring comics and graphic novels, this collection demonstrates how a comic designer has used the genre to share her message with readers.

If you try any of these activities, I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment to tell me how it worked in your classroom or share other ways to use these resources.

With television's arguably most prominent dramatic series ending amidst the ashes of King's Landing and the outrage of many of its most loyal fans (including a remarkable Change.Org petition demanding an entire Season 8 redo), I find myself reminded of Frank Kermode's classic study, The Sense of an Ending (1967). Exploring the ways that human beings use storytelling in order to make sense of their lives and history, Kermode focuses his attention on the "high art" literary tradition, but the same attention can be paid to popular art as well in ways that can explain, at least in part, the extraordinary reaction to GoT's final two episodes. Here's how.


First, let's note that fan pressure on creative artists is nothing new. Charles Dickens' readers pleaded with him, in the serialized run-up to the climax of The Old Curiosity Shop, to please not kill Little Nell, while Arthur Conan Doyle was successfully lobbied by disappointed readers to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead after apparently killing the popular detective off in "The Final Problem." And movie producers routinely audience-test their films before making their final cuts. So all the popular uproar is not really different in kind from things that have happened before, but it may be different in degree, which is where its significance lies.


Because no one, except for the series' writers and actors, appears to be fully satisfied with what finally happened after eight long, and violent, years in the battle for the Iron Throne. The most common complaint seems to be that Daenerys should have been allowed to follow her "character arc" to become not only Queen of the Seven Kingdoms but also a kind of messiah. However, it isn't my purpose to wade into the controversy to offer my own opinion about what "should" or "shouldn't" have happened, for that's an esthetic, not a semiotic, question. Rather, I want to look at the extravagance of the negative response to what did transpire and what it tells us.


To understand this response we can begin with the fact that Game of Thrones ran for eight years as a continuous narrative—conceived, in fact, as one gigantic movie: a TV "maxi-series" if you will. Eight years is a long time, especially for the show's core audience of millennials who effectively entered adulthood along with GoT's main characters. This audience largely overlapped with the generation that grew from childhood to adolescence as the Harry Potter novels were published and filmed, and who also were on hand for the definitive cinematic Lord of the Rings: the fantasy novel to beat all fantasy novels first raised to cult status by baby boomers and turned upside down and inside out by George R.R. Martin to create A Song of Fire and Ice.


Such a long wait, at such a formative period of life, is simply bound to build up a great load of gestaltic expectation, a longing for the kind of ending that would redeem all the violence, betrayal, and heartbreak of this essentially sadistic story ("Red Wedding" anyone?). Both The Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter novels prepared viewers for such an ending, one in which, to quote Miss Prism from The Importance of Being Earnest, "The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily." Instead, everyone got something more along the lines of King Lear.


And there you have it, for as Miss Prism tartly adds, happy endings are "what fiction means”—or as Frank Kermode might put it, the triumph of the hero and the defeat of the villain is one way that our story telling makes sense of (one might say, makes bearable) the realities of human experience.


But that isn't what George R.R. Martin—who knows full well how the triumph of the House of York only led to Richard III, whose defeat, in turn, brought Henry VIII and Bloody Mary to the throne—ever appears to have had in mind for his epic saga. Mixing historical reality with a lot of Tolkiensque fantasy, Martin (whose own conclusion to the tale is yet to come) thus put the show's writers into quite a bind. Because a completely conventional "happy" ending would have contradicted the whole point of the story, while a completely dismal one (say, Cersei triumphing after all) would have really enraged the customers. I use that word deliberately, for in popular culture audiences really are customers, and they expect to get what they pay for (the complaint on the part of some fans that by making GoT's producers and actors rich they were entitled to a better wind up than they got is especially significant in this regard). So Benioff and Weiss essentially compromised in the way that pop culture usually does. The really bad villains do end unhappily, and the Starks do regain power after all, but Martin's fundamental thesis that power itself is the problem is preserved in the madness of Daenerys at the moment of achieving absolute control.


It wasn't a bad compromise in my view, but it quite clearly hasn't been a successful one either. Still, because of the odd reversal in the relation between novel and film, with the film being concluded before the novel was, the game isn't over. If the novels ever are concluded, I suspect that Martin will have more shocks up his sleeve, beginning, I suppose, with King Bran turning tyrant and bad trouble between Jon and Sansa.



Photo Credit: “Game of Thrones Paperback Book” by Wiyre Media on Flickr 7/15/17 via a CC BY 2.0 License.

Screenshot of Title Survey FormGoogle Forms make an easy task of collecting information from students for class discussion and writing activities. Just gather student responses your Google Form, and use the collected responses as the basis of class discussion and related activities.

All you need is a Google Drive login and one question, meant to gather information on the projects that students are working on or their recent reading assignments. For demonstration purposes, I’m using the question, “What is the title of your report?” I’ll suggest some other questions at the end of the post.

Once you log into Google Drive and have your question ready, it’s a matter of these three basic steps:

Step 1: Create Your Form

Set up a one-question survey that asks for no personal or identifying information. Since responses are anonymous, you avoid any FERPA complications.

