Keys to Successful College Writing

Here are eight habits of mind essential for success in college writing:

* Curiosity – the desire to know more about the world.
* Openness – the willingness to consider new ways of being and thinking in the world.
* Engagement – a sense of investment and involvement in learning.
* Creativity – the ability to use novel approaches for generating, investigating, and representing ideas.
* Persistence – the ability to sustain interest in and attention to short- and long-term projects.
* Responsibility – the ability to take ownership of one’s actions and understand the consequences of those actions for oneself and others.
* Flexibility – the ability to adapt to situations, expectations, or demands.
* Metacognition – the ability to reflect on one’s own thinking as well as on the individual and cultural processes used to structure knowledge.

Source: Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing Council of Writing Program Administrators


Please assign roles of Facilitator (in charge of time, facilitating project completion, including soliciting input, and maintaining team focus), Scribe (in charge of recording the collaborative writing), Editors (in charge of making sure errors are corrected and the copy is ready for presentation), Spokesperson (read finished project to the class and assist in fielding questions).

Projects for Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis

Team 1 (Formalists)
Please write one-two fully developed paragraphs in which you compare and contrast the graphic novel form with a traditional novel. Take a poll on the number of students who think the graphic novel represents the future of literature. What adjustments, as readers, did your team make to comprehend the text? Please identify several specific examples of where these adjustments occurred and how, as readers, you processed the information differently from a traditional novel. Open up the discussion by having everyone share at least one page or scene in which the visual/graphic aspect of the texts changed or added to their understanding of the events.  Your project should make a claim about the experience of reading a graphic novel and how that experience is different from reading a traditional novel. Please support that claim with examples from the text and analysis. 

Team 2, 3 and 4
Each group member should take a few minutes to write what they Know about the setting of this novel and write down a couple of questions that pertain to the first 50 pages about what they Want to know. Share the K/W responses. After your discussion, please assign one question to each group member and use the computers to research the answer to this question. Each student should create a new post titled: Setting Research and each answer should be attributed properly, including connecting the link to the source where you found the answer. (Collaborative and Individual)

Team 5 (Reader Response)
Write a TEA paragraph describing how Marjane's family is depicted, including how the story of her grandfather changes Marjane's own sense of identity. Your project should make a claim about this topic that is supported with examples from the text and your analysis.(Collaborative). If you have time, I'd like your group to also discuss how Mehri fits into this family. 

Team 6
Using the Wall Street Journal as your source material, please post a summary of at least one article that references the Middle East or "Arab Spring." Please work to include at least one quotation that you found interesting. (Individual Activity)

Team 7
In the narrative there is a character that represents "Uncle Sam." Please write a TEA paragraph in which you make a claim about the significance of this character. Incorporate evidence in support of this claim and then provide some analysis as to why this character is important to the story. (Collaborative)

Comprehension Quiz/Persepolis

1. What happens to Marjane and her family at the end of the novel?

2. Please list three external conflicts in the story.

3. What does the main character learn about her family and her connection to the country's leadership?

4. What event inspires the "biggest celebration" (42) in this country's history?

5. Why does the family's maid get upset and cry?

Reader Response: Marjane is a rebel and in the end her parent's decide that Iran is no longer a safe place for her. Be sure to examine the specific reasons why her parents opted to send her away and weigh the cause and effect of these situations. What exactly was Marjane rebelling against? School? Religion? Government? Her parents? How can you relate to this rebellious nature. What do you rebel against and why?

Formalist: A Formalist is interested in "just the text." Nothing outside the text matters. No history. No personal opinion. No author intention. Just the text. They are also interested in identifying tension, ambiguity, irony and paradox. If a paradox is a statement that on the surface seems implausible, but underneath makes sense: what paradox would a formalist point out in this novel? You might want to discuss Marjane's declaration that she is religious and then, later, how she justifies fighting against religious law. You might also want to think about how her parent's religious views are left out. Why did the author decide on ambiguity when religion is a central theme? How about the paradox of the revolution itself? If the people were fighting against tyranny and for freedom, why did they allow a theocracy to take over? Remember, a formalist pays very close attention to evidence in the text. Notice how it isn't until after the war with Iraq begins (80) that the author begins including the veiled women in all of the drawings. What connections can you make from this evidence about the chaos and fear associated with war and the people's acceptance of mandatory veiling?

