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Sample Syllabus


Welcome to English 101, a course that introduces many of the strategies, tools, and techniques necessary to becoming a successful writer in a range of settings. This section of ENG 101 will emphasize a mindful practice of writing, which means we’ll perform exercises in thinking, reading, and composition designed to help ourselves become aware of the mental movements of writing and the environmental factors that shape our communication. 


What is mindfulness? According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness expert and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness simply means paying attention, in a systematic way, to the present moment. The practice of mindfulness is to notice, fully engage with, and honor the experiences offered in each moment—not worrying about the past or rushing to some anticipated moment in the future. This type of meditative practice offers numerous, scientifically-documented benefits, including reduced stress, strengthened immune response, and increased brain function. 


But what does mindfulness have to do with writing? To answer this question, consider the admonition from zen master Thich Nhat Hanh that when a phone rings—before answering—we pause, breath, and prepare. Similarly, before communicating in writing or any other medium, we must pause to reflect: What is our purpose in communicating? To whom are we speaking? What does this audience know/feel/believe about this topic? And how—by what method and in what tone—may we best convey the message to this particular audience? These questions flow from a mindful approach to writing and are all elements of what’s known as the rhetorical situation. In this class we will learn to analyze writing for its rhetorical situation by carefully considering several existing texts to discover how the author/creator arrived at his or her method of communication. We will also set for ourselves a number of communication exercises through which we will practice making rhetorical decisions in a mindful way that honors ourselves as speakers, the topics we write about, and the audiences that will receive our words. 


  • Bullock, Richard and Maureen Goggin, The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings, custom USM edition.

  • Regular access to the internet to complete assignments and download materials and additional readings (Canvas)



Project One: Image Analysis (20% of final grade)   

Our first major writing assignment asks you to consider visual rhetoric—how an image communicates its message to a specific audience. I will provide you with a number of ads, album covers, magazine covers, and movie posters to choose from. You will choose one and write an essay that offers a vivid description of all relevant features of the image (such as content, color, focus, proportion, typeface, etc) and explains how those features relate to the rhetorical situation: Who created this image? For what audience(s)? What did they want the audience to believe/feel/do? To what current events was this image responding? In short, your essay should illuminate both why and how the creators of your chosen image used visual elements to convey their message. 

4-5 pages (min. 1,000 words)


Project Two: Textual Analysis (20% of final grade)

In project two we will move from visual rhetoric into an examination of written texts. How do texts work on their audiences? What rhetorical techniques do authors use to convince, excite, anger, or move us? What makes a text persuasive? As a class, we’ll read several essays and articles on a specific theme; you will choose the one that interests you most and write an essay examining the ways this text responds to its historical context and rhetorical situation. Your essay should consider how the text is organized, how it is intended to act on its audience, what tone it conveys and how. By this point in the course, you will also have the knowledge and confidence to comment on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the text you are examining.

4-5 pages (min. 1,000 words)


Project Three: Position Paper (20% of final grade)

Whereas in project two we consider how other authors make their arguments, in project three, it’s your turn to write your own persuasive text. For this assignment, I will provide you with a group of readings that represent a range of opinions on a controversial issue. You will identify your own position on that issue and argue it, using the provided sources as either support or counter-arguments. This project lets you demonstrate your ability to stake out a clear and arguable position, to give logical support for your position, to integrate outside sources into your writing, and to describe and effectively deal with counter-arguments. 

5-6 pages (min. 1,300 words)


Final Portfolio Project (20% of final grade)

For our last project, I want you to collect your best work of the semester into one file and reflect on your growth as a writer in this class. Your completed portfolio will include 3 elements: 1) one of the above major projects, comprehensively revised, 2) various examples of other work for our class that illustrate your understanding of our ENG 101 learning outcomes, and 3) a reflective essay in which you critically reflect on and discuss nearly every aspect of your work for this course. Through this final project of the semester, you will demonstrate your understanding of the revision process and, I hope, demonstrate to yourself that you have produced work you can be proud of!