  • Once you log into Google Drive, create a new blank form.
  • Give your survey a title, replacing the default “Untitled Form.”
  • Replace the default “Untitled Question” text with the question you want students to respond to.
  • Change the type of question to “Short answer” if Google does not change the type automatically. Note: Google tries to interpret your question and adapt the form, so it may make this change for you.

If desired, click the palette icon on the upper right corner of the page to change the colors and add a background image.

With your form ready to go, give students the link to your form. Click the SEND button in the upper right corner of the page to choose one of several options:

  • Send via email
  • Get a link to share
  • Copy code to embed the form on your page
  • Post to Facebook
  • Send out as a Tweet

Once you send out the link, all you have to do is wait for students to respond. You can look at my Title Survey to see an example of a student-ready form.

Step 2: Check the Responses

Once students have submitted their answers, spot check the questions to prepare for discussion and to check for any problems.

  • Log into Google Drive.
  • Open the Form you created.
  • Click “Responses,” as indicated by the red arrow in this screenshot:
    Screenshot showing the Responses link

The form will switch to show the responses that students have submitted. You can select the list and copy it, so that you can edit it in your word processor if you like. You can also have Google Forms show the responses in a Sheets spreadsheet.

Read the Response to determine the likely topics for class discussion and to remove anything that doesn’t belong. For example, the Responses to the Title Survey show that students would benefit from revising for length and wordiness and should review the rules for capitalizing titles. There is also a title that shows the student has chosen a topic that does not fit the assignment, so I would remove that response to avoid any embarrassment in class. I would write to that student privately before class.

Step 3: Lead Your Class Discussion

Kick off class discussion by sharing the Responses to the question. You can share a link to the responses or a link to the word processor document you created with the responses.

Give students several minutes to review the list, and then let their observations guide the discussion. Begin by asking students what they notice about the Responses. Encourage them to look for patterns and idiosyncrasies. Try sorting the answers alphabetically to group similar responses. As a class you can collaborate to revise Responses if appropriate.

Final Thoughts

I used this activity to ask students to examine and strengthen their document titles. You could use a similar Google Form to ask questions such as these:

  • What is your thesis statement?
  • What is your favorite sentence in the paper (or in a reading)?
  • What is the biggest question you have about the assignment?
  • What do you emphasis in your conclusion?
  • What is the first sentence of your document?
  • How would you summarize today’s reading?

In addition to asking student to respond to these questions by thinking about their own papers, you can have peer review partners respond with their observations as well.

This activity is simple but powerful. Students can quickly see how everyone has responded to a particular task, and then they can make observations about what works and what doesn’t. By asking students to add their information to the Form, you can concentrate on what you want to talk about, rather than the busy work of setting up the list of responses.

Do you use Google Drive in the classroom? Have you used Google Forms? Tell me about your experiences by leaving a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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


Image of doors from which to choose


Today’s blog post is the last one for the spring semester! To send students off into the summer months, we’ll look at some easy-to-confuse words that they might use in day-to-day communications.


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 commonly confused words 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 Commonly Confused Words

  • Affect versus Effect [9:15]
  • Between versus Among [4:00]
  • Can versus May [4:29]
  • If versus Whether [3:05]
  • Less versus Fewer [6:34]
  • Jury-Rigged or Jerry-Rigged? [3:45]
  • Riffle versus Rifle [2:34]


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: As a class, listen to one or more of the above podcasts. Discuss what it is about these words that make them easy to confuse. Is it their meanings? Their spellings? A combination of the two? Some other reasons? Then, strategize ways to remember when to use the correct word.


Assignment B: Ask each student to find an example of a word they’ve used incorrectly in a recent paper or another form of writing, such as a text message or post on social media. (Alternately, select an example for the class to look at together.) Have each student write a short paragraph explaining how the word was used incorrectly, what word should have been used instead, and ways to remember the correct word in the future.


How have you used podcasts about word usage in your class? How else do you discuss commonly confused words? Let us know in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 1767562 by qimono, used under a Pixaby License

As the academic year ends, it’s time for me to turn to revising Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument. What do I have to keep in mind about argument in the headlines as I look ahead? Given the political situation in America, it would be easy to say that there is no such thing as logical argument anymore. Emotion sometimes so far outweighs logic that it is almost naïve to give any credit to the seemingly old-fashioned notions that were at the heart of teaching classical rhetoric. Partisan politics so distorts people’s thinking that common ground seems impossible to reach. Family members have in many cases given up trying to reason with each other and have had to agree to silently disagree—or to unfriend each other. News is condemned as fake, and journalists are labeled enemies of the people. People of all ages depend increasingly on social media for their news and their opinions about it, and we now have an idea how much those opinions were shaped the last presidential election by a foreign government. Religious leaders dictate public policy, and the system of checks and balances built into our federal government seems to be dangerously out of balance.


The next editions of my textbooks will be published shortly before the 2020 elections. I will write them not knowing how the elections will turn out. That shouldn’t make any difference, and ultimately it doesn’t. I can’t ignore the fact that young people, more than ever, need to be able to construct an argument to defend their opinions and to deconstruct an argument to reveal its flaws, even if the other side seems unwilling to listen. In looking at the current editions with revision in mind, reviewers stressed that we need to keep in mind that there are often not just two sides to an argument. We too often think in terms of a debate, pro and con. An issue like abortion cannot be reduced to those terms. Even gender cannot be viewed as a simple binary anymore. We need more emphasis on finding common ground. In some cases, it is not which side wins but what compromise can be reached. That was the idea behind having whole chapters in Elements entitled "Multiple Viewpoints."