Feminist: A feminist is interested in identifying patriarchy and pointing out power structures that undermine gender equality. What would a feminist have to say about the impact that the Islamic Revolution had on women in Iran? Marjane's mother considers leaving (64), but her father's response shows that his decision carries the weight. Imagine how Marjane's life be different if she lived in a matriarchy.

Marxist: A Marxist theorist is interested in identifying the underlying economic power structures in a a society. What are the economics supporting the structure of government in Iran after the revolution. Who has the economic power? Who has no economic power? And how does the political system enforce this power structure? If Marjane and her family were so influenced by Marxist theory (62) then why does Marjane's father 'report' on Mehri to the neighbor? If they 'took in' Mehri as a child, then why do they not allow her to eat with them at the table? How would this behavior change in a democracy? Is Marjane the only true Marxist in the family?


Discussion Questions on The Glass Menagerie

Symbolism: Please write a Quote Sandwich paragraph analyzing the symbolism of the glass animals (the menagerie) in the story. In particular, the unicorn. How does Laura's adoration for these animals help us to understand her character? You might want to start your discussion by brainstorming what you know about Laura and then discuss why you think she is so captivated by the figurines. Also, think about how and when the unicorn is broken. How does this symbol parallel the internal conflict in the story? How does the mother contribute to this conflict?

Setting: Please write a Quote Sandwich paragraph analyzing the setting of the play from a New Historicist perspective. Think about the historical situation surrounding this play and discuss how the external conflicts are shaping the characters' lives. How does the economic setting influence the character's behavior? How do the traditional gender roles of the 30s and 40s contribute to the tension in the novel?

New Historicist: This play is called a memory play and is also semi-autobiographical. Please write a Quote Sandwich in which you consider how the pressures of being a gay playwright in the 1930s impacted the story. Incorporate specific language into your paragraph and explain how the historical situation influenced the writer's depiction of events in his own life and the actions by Tom in the play.

Ambiguity: Why does Tom go to the movies? What does he dream of doing? What holds him back? Why are the details of his adventures outside the home ambiguous (left out). Why does this behavior unnerve his mother? Please analyze the narrative gaps in the play and write a paragraph using the Quote Sandwich format.

Gender: The portrait of Tom's father dominates the living room and yet he has chosen to abandon his family. What constraints are put on Tom because he is the male head-of household? How does gender affect all of the character's lives.

Projects for Dagoberto Gilb's, The Flowers
Directions: The goal here is to work collaboratively to solve the problems. You will use discussion as your main tool for figuring out the answer to your problem, but your discussion should be grounded by specific sections of the text (evidence) and you should work hard to make sure everyone in your group expresses ideas. For each problem, write a TEA paragraph in THIRD PERSON (no second person) and be ready to share this paragraph with the group. Please be sure to turn in your TEA paragraph with each member of your group listed at the top at the end of the class period.

1. Writing Problem on the topic of Family

Discuss what we know and what don’t we know about Sonny’s family? Who are his extended family members (non-blood relations) and what impact do they have on his life? Please pick one or two significant characters in Sonny’s life and explain how they influence (or don’t influence) Sonny. (Note: Dogs can be considered family members) Is family an important theme in this novel?

2. Writing Problem on the topic of Education

Discuss if Sonny’s experience with school is a significant part of this novel. Is this novel centered on a different kind of education?

Examine how Sonny describes his school friends, “the twins,” in relation to education and what his attitude is toward them in this regard. Why does Sonny want to teach himself French? What motivates this decision and how does this help us to better understand Sonny?