Reflection essay 3 pages (min 750 words)


These assignments are designed as building blocks for the major assignments listed above. Completing these smaller writing tasks will prepare you to write the larger assignments successfully. 


Unit One - Analyzing Images

  • Best/Worst Reading & Writing Experiences - min. 450-word reflection 

  • What do you see & What does it mean? min. 200-word description and close reading of an image 

  • Who & To Whom? 200-word analysis of the speaker audience(s) 

  • When/Where/Why? 200-word summary of an image’s context 


Unit Two - Analyzing Texts

  • What’s it all about? 200-word summary of an article 

  • How does it mean? 200-word paragraph observing rhetorical/literary devices 

  • The Author says . . . - 200-word paragraph that uses a quotation as evidence 


Unit Three - Arguing A Position

  • What Interests You? 200-word paragraph describing which angle of our argument topic appeals to you and why 

  • Who Says What? 200-word summary of at least two different positions on the topic 

  • That’s True, But . . . - 200-word paragraph of counterargument


Unit Four - Revision

  • What Could Be Better? -200-word description of specific revision plans 

  • A Brief Un-Essay - one artifact that demonstrates engagement with a concept of rhetoric (creative submissions encouraged!)



Thousands of images flash before our eyes every day—advertisements, product labels, movie posters, funny memes, directional signs. Often we absorb these images and the messages they contain without a second thought. But a mindful approach to rhetoric lets us consider: Why are we being shown this image? By whom? And what do they want us to do/think/believe/feel? Mindful consideration gives us space to determine how an image is intended to act upon its audience, which features of the image accomplish these rhetorical goals, and whether we want to be acted on by the image or not. 


This assignment asks you to take one image from popular media (from the options provided on Canvas) and describe its rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, context, genre). You should also describe any rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, logos, kairos) at play in the image. The goal is to write a detailed, analytical essay that makes some argument about the image under consideration. 


Here are some questions you might want to address in your visual analysis: 

• What is the message or purpose being communicated through the image? 

• Who is the intended audience? 

• What effects does the image have on that intended audience? 

• What rhetorical appeals are consciously being used through the image? 

• What elements are being used to develop purpose or reach the audience?

• How is the image commenting on historical/social/political situations? 

• How is the image fulfilling or subverting the expectations of its genre?  


Getting Started: You will be able to choose the album cover, movie poster, advertisement, or magazine cover to analyze (see Unit I folder on Canvas for list of options). It’s important to note that whatever image you select, you will need to think critically and deeply examine it. So even if you are familiar with the image, you will need to investigate it closely and research its context in order to better determine the purpose and audience. Context provides a foundation that helps us interpret images. You will need to provide a brief summary of the context toward the beginning of your analysis to help situate the reader.


Remember the purpose of an “analysis” is to go over something in-detail. I want you to think more about depth and specificity, and less about coverage. The key to an in-depth visual analysis is providing thorough explanations of how your image connects to the rhetorical situation and draws on rhetorical appeals. The reader should be able to tell what the image looks like through your writing without having to look at the image itself. 


After you have selected your image, you should start researching the context, genre, and historical/social/political situations that surround it. This explanation of context will help you write a brief summary that will situate your reader within your analysis. After that, you will need to think about the purpose and audience and draw on specific elements of the image to communicate how and why those design elements reach the intended audience to convey the overall purpose of the image. 



  • Identification of major rhetorical points (introduction, thesis, analysis)

  • Specificity

  • Minimal summary

  • Analysis of the purpose and intended audience 

  • Organizational structure (strong introduction, fluid transitions and topic sentences, coherent paragraph form)

  • Evidence for rhetorical situation and appeals supported by details/aspects from the image 

  • Relevance to the assigned topic

  • Audience engagement

  • Grammar and spelling efficiency

  • Effort (demonstrated by page count and proofreading)


Putting It Together: Your essay should be a minimum of 1,000 words, double-spaced, in Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, 1” margins, and include a creative title. Please proofread your essay thoroughly before submission. 