From the time our students started using the Internet to find sources to document their writing, we have had to teach them to evaluate sources. It was so easy—and quick—to accept the first source that popped up online. Now that is most often Wikipedia, in which entries can be written by anyone. Students used papers by students no more advanced than themselves as sources. We have to teach our students to investigate the source for legitimacy and for authority. While we have always had to do that, it was a little easier when an opinion had passed the bar of finding its way into print. We aren’t very likely to force our students back to using solely print sources. After all, many print sources are available online as well. Instead, students need to learn to question who wrote the words on the screen and what authority those writers have. They need to research the organization behind a web site, not just accept information uncritically. They need to understand the biases of sources.


It seems so simple, but we have to teach our students that there still are such things as truth and facts. Yes, photos can be doctored, as we all know, but when multiple sources have on video a person making a statement, it is pretty hard to deny those words came out of his or her mouth. Facts about funding sent to victims of natural disasters, troop deployments, crowd size, voting records, redistricting, numbers of votes cast, numbers of crimes, citizenship status of those convicted of crimes—the list could go on and on—can be verified. Biased as our news sources have become, there are still facts that arguments can be built on. Sure, a writer may have to do some digging to find them, and definitely will have to consider the source, but facts are facts in spite of what anyone says. There is no such thing as an alternative fact. We have to hold our politicians, and everyone else, to a standard of truth.


Textbook authors have acknowledged for years that critical reading goes hand in hand with argumentative writing. Students need practice in understanding arguments and seeing flaws in them before and while they are learning to write their own. They need to go beyond the headlines to read whole opinion essays, to see carefully structured and well supported arguments. And those do exist, from classical readings to the most recent editorials. They need to go beyond the surface of the news to see the reasons behind it. And they need to read opinions that differ from their own. The first steps toward the common ground that we are eventually going to have to find are understanding another point of view and recognizing that on any given subject there may be more than two opposing points of view.


Photo Credit: “Calendar*” by Dafne Cholet on Flickr, 01/20/11 via a CC BY 2.0 license.


In two days I will be in Vancouver for the meeting of the Canadian Association for the Study of Discourse and Writing held at the University of British Columbia, where I taught from 1977 to 1987. What a treat it will be to be back in that glorious city! The topic I’m working on is a rethinking of the relationship between speaking and writing, and I have been having a lot of fun tracing this relationship from ancient times to the present. I’ve been pondering the effects that the hegemony of writing has had and the recent resurgence of speaking and orality/aurality as major means of communication, not to mention the importance of sound and soundscapes to understanding, learning, and knowing. (I have also re-read, with admiration, Cindy Selfe’s dynamite article from a decade ago, “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Mjultimodal Composing” in CCC, June 2009.)


And I am puzzling over the contrast between Plato’s notion of speech as “the living word of knowledge, which has a soul” and the work of artificial intelligence to bring us talking robots and digital assistants who speak to us and seem, according to my students, “almost real.” What to make of these innovative “speakers” and the voice recognition technology that offers both powerful opportunities and perilous pitfalls. How will teachers of writing and speaking define “talk” now that speech is clearly “post-human”?


I will be writing more about these issues soon. But first, I am going to go to Vancouver and immerse myself in its beauty, see old friends, and walk around the campus I once knew so well. And then, I am going to take a bit of a summer break. I’ll be working on writing projects, for sure, but I will also be catching up on the latest Louise Penny books, taking long soaks in the hot tub, and being grateful for all the summers I’ve enjoyed—and hoping for more!


I wish you a summer of rest and restoration, and some happy reading and writing!


Image Credit: Pixabay Image 3076954 by Nietjuh, used under the Pixabay License

What are your scholarship and professional development plans for the summer? Like many colleagues, I relish the opportunity to focus on research projects, reading, and course development during the summer “downtime,” when I am teaching only one course. Such summer work informs our pedagogy for the academic year to come, whether we are full-time, part-time, tenured/tenure-track, or contingent—and whether or not our institutions and the legislatures and governing boards that fund them recognize the value of this particular academic labor.


Perhaps our summer efforts do not always appear as work to those outside academia because these activities can be so varied. Just consider the possibilities. I’ve got colleagues who have done or will do the following: 