3. Writing Problem on the topic of Violence

Discuss the violence that Sonny experiences in the novel. Identify the type of violence and which violence most impacts him. How does violence change Sonny?

4. Writing Problem on the Topic of Work

How does work impact the characters in the novel? You might discuss who works, who doesn’t work and why. What is Sonny’s relationship to work in the novel? Does he like working? Does he dislike working? Why or why not?

5. Writing Problem on the Topic of Your Choice

Pick an aspect of the first 50 pages that intrigued your group. You might want to brainstorm this first, and then narrow down your choice before writing.

Guidance for All Three Options

  • Write for an audience who is NOT in our class.  
  • I’d like you to include details, examples, quotes from the reading to help you develop your response to the question.
  • Talk about complexities
  • Take the time to proofread after you’ve written your paragraph.
  • Make sure your reader can ‘read’ the words clearly

Retrieval Practice
Exam 1

1. What is plagiarism?
2. What terms or phrases are associated with Formalist Theory? (hint: there are three)
3. Which literary term coined by Formalists continues to hold importance in today's critical discussions of literature? (hint: you may list more than one)
4. What is the difference between Reader Response Theory and Formalist Theory?
5. Quote Analysis:
"I felt space all around me. Him gone was more like air that came in and I was being lifted up. I heard him from his office and he shouted out a word I didn't even recognize...Then my mom got in...He was yelling so furious there was no making out words, and his sounds were jagged..." (150).

Who is the narrator in this scene?
Who is doing the shouting?
Explain one aspect of the text from the formalist perspective.
Why was this character shouting?

Questions for Discussion (Feminist Theory):

Exploring the Theme of Gender

Feminist literary critics are interested in pointing out ideologies of oppression that are linked to gender. However, since patriarchy has long dominated society, feminists are primarily interested in how women are oppressed by men. Feminists argue that social mores reinforce hierarchies of male power and that these mores are often so entrenched in both the reader's and the author's psyche that, without a critical examination, female oppression may be hard to identify and easy to overlook. Moreover, feminist critics are wary of classifying all women together. Feminism is therefore complicated by circumstances such as family, work, popular culture, race, class, religion, geography and historical context.

With this in mind, each group will examine and discuss The Flowers from the Feminist critical perspective and craft a TEA paragraph that makes and supports a claim on the theme of gender in the novel.

Questions for Discussion (Formalist Theory)

Exploring structure and form in The Flowers
 "I never took nothing, nothing much if I did, because I didn't want to" (1).
Examine page 48-49
Examine page 85
Examine page 98
Write a tightly focused TEA paragraph from the Formalist perspective identifying a theme symbolized by the representation of money in this novel.

Discussion points (pick one to write about):
1)Does Sonny contradict himself on the topic of stealing? Why does he say he doesn't steal and then, later, admit he does? How does this narrative progression effect the meaning of the novel? What does the aspect of form tell us about the narrator or the point of view?

2) Staying closely linked to the chain of events in the novel, please explain from a Formalist perspective why Sonny steals money and why he doesn't. Be sure to link your conclusions to the "text only." What do these choices say about Sonny's character?

  • Write for an audience who is NOT in our class.  
  • I’d like you to include details, examples, quotes from the reading to help you develop your response to the question.
  • Talk about complexities
  • Take the time to proofread after you’ve written your paragraph.
  • Make sure your reader can ‘read’ the words clearly

Sociological Discussion Questions:

Symbolism: Please write a Quote Sandwich paragraph analyzing the symbolism of the animals in the story. In particular, the owl. What do you think the dead animals adorning Cloyd's house symbolize?

Setting: Please write a Quote Sandwich paragraph analyzing the description of the setting. Incorporate specific language into your paragraph and explain how the setting effects Sonny.

Setting 2:  Please write a Quote Sandwich paragraph analyzing the description of the setting. Incorporate specific language into your paragraph and explain how the setting effects Sonny.

