It’s Monday & Syllabus has eaten my brain

I’ve finished a couple of books these past two weeks (more on that below), but the one that’s had the most impact so far is Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor by Lynda Barry. In fact, the book has inspired two activities I did in my class the past two weeks.

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

Activity 1: We’re working on poetry and some of my students submitted their pieces for feedback. I found myself making the same comment over and over (needs more imagery!), so inspired by Syllabus and “Variations on a Summer Day” by Wallace Stevens (snippet here), I came up with the following activity.

Continue reading “It’s Monday & Syllabus has eaten my brain”

Deal with it #SOL18

Two updates to yesterday’s post:

1. I got to page 176 of Station Eleven, so didn’t make it to the 200s. Oh well. I probably won’t finish it until this weekend.

2. I forgot to mention what I did about the students who were absent when we set up the groups. Basically, the students who were present and I decided the absent group members would just have to deal with the decisions made by their group.

deal with it

Continue reading “Deal with it #SOL18”

Group Contracts #SOL18

Yesterday, I put my students into groups and had them work up their group contracts, which is what I want to talk about in my post. But before I get into that, I just want to share this absolutely brilliant moment that happened in class today.

So, I had my students do a self-annotation exercise, which involved many things, and one of them was double checking their Works Cited page. Two of the students in one of the groups had been absent the day we went over how to do the page, and another one had taken very good notes. Two of them had this exchange:

Continue reading “Group Contracts #SOL18”

Behind on Everything! #SOL18

Especially posting.

I have a lot to say today since I introduced my students to the group contracts mentioned before and actually, finally wrote up the assignment sheet for their upcoming group assignment. However! It is late (12:18 a.m. as I write this) and I teach at 7:30 a.m., so I need to get to bed.

I will say that the group icebreaker was a success. I asked them to come up with three celebrities (dead or alive) they would want to help them rebuild after the apocalypse, and their answers were fun. Lots of groups picked Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson because he played lots of characters who had to survive. One group (of girls) picked him because he would be able to carry them if they got tired, which made me laugh.

I did write down most of their answers, which I will probably share tomorrow (or not–you know me), but for now, I away to bed. Anon!

Slice of Life Challenge
Slice of Life is a writing challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

Dear English/Lit teachers of the world, just stop

I recently finished J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter & the Cursed Child and then went online and read some reviews (as one does). And I saw an alarming pattern in quite a few of the reviews I read.

Therefore, I have a request:

Please, please, please, please, PLEASE stop telling your students that plays are meant to be seen and not read.


First of all, it’s not true.

Second of all, they then go out into the world and keep spreading that nonsense in book reviews and blog posts and however else they share information with each other.


Here’s the thing: plays are absolutely meant to be read. They start out as scripts. Plays cannot be produced, acted in, directed, costumed, lit, etc. unless the people involved with the plays READ THEM.

In fact, reading a play takes just as much–if not more–imagination as reading a novel or short story. It’s all about teaching students how to read and engage with the form.

And, yes, details are added in the production of a play that brings it to life, but one person’s interpretation of a character or scene or whatever can be different from another’s, which is why the same staged play can play out differently for different audiences depending on who’s involved with the production.

But isn’t that the same with reading a novel?

Maybe someone prefers to see the play, which is fine, but let’s stop with the whole plays aren’t meant to be read deal, okay? It’s fine to say that sometimes plot or action becomes clearer in the seeing of it, and, yes, Shakespeare tends to be better experienced when we see it since the language can be a bit inaccessible. But, you know, people read the play to put it on for us, so the script is the thing–or, rather, the script is the basis for the whole thing.

And it has to be read. And it can be read and understood. It just takes a different kind of effort is all. So stop telling your students it can’t and shouldn’t be done.

Thank you.

M is for Mulan

How do academics show how much they love stuff? They either write papers/articles about the things they love or create assignments about the things they love. One of my best assignments is probably my Mulan definition argument essay. It is brilliant, if I do say so myself.


Get it? Because I bow down to Mulan but the assignment is so brilliant the world bows down to me?

Anyway, the assignment was perfect for a summer class. Basically, I had my students watch the movie, and then they wrote an essay arguing that Mulan deserved a soldier’s pension even though she broke the law.

I’m putting the assignment overview and guidelines below. To prep for the assignment, we read a definition argument in their textbook and MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and talked a lot a lot a lot about addressing a hostile audience, which is why King’s letter is so crucial.

Assignment Overview

Your assignment, then, is to take on the persona of one of the soldiers and argue that Fa Mulan fits the definition of a soldier because she exhibited the characteristics of a man suited for the rage of war as put forth by the Chinese army and deserves the bonus and the lifetime pension.