  1. Plan and conduct research
  2. Travel as part of research work
  3. Finish writing an article or book chapter
  4. Attend a conference (perhaps a regional CCCC event?)
  5. Read a book (Paul Hanstedt’s Creating Wicked Students: Designing Courses for a Complex World was recommended to me recently, for example.)
  6. Create a virtual or F2F reading group (I’m in a group reading John Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities.)
  7. Participate in a syllabus or assignment swap
  8. Catch up on reading journal articles
  9. Actually write one or more of the essays they typically assign students (Have you brushed up your own literacy narrative lately?)
  10. Participate in a webinar
  11. Revamp an online course or participate in a course review
  12. Take a course in a field outside their own discipline
  13. Participate in departmental assessment or course redesign efforts
  14. Review textbooks for publishers or the department
  15. Revise or develop a new edition of a textbook (which is on my agenda this summer)
  16. Serve as an abstract reader for conferences or peer reviewer for a journal
  17. Join a writing group
  18. Take training in technology, course accessibility/design, etc.
  19. Learn how to create video content (or another use any other technology that is new to them)
  20. Get involved in a cross-disciplinary SoTL (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) group
  21. Plan an undergraduate research experience for students
  22. Become a mentor
  23. Apply for a grant
  24. Host a summit or roundtable session to support adjunct faculty
  25. Join or create a composition teaching circle with faculty from high schools, two-year schools, or four-year schools (or participate in a National Writing Project event)


What are your summer plans? Is there a book you would like to recommend, a conference that you’re planning to attend, or a virtual group that others could join?  Share your recommendations with us.

Traci Gardner

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion

Posted by Traci Gardner Expert May 28, 2019

Playground Tic-Tac-Toe Board, showing random X and O choices.A couple of weeks ago, I shared my Daily Discussion Post (DDP) activity, which asks students to read materials that are related to the course activities and respond to them. This summer I plan to design some new ways for students to respond to these posts.

As I use the posts now, each one typically ends with a question meant to kick off student discussion. Some weeks, the questions seems repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to ask, “What do you think of this idea?”

On the other hand, I try to avoid asking such specific questions that there appears to be only one answer. I also want to steer clear of questions that only allow for one way of thinking or looking at the topic. I want to ensure that students have options for how they respond.

The first option I have designed uses a tic-tac-toe layout to provide a variety of response options for an entire week. The activity, included below, states the instructions, provides the tic-tac-toe board, and adds short descriptions for each of the nine options on the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Discussion Challenge

This week, I challenge you to choose your DDP response strategies from the tic-tac-toe board below. Just as in a game of tic-tac-toe, your goal is to choose three in a row, three in a column, or three diagonally.

Reply to three different DDPs, choosing three different kinds of responses from the board (a different one for each DDP). Additional information on each option is listed below the board.

Tic-Tac-Toe Response Board

Cite the textbookCritique the ideasQuestion for the author/speaker
Demonstrate the idea with your projectRelate to a prior experienceCite another DDP
Make a recommendationCite another studentShare a related website

Details on the Response Options (listed alphabetically)

  • Cite another DDP
    Connect the post you are responding to with another post. Be sure to link to the other post and explain the connection fully.
  • Cite another student
    Connect to another student’s comment on the original post, OR to another student’s comment on some other post (be sure to link to it). Either way, be sure to explain the connection completely.
  • Cite the textbook
    Add a quotation from the textbook that relates to the post. It can support the idea or challenge it. Tell us why you chose it, and explain its relationship. Include the page number where you found the quotation.
  • Critique the ideas
    Think about the ideas in the post, and tell us what you think—What good ideas does it share? What bad ideas did you notice? Provide specific explanations for how your opinions on the post.
  • Demonstrate the idea with your project
    Write a before-and-after reply. Take a passage from your project as it is, and then show it after you revise to apply the idea in the post.
  • Make a Recommendation
    Advise someone on the topic the post considers. Recommend whether to follow the advice in the DDP, and provide supporting details that show why someone should follow your recommendation.
  • Question for the author/speaker
    Imagine sitting down with the author of the video or article linked in the DDP. Tell us what you would ask the author/speaker, explain why you’re asking, and suggest how you think the person will reply.
  • Relate to a prior experience
    Explain how the ideas in the DDP relate to a personal experience that you have had in school, in the workplace, or somewhere else. Your experience can match the post or be different.
  • Share a related website
    Tell us about a web page you have found that talks about the same ideas as the post. Include the name of the page, and provide a link.


  • You will report the three replies you completed from the Tic-Tac-Toe board in your journal.
  • You will earn credit for your replies by indicating you have completed this task on the Weekly Self-Assessment Quiz.

Final Thoughts

The assessment plan for the activity places the burden of the work on the students. After all, they know where their three responses are and which squares they intend them to correspond to on the Tic-Tac-Toe board. If I had to search out the posts for all 88 students I teach in a semester, the activity would take my time away from giving students feedback on their projects. Letting students report their work makes the activity easy to manage.

Do you have effective discussion activities that you use with your students? I plan to create some additional activities before classes start again in the fall. Will you share your ideas in the comments below? I would love to hear from you.

Photo credit: Playground tic-tac-toe and square by Sharat Ganapati 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. 


A couple of weeks ago, I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was working on a textbook proposal and had to draft a table of contents. The pickle: I've never written a table of contents. Not only have I never written a TOC, but I have never put one second of thought into the genre itself or how to write one. So what did I do? I did exactly what I teach my students to do when they approach a new writing task: I conducted a genre analysis. I took out a bunch of textbooks from my bookshelf, lined them up, and studied them (photographic evidence below!). I wrote down similarities. I wrote down differences. From there, I made a list of possible rhetorical moves I could make when composing the TOC. I identified the options that I thought would work best in my particular rhetorical context, and I drafted two different TOCs that corresponded to the textbook ideas. My co-writer and I got together, looked at the versions I created as well as the versions he created, and—voilà—we achieved our writing task.