In Project Two, we’ll continue to analyze rhetorical situations and appeals, but instead of reading images, we turn our attention to the alphabetic text. Becoming an effective writer involves learning to read the work of others mindfully, with attention to each move the author makes. By examining the rhetorical choices of experienced writers, we begin to see the array of language techniques and styles of persuasion available to us, and we gain an understanding of which techniques are most effective in various situations. The ultimate goal is to expand our own repertoire of writing moves and prepare ourselves to respond to the situations that call us to write.

This unit, we’ll be working with four texts, all on the theme of the minority experience in the United States. You will choose one text from the following list to write about:

  • Amy Tan, “Mother Tongue” NFG pp 697-703; 

  • Judith Ortiz Cofer, “The Myth of the Latin Woman” NFG pp 906-913

  • Jeremy Dowsett, “What My Bike Has Taught Me about White Privilege” NFG pp 1007-1012

  • Jesmyn Ward, “On Witness and Respair” (Canvas)

This assignment asks you to make an argument about how the author of your chosen text has constructed his or her piece and tailored it to their specific audience and context. Here are some questions you might want to address in your textual analysis: 

  • What message is the writer communicating? 

  • Why is this message so important? What is this message in response to culturally or historically? 

  • What values and beliefs help construct the message?

  • What is the cultural or historical moment surrounding the text, and in what ways is the writer drawing on that moment to convey their message?    

  • What effects does the text/message have on the intended audience? 

  • How is the text structured in a way that invites a response? Or what moves are being made in/through the text that would invite the intended audience to respond or react in specific ways? 

  • How is the writer getting their points across, or what choices are they making, and what are the effects of those choices? 

In order to do this project well, you will need to carefully re-read your text several times, exploring it on three levels: 1) as an attempt by someone to communicate something important; 2) as a document that has intentionally been written and structured in such a manner as to lead readers to think, feel, and react in specific ways; and 3) as a cultural artifact that embodies (at least on some level) the values, attitudes, and beliefs of a certain group of people at a particular moment in time.

The bulk of your paper will need to be more than just a description/summary of main ideas; you’ll also need to engage how the author is attempting to get their points across, and why they have done so in that manner. Your paper should discuss the choices the writer has made and the effects of those choices. So remember the importance of moving beyond summary.

Your audience for this paper is someone who knows basic rhetorical concepts but has little familiarity with the author or the text. Thus, you will want to focus on providing your reader with specific examples and clear explanations of how the text is working and why. In other words, do not assume that your readers will have the author’s text to refer to as they read your paper. You must provide evidence to back up your claims, which in this context means specific examples from the text in the form of summary, paraphrase, and/or direct quotation.


  • Identification of major rhetorical points (introduction, thesis, analysis, conclusion)

  • Use of textual evidence (summary, paraphrase, and quotation) to illustrate and support your points

  • Clear understanding of what it means to conduct a textual analysis (providing context, discussing the rhetorical situation, rhetorical appeals, and concepts, using evidence to explain the situation, appeals, and concepts)

  • Nuanced thesis statement and coherent/cohesive topic sentences 

  • Grammar and spelling efficiency

  • Effort (evidence by page count and proofreading)


Putting It Together: Your essay should be a minimum of 1,000 words, Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, 1” margins, and include a creative title. Please proofread your essay thoroughly before submission.


You’ve spent the last month mindfully assessing the rhetorical decisions of another author. Now, it’s time to take the lessons you learned from that exercise and use them to strengthen your own writing. I’m asking you to take a position on the issue of Technology and Mindfulness. There are multiple angles from which you might consider this issue: 

  • How does technology, particularly internet and social media usage, affect our ability to inhabit the present moment?

  • Is social media in conflict with a mindful lifestyle?

  • How does social media use alter our sense of self and others?