Tension: Please address the controversy surrounding Pink. Why are Cloyd and Bud upset about the man in his apartment? Write a Quote Sandwich paragraph explaining this situation.

Ambiguity: Why does Sylvia go shopping? What is she shopping for? Where does she go? Please discuss the irony of Sylvia's "shopping" trips using the Quote Sandwich format.

These TEA paragraphs will work to explain your understanding of how these devices contribute to the meaning of the work

Plot Group:
Summarize the plot, indicating rising action and epiphany. Please also indicate where the story includes foreshadow or flashback and explain how this device contributes to the story.

Symbol Group:
Please identify symbolism that you think is important to the meaning of the literary work. Explain the importance of the symbolism and how it helps convey the meaning and/or theme.

Setting Group:
Please explain how the setting contributes to the meaning of the story?

Diction Group:
Explain how the diction of the story deepens our understanding of character and theme?

Point of View:
Explain the point of view and how this point of view affects the meaning of the story.


Discussion Groups
on The Scarlet Letter
As a Group, please examine and discuss your assigned pages with the purpose of determining what aspects of the text are important for understanding the novel's central conflict. In other words, what passages help you better understand the internal and external conflicts and/or characterization in the Scarlet Letter.  You should spend some time discussing what you Know (KWL+) about your assigned character and also discuss, what you don't know or what to know.

Discussion Groups/Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

Please write a TEA and or Quote Sandwich paragraph in response to your groups’ question.

1. Junior says, “You can’t just betray your tribe and then change your mind” (55).  Why would going to Reardon High School be a betrayal of his tribe? Please explain this central conflict in the novel and incorporate this quote in your response.

2. Mr. P says that when he started teaching all of the teachers were instructed to “Kill the Indian and save the child” (35).  What does this mean and how does Mr. P feel about this saying now?

3. Mr. P tells Junior that he must leave the reservation because “The only thing you kids are being taught is how to give up” (42). Do you agree or disagree with Mr. P’s argument. Please make a claim in your topic sentence, provide details that support the claim and analysis that explain this situation.

4. Junior says that “Penelope and I became a hot topic because we were defying the great and powerful Earl” (110). Please write a TEA paragraph in which you     explain what this means. In your A (Analysis) make sure you make clear why this  topic is a central conflict in the novel.

5. Using your knowledge of Native American culture, write a TEA paragraph in which you describe why Rowdy is so angry at Junior for leaving the tribe.


1. Junior says, "...we were sending each other some serious hate signal" (190) before the basket ball. Why is Junior glaring at Rowdy?
2. After Junior takes the ball from Rowdy, he states, "I wanted to absolutely demoralize him." What does demoralize mean in this context?
3. What realization does Junior have after the game?
4. In reflecting on the scene how does Junior's inner conflict between tribal culture and white culture play out?

In-Class Exam
Please write a well-developed essay in which you agree or disagree with Junior's decision to change schools. You may draw on personal experience in your essay, but please use ample textual evidence in support of your ideas.

Process Essay
1. Clarity-- Are the sentences free of errors that impede the reader's understanding? Does the organization guide the reader using transitional language through the writer's ideas in a logical way?
2. Content--Does the essay use concrete details, description, personal examples and explanation to fully develop each paragraph? Does each paragraph have a topic sentence that makes a claim and provide focus? Does the essay make clear why this topic matters? Does the essay have an engaging title?
3. Organization--Does the last sentence in the introduction give the reader a clear idea of what the essay is about? Are the body paragraphs TEA's that focus on one topic per paragraph? Does the conclusion sum up the ideas and leave the reader with something to think about?

Write a summary assessing your strengths and weaknesses in these three areas. Give yourself a score for each category. 4-A 3-B 2-C 1-D.

Student Files


Art and Literature Links

I am just beginning to compile these links. If you have suggestions, please comment! Thanks!