Textbook TOCs


Teaching students how to conduct a genre analysis is invaluable in the writing classroom. The identification of genre features and patterns helps students gain genre and rhetorical awareness/knowledge and helps them to determine the moves and strategies they need to make in order to write effectively in a given genre and rhetorical situation. Genre knowledge provides students with a reflective process for approaching a writing situation: students who have the ability to activate their genre awareness and conduct a genre analysis are able to build themselves a guide for how to approach any given writing task.


In writing classes, instructors can support students in learning about genre and how to conduct a genre analysis in low-stakes or high-stakes assignments. Below, I offer a low-stakes assignment that I’ve used with students to build genre knowledge and practice genre analysis in a fun and easy way. I often facilitate this activity immediately before I pass out guidelines for a high-stakes writing assignment. This activity usually takes between 45 minutes to an hour.


Genre Analysis Assignment


Step #1: Give students three take-out menus from three different restaurants.


Step #2: Instruct students to read through the menus and look at them in relation to one another in small groups. Ask them to note commonalities in terms of content, structure, organization, language, design, and rhetorical strategies.


Step #3: Facilitate a class discussion. Ask students to identify the common situation in which a take-out menu emerges, noting why they exist, who engages with them and why, and the multiple purposes they may have. Record their responses on the board. Next, ask students to identify the commonalities they noted among the menus in their small groups. Record the information on the board.


Step #4: Now ask students to turn a focused eye on one menu. Ask them to return to their small groups and work to identify the common moves in the genre, the unique moves made in this particular menu, and the unique factors of the rhetorical situation (this may involve a bit of quick research).


Step #5: Debrief as a large class. Ask students to share their findings and record student responses on the board. Facilitate a class discussion focused on what the activity has taught students about writing and how they might approach a given writing task.



Most students find this activity enjoyable and valuable in learning how to conduct a genre analysis. In my experience, most students have an easy time identifying common and unique rhetorical moves as well as the rhetorical context of one single menu, especially when it’s a local restaurant. It’s a great warm-up activity to do prior to a high-stakes genre analysis assignment or a high-stakes writing (of any kind) assignment. Often times, I conduct this activity immediately before giving out a high-stakes writing assignment: I add an optional Step #6, wherein I ask students to identify a process for how they might approach composing in the particular genre as dictated by the assignment and the kinds of skills, abilities, and/or knowledge they may need to enhance or gain in order to effectively complete the assignment.

Topics for popular cultural analysis can spring out at you at the most unexpected times—in fact, that is one of the goals of cultural semiotics: to attune oneself to the endless array of signs that we encounter in our everyday lives. Take for example the catalog from a Minnesota-based outfit called The Celtic Croft that I came across quite by accident recently. A mail-order/online Scottish clothing and accessories emporium, The Celtic Croft offers its clientele not only traditional Highland gear but "officially licensed Outlander-inspired apparel and tartans," along with authentic Braveheart kilts. Which is where popular culture, and its significance, comes in.


I admit that I had to look up Outlander (of which I have only rather vaguely heard before) to understand what the catalog was referring to, but what I learned was quite instructive. Based upon a series of historico-romantic fantasy novels by Diana Galbadon, Outlander is a television series from the STARZ network that features the adventures of a mid-twentieth-century Englishwoman who time travels back and forth between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries as she leads a dual life among the Highland clans and the post-World War II English. Something of a breakout sensation, Outlander has recently been renewed for a fifth and sixth season.


To grasp the cultural significance of this television program—and of the clothing catalog that is connected to it—we can begin with constructing the system to which it belongs. The most immediate association, which is made explicit in The Celtic Croft catalog, is with the Oscar-winning film Braveheart, but the Highlander television and movie franchise is an even closer relation. More broadly, though set in the eighteenth century, Outlander can be regarded as a part of the medieval revival in popular culture that began with J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and which led to the whole "sword and sorcery" genre, encompassing both Harry Potter and Game of Thrones with its emphasis on magic, sword play, and a generally romanticized view of a pre-industrial past.


The current controversy raging within medieval studies over its traditional focus on the European Middle Ages—not to mention its cooptation by avowed white supremacists—reveals that such a system is fraught with potential political significance, and it is highly likely that a complete analysis of the phenomenon would uncover elements of conscious and unconscious white nationalism. But, if we limit ourselves here to The Celtic Croft catalog and its Braveheart and Outlander-inspired merchandise, we can detect something that is a great deal more innocuous. To see this we can begin with a tee-shirt that catalog offers: a black tee with white lettering that reads, "Scotch: Makin' White Men Dance Since 1494."


Now, I can see how this slogan could be taken as a kind of micro-aggression, but it can also be seen as something similar to the "white men can't jump" trope: expressing what is actually an admiration for qualities that are not conventionally associated with white people—especially in relation to stereotypes of Anglo Saxon self-repression and ascetic Puritanism. What the dancing Celt signifies is someone who can kick up his heels over a glass of whiskey and who is decidedly not a stodgy Saxon.