  • What are the unique affordances of technology in terms of mindful practice

  • Can we use tech mindfully, to help us achieve greater calmness, gratitude, and empathy? 

 Your job is to read and understand selected articles on this topic, then take a clear, arguable position on the topic and construct an argument based on evidence you find in those selections. I’ve chosen this specific issue because it is a complex and layered debate. I want you to enter into those layers of the scholarly conversation, and incorporate more than one angle of analysis into your argument. Your essay must engage with at least three of the following sources:

  • Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (Norton Field Guide)

  • Alina Tugend, “Multitasking Can Make You Lose . . . Um . . . Focus” (Norton Field Guide)

  • Jia Tolentino, “The Age of Instagram Face” (Canvas)

  • Peerayuth Charoensukmongkol, “Mindful Facebooking” (Canvas)

  • Zachary G. Baker et al., “FOMO: Relationships With Depression, Mindfulness, and Physical Symptoms” (Canvas) 

  • Maria Konnikova, “Becoming a Better Online Reader” (Canvas)

You may also find 1-2 additional sources to engage with. They must be from reputable journalistic outlets or from the library’s database of scholarly resources. We will learn in class how to find and identify good, focused sources. An important focus of this project will be source integration and using evidence effectively. You’ll also need to cite your work according to MLA format guidelines. Note: when you read these articles, don’t just hunt for evidence that backs up your particular position. Be on the lookout for evidence against your position as well. In order to construct a strong argument, you need to understand your own purpose as well as the purpose of an author who might disagree with you. This element of academic counter-argument must be present in your essay. 


  • Clear and accurate identification of the issue

  • Description of existing conversation on the issue (Context)

  • Clear thesis statement that frames the essay and reveals your stance

  • Logical reasoning and substantial evidence from the texts you’ve chosen to synthesize

  • Organizational structure (strong introduction, fluid transitions and topic sentences, coherent paragraph form)

  • Appropriate citation of sources

  • Audience engagement

  • Grammar and spelling efficiency

  • Effort (demonstrated by page count and proofreading)


Putting It Together: Your essay should be a minimum of 1,250 words, double-spaced, in Times New Roman, 12 pt. font, 1” margins, and include a creative title. Please proofread your essay thoroughly before submission. 


A portfolio simply means a selection of work that represents the your skills and development. Your final portfolio for this class must be designed to make an argument about your growth as a writer in this class. 


The portfolio should contain the following elements (in one Word document, in this order):

  1. A brief (750-1000 word) reflection essay that describes the reasoning behind the selections you’ve included in the portfolio and the revisions you’ve made to those selections. This essay should also describe your journey as a writer this semester in terms of our Student Learning Outcomes, which are listed on this sheet. We will review those outcomes and discuss ways to integrate them into your essay in class. 

  2. A revised version of two of the following: your Visual Analysis, Textual Analysis, and Position Paper.

  3. One additional artifact that demonstrates your understanding of writing concepts we’ve discussed this semester. These artifacts could be a photo of notes or annotations on a reading, comments you’ve made on your peers’ writing, or even a creative submission like a graphic or doodle. The only criteria is that they must illustrate a concept of rhetoric from ENG 101. 


Steps for creating the portfolio:

  1. Choose the two essays you will revise. 

  2. Consider everything you’ve learned in this course. Read back over my comments on the papers. 

  3. Review the Student Learning Outcomes listed on the syllabus. 

  4. Make a revision plan to improve the essays in ways specifically related to things I have taught you and to the course learning outcomes.

  5. Revise your two essays.

  6. Select, document, or create your artifact submission.

  7. Write your self-reflection essay. 



Length: 750-1000 words

Format: MLA (See PDF for full instructions)


Scoring Criteria:

  • Portfolio demonstrates serious effort toward growth and improvement in writing

  • Self Reflection Essay is clear, well-organized, and specific in its descriptions of the writing journey and portfolio contents

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