This interpretation is supported by the larger context in which The Celtic Croft universe operates. This is the realm of Highland Scotland, whose history includes both biological and cultural genocide at the hands of the English, who themselves become symbols of brutally oppressive whiteness in Braveheart and Outlander. It is significant in this respect that William Wallace's warriors in Braveheart were conspicuously portrayed with the long hair and face paint of movie-land Indians, while the British of Outlander are depicted as killers, torturers, and slave traders.


So what we have here is something that might be called an "escape from the heritage of oppressive whiteness," by which white audiences/consumers (who do not have to be actual Scots: even Diana Galbadon isn't) identify with the Celtic victims of Anglo history, finding their roots in such historical disasters as the Battles of Falkirk and Culloden. Purchasing the once-forbidden symbols of the Highland clans (kilts and tartans were banned for years after Culloden), and watching movies and television shows that feature the heroism of defeated peoples who resisted Anglo-Norman oppression, is thus a kind of celebration of a different kind of whiteness, one that rejects the hegemonic variety.


In other words, rather than reflecting white supremacy, the Celticism (I think I just coined that) of The Celtic Croft and its associated entertainments expresses a certain revision of the traditional American view of history away from Anglo-centrism towards an embrace of its victims. At a time when differing experiences of historical injustice are rending our country, this is no small recognition, because it could potentially help create a ground for unity rather than division.



Photo Credit: Pixabay Image 349717 by PublicDomainArchive used under the Pixabay License.

Valexa Orelien, me, Autumn Warren, and Vrinda Vasavada at the 2019 Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards.


Well, I’ve just enjoyed one of my favorite days of the year—the annual Lunsford Oral Presentation of Research Awards. Now in its 9th year, this award honors the students whose presentations have been judged the strongest in Stanford’s second-year writing course, PWR 2. Students are first nominated by their instructors, after which a panel watches and evaluates the presentations, which have been recorded. The five students with the highest scores—the finalists—then present their research live to another panel of judges from both the Program in Writing and Rhetoric and the Oral Communication Program. As Marvin Diogenes explained, the judges

look first for quality and timely arguments that demonstrate the presenters’ innovative contributions to the research conversation in which they are participating, and that draw on substantive evidence and methods for support. Second, judges are looking for engaging delivery and rhetorically effective use of media that adds clarity and interest to a presentation.


The awards ceremony honors all students who have been nominated, so they are recognized and thanked, along with the teachers who nominated them. Then as the five winners are introduced, their instructors take the stage to describe their work and its significance and to present them with several books they have especially chosen for them (the books go along with a certificate and a generous check, which always gets a big smile). This year’s winners included Haley Hodge for “The EPA’s Actions Speak Louder than Words: The Neglect of the RV Community on Weeks Street,” written in her course on “Comics for Social Justice”; Vrinda Vasavada for “Fighting Tech Addiction,” for her course “Language Gone Viral”; Sofia Avila Jamesson for “Murder, Music, and Machismo: Analyzing Gender-Based Violence,” for her course “Hear/Say: The Art of Rhetorical Listening”; Caelin Marum for “Searching for Olivia,” written for her course on “Race, Gender, Power, and the Rhetoric of the Detective”; Valexa Orelien for “Exploring Linguistic Power Structures in Haiti,” written for her course “How We Got Schooled: The Rhetoric of Literacy and Education”; and Autumn Warren for “You Don’t Sound Black: The Connection between Language and Identity,” for her course on “Language, Identity, and Power.” Instructors Lisa Swan, Norah Fahim, Irena Yamboliev, John Peterson, Csssie Wright, and Jennifer Johnson were outstanding in their descriptions and discussions of the student work, helping us to understand the contributions each student has made. The range of topics excited me as I thought of all the research and thinking that went into making these arguments.


Finally, two of the student winners gave their presentations for the assembled group of students, friends, family, and instructors crowded into the performance space of the Hume Center for Writing and Speaking. Vrinda Vasavada, a computer science major, was eloquent on the need to recognize “tech addiction” and to find ways to ameliorate it. Her research shows that 89 percent of students used their phones during their latest social interaction, that 75 percent check their phones within five minutes of getting up, and that this behavior results in distraction, lack of focus, and depression. She offered several suggestions for reducing time on screen and urged that all students adopt them, but she didn’t stop there. She went on to identify the model social media companies currently use to generate revenue and marked this model as one of the major causes of “tech addiction.” She then called on companies to shift from quantity back to quality of communication, to reduce the number of intermittent rewards, and to enable users to take control of their own attention. And, she said, her Gen Z group will be very receptive to such changes, noting that 53% of this group report preferring face-to-face over digital communication. So she ended on a positive note.


Valexa Orelien gave another winning presentation on linguistic power structures in Haiti. Valexa is Haitian and so speaks Haitian Kreyol as well as French and English, and she made a very strong case for moving to Kreyol as the language of instruction in Haiti today. In terms of power, she noted the overwhelming dominance of the French-speaking minority. Today, she told us, 90 percent of the inhabitants are monolingual Kreyol speakers and 50 percent of the children don’t attend school. It’s no coincidence, she said, that only 10 percent go beyond grade 1 and that 10 percent speak French as well as Kreyol. Tracing the long and tortuous colonial history of Haiti that resulted in what Valexa referred to as “linguistic apartheid,” she noted that only in 1987 did Kreyol become an official language alongside of French, but even then it was discriminated against; the government provides French textbooks only, for instance. With the funding of the Akademi Kreyol Ayisyen, Michel Degraff began an initiative for “bilingualism without loss of culture” and for the use of Kreyol as the language of instruction and French as a foreign language. Valexa also closed on an optimistic note, hoping that this movement will continue to gain proponents in Haiti. Kreyol is so clearly the language of Haiti—“French in language but African in spirit.”


I expect that many if not most teachers reading this post have attended similar celebrations sometime this spring: for me, the season would not be complete without honoring the imaginative and thoughtful work of our students. So congratulations to all of them: they are what keep me going in these very dark days of our democracy. I look to them, their critical thinking abilities, their cogent writing, and their eloquent speaking as the answer we all seek.

African American woman working on a World War II dive bomberGood visual assets can take a digital project from average to awesome. Add the photo on the right, which shows an African American woman working on a World War II dive bomber, to a research project on the role of African American women in the war effort, and the project goes from simply talking about the vital role these women played to showing them in that role.

Students usually understand the value of adding such images. Their challenge is finding images that are free to use and that do not violate intellectual property rights.

Earlier this month, the Library of Congress shared collections of assets that are perfect for student projects, all available for easy download. Free to Use and Reuse Sets from the Library of Congress offers collections of images on topics like these:

  • African-American Women Changemakers
  • Civil War Drawings
  • Women's History Month
  • Gottleib Jazz Photos
  • Presidential Portraits

For students working on video projects, there is even a collection of Public Domain Films from the National Film Registry. There are even collections of images of Cats and Dogs.

In addition to these custom collections, students can browse the millions of items in the Library’s Digital Collections, which includes photos, scanned pamphlets, and audio and video recordings. The items in the Digital Collection will give you a chance to talk about what makes an asset “free-to-use” so that students can learn how to determine whether they can use the resources they find.

The Library of Congress’s teacher resources provide examples for Citing Primary Sources, which you can use as you discuss documentation and attribution. The teacher resources also include Themed Resources and Primary Source Sets, which may provide even more resources for students to use in their projects. 

Finally, in case students think they’ll find nothing but dry historical resources on the site, you can use the 1914 photo below to talk about the evolution of LOLCATS.

Four kittens entangled in yarn

I’m sure you will find something delightful that you can use on the Library of Congress website. Tell me what you find and how you’ll use it in a comment below; and if you have free-to-use resources to share, post those too! I’m always eager to add to my collection of resources for students to use.

Photo: [1] Operating a hand drill at Vultee-Nashville, woman is working on a "Vengeance" dive bomber, Tennessee, by Palmer, Alfred T., photographer, Available at; [2] The entanglement, by Frees, Harry Whittier, 1879-1953, photographer, Available at Both images from the Library of Congress, and used under public domain.

Guest Blogger: Andrew Anastasia (he/him/they) earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he worked on bridging conversations between rhetoric and composition pedagogy and social work methodologies. He is Assistant Professor of English at Harper College, a large two-year institution outside of Chicago, Illinois. His current research project is a qualitative case study of relationships between trauma-informed first-year course design and retention and persistence rates. He is also the community manager for ACEs in Higher Education


Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and exposure to trauma are relatively common in U.S. children under the age of 18. These experiences range from living with an adult with mental illness, to divorce, to abuse and neglect. The greater the instances of exposure, the more likely it becomes that one will experience negative emotional, behavioral, and health outcomes as an adult.


According to Sacks and Murphey (2018), one in ten children have experienced three or more ACEs, and in some states, that number is one in seven. Over the past decade, educators have learned how intimately tied ACEs and trauma exposure are to behavioral and cognitive barriers in the classroom. This is why trauma-informed approaches to primary and secondary education are gaining traction in the U.S., and why we need to bring trauma-informed approaches to postsecondary education. In my view,  rhetoric and composition teacher-scholars are particularly well-suited to bring this emergent work into the field as part of helping students (and teachers) understand their own rhetorical situations.


If you work in higher education, you’ve likely found that attention to student mental health falls dangerously short. Given the statistics of ACEs trauma and the lack of accessible mental health care at the college level, I have started to describe this gap as “trauma-as-an-invisible fire,” an engulfing threat that feels real and urgent to some but that is often hard to fight, or convince others of its reality.


We know that the majority of students have a history of ACEs (Smyth, 2008), that 61% of college students seeking counseling report anxiety and 41% report depression (Winterman, 2017) and that 66% of college students reported exposure to a Criterion A trauma (Read et al., 2011). Students struggle to access the mental health support they desperately need; the mean ratio of counselor-to-student ratio in the U.S. in 2017 was 1737:1 (Winterman 2017) as colleges across the country outsource counseling services (see “Universities outsource”) or shift to scalable “grit,” “wellbeing,” or “resilience” models that can be implemented without a specialized degree (or a specialized hire).


Yet trauma-informed, ACEs-science work is more difficult to implement than grit or resilience models alone: the fire is invisible in part because it is us, but also because we ignite it in others all the time. For example, I recently sat down with an amazing teacher who wanted to know how to be a more trauma-aware educator. After talking for a while, I asked if she provided an opportunity for students to share their chosen names and gender pronouns. I could tell she was taken aback by my question until I explained that for many genderqueer, non-conforming, and/or trans* people, “deadnaming” students in front of peers can be viscerally terrorizing. The thought never crossed her mind that reading names off the roster and ascribing gender pronouns without asking might participate in racial and gendered microaggressions.


There are concrete steps individuals and systems can take today to avoid such microaggressions and to become more trauma-informed. Nonetheless, I want to caution readers that engaging trauma-informed work is an ongoing process of self-reflection and discomfort. Doing this work justice means doing justice to people, bodies, and experiences one may have been trained to ignore, invalidate, and oppress, including asking whether and how white language supremacy participates in systems of racism linked to ‘root causes of modern trauma.’

With such cautions in mind, here are four practical suggestions for the classroom.

  1. Have all your videos captioned as a matter of Universal Design.
  2. Create participation opportunities that reward non-verbal communication. I prefer to use engagement tickets that reward all kinds of engagement with processes or content.
  3. Refrain from taking attendance until you know a student’s preferred name or pronunciation of their name. Mispronunciations can have a lasting impact on a student’s sense of worth, safety, and belonging.
  4. Invite students to revisit and revise course policies. Susan Naomi Bernstein has a wonderful beginning of the semester activity that uses note cards to empower students and encourage equity.


We need not change our course outcomes to account for ACEs trauma. Rigor and the pedagogical benefits of didactic discomfort may create the conditions necessary for our pedagogical goals to manifest. When students are saturated or activated, the stress hormones produced prevent higher-order thinking. Students who feel validated or heard are more likely to stay in class and persist with the tough stuff.   

For a primer on the 1998 ACEs study and ACEs science, please see “ACEs Science 101 and “ACEs Primer.”  Also see the appendix for materials that begin to address this question, including additional readings that address  ACEs trauma.

Who would have thought that an anachronistic coffee cup on the set of a television show would have outpaced a trade war with China as a news story? And that was even before the controversial penultimate episode of Game of Thrones aired. An article in USA Today sums up the significance Game of Thrones has had for its viewers: “‘Game of Thrones’ is the defining pop-cultural experience of the millennial generation.” That’s a significant burden to place on a television series, even one that spread over a decade.


The author of the USA Today article, Kelly Lawler, falls back on what can be an effective argumentative tool when used well, the analogy. She compares the Stark children, who grew up in a long and prosperous summer, to millennials: “Their world was always safe, and they were taught by their parents that if they worked hard and followed tradition, they would succeed. . . . But the Stark kids’ adolescence coincided with rapid changes in the sociopolitical environment that shattered their collective worldview.” Meanwhile, millennials grew up looking ahead to a good college, a good job, marriage, kids, a house, and a car. “The American dream and all that. But that’s not how it turned out. Just like the Starks, we were thrust into a chaotic world we didn't create, and now we try to survive. The difference is that we're worried about interest rates instead of dragons.”


Lawler goes so far as to argue that Game of Thrones may be the last television show that millennials will watch together, given the growth of streaming and other means of watching shows that fragment the audience that once tuned in at a certain time on a certain night for the latest installment of a beloved series.


The major controversy that grew out of the next-to-last-ever episode of the saga has inspired arguments that have inundated social media since the first hint it was coming. Viewers had seen Daenerys Targaryen evolve from a rather ethereal young woman with nothing but an empty title to Daenerys of the House Targaryen, the First of Her Name, The Unburnt, Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar and the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Protector of the Realm, Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons. She gained the troops to cross the Narrow Sea to retake her throne—and gained the love of her people—by freeing slaves and using her dragons to incinerate their masters. She promised to make the kingdom she would rule from King’s Landing a place of freedom and prosperity. What viewers tended to forget was all the times she swore to use blood and fire if necessary to do that. Viewers loved Daenerys, though, and hundreds named their daughters after her. She was a strong, admirable woman—until she wasn’t. Viewers saw it coming, as Danerys suffered emotional blow after blow, and hoped it wouldn’t. Yet, in the moment of her victory, when everything she had ever wanted was hers, Danerys was unable to reign in her fury. Suddenly she became her father, a Targaryen who took pleasure in burning his enemies.


Seldom has a fictional character undergone such scrutiny and such condemnation. Article after article on digital newsfeeds has analyzed Daenerys’s “breaking bad,” her going “Mad Queen.” Will Jon feel morally obligated to kill her to keep her from taking the Iron Throne? Will the people ever accept her as their leader after what she has done? These are the arguments in this week’s headlines.


Kelly Lawler finds Daenerys’s fall from grace oddly fitting: “But in a dark and tragically comical way, a ‘Thrones’ finale letdown only makes it feel more millennial. Many of us expect life to only get worse from here, as we work until we die and the environment degrades around us. For the Starks and millennials alike, winter, as they say, will always be coming.”



Photo Credit: “Game of Thrones Life Size Replica Iron Throne” by Wicker Paradise on Flickr, 6/11/12 via a CC BY 2.0 license.