Assignment Guidelines

Your audience for the paper is the Emperor’s council, and your paper must explain how Mulan fits all of the criteria for being a soldier because she proved herself to be a man suited for the rage of war. You must provide examples of how she fits each criterion outlined on the previous page as well as anticipate and refute any objections the council may have. In order to be successful, you have to establish your credibility and authority to determine whether or not Mulan is qualified to be considered a soldier and use a tone appropriate for the audience. The council must be thoroughly convinced that Mulan deserves the bonus plus lifetime pension.

If anyone wants more details or the full assignment, please email me: theenglishist[at]

A to Z 2016

For the A to Z challenge, I’m blogging about fannish pursuits (aka things I’m a fan of or have strong feelings about). Tune in tomorrow to see what I picked for N!

The Artist’s Way & the Artist Date

TThe Artist's Way by Julia Cameronhis fall, I’m teaching a fiction writing class for the first time, and I’m super excited. Because I’ve never taught the class before, I’m using a co-worker’s syllabus. (Sidenote: I was going to build the class from scratch but another co-worker talked me out of that, which is probably a good idea–especially considering that I have to build my two other core courses over again.) So, since this co-worker uses The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron for the class,  I will, too.

Continue reading “The Artist’s Way & the Artist Date”

Lesson Plan Friday: The Power of Poetry

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI have a confession. I was terrified to teach poetry. As part of the Writing about Literature course at my school, there are three units: fiction, drama, and poetry. I have a creative writing degree…in fiction. I have taken screenwriting/drama classes. But poetry? Of course, I’ve encountered poetry throughout all of my many, many years of schooling. But I’m not a poetry expert, you know?

So my first time out, I thought for sure it would be a disaster.

Add to that the fact that most of my students also have an aversion to poetry. They don’t understand it, they think it’s stupid, and, of course, most of their experience with poetry was how it means something besides what they think it means.

However, in terms of student engagement, student response, and student interest, the poetry unit has wound up being the best.

I think the main reason the unit works so well is that poetry isn’t a trick: it’s all about word choice and word order.

I cannot tell you how many of my students feel super smart because they can explain a poem, and it’s all based on “Well, in line 4, the author uses ‘x word’ which means ‘this,’ so the poem is about ‘y.’”

Poetry solved!

The other thing that helps is our final poetry assignment***. My students have to write their own poems and then explain their choices. And then we have a poetry slam where they read their poems aloud.

The effect of that assignment?

  • I had a student who “didn’t read” before my class and was a math/engineering guy so was only taking the class because it’s required. He wrote so many poems that he didn’t know which one to choose for his final paper. He worked in retail and would write poems on the back of receipt paper at work. Any chance he got, he was scribbling poems.
  • They come to office hours because they have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.
  • They figure out inventive ways to do picture poems (one in the form of a broken heart, another in the form of a dancer, yet another in the form of a quadratic equation).
  • This past semester, my students were so proud of their poems that they told me I should make future classes analyze their poems like we did to the ones in the books.

This is huge. My students tend to have notoriously low confidence in their writing. But they recognized and felt that their poetry was as worthy of being analyzed as the poetry in the textbook.

Poems aside, their explanations*** (which is what they’re really graded on) are fantastic. They know and understand the terminology; they know and understand the inspiration poems or poetic forms. Their papers are a joy to read.


So, yes. Poetry. It’s amazing.

***Here’s the assignment:

Part I: The Paper

Length: no word count (poem) / 500-750 words (explanation)

You have two options for this paper.

Option 1: Write a poem that imitates or is inspired by a poem that appears in any of the assigned reading on our syllabus. Then, explain the choices you made writing your poem, focusing on how it matches the original. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining the poems and their similarities.

You are using the original poem as inspiration, which means you can write a parody (humorous imitation) or something more serious on whatever topic you wish.

Option 2: Write a fixed form poem (sonnet, villanelle, sestina, limerick, or haiku) on the topic of your choice. Then, explain the choices you made while writing your poem, focusing on how it fits the chosen form and why you chose that particular form. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining your choices.

In order to successfully complete this paper, you must first understand the features of the poetic form and how to properly implement them. Only then will you be able to craft your poem.

Part II: The Final

Our poetry final will be an in-class poetry slam held during the assigned finals time. You will read/recite your poem to the class.

Creative Commons License
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Lesson Plan Friday: Identifying Character Traits

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI actually got the idea for this activity from The Bedford Introduction to Literature (10th edition) edited by Michael Meyer. One of the creative response assignment suggestions is to have students write an obituary for the character of Penny from the play Dead Right by Elaine Jarvik.

In order to have students complete the obituary and to understand both characters, I had them do this little activity, which I think I’m going to use to introduce/explore characterization from now on. This activity is much more effective than asking the students to “characterize” a specific character or to describe the character’s traits. It teaches them how, exactly, to do that and where they get the information to characterize the characters.

In the book, Dead Right is a short play that covers four pages. I assigned the students one of the four pages to read. I then broke down the activity in the following steps.

1. Write down the facts the audience is given about Penny and the facts the audience is given about Bill. (I remind them that facts cannot be argued. Some of my students also think that they can remember everything they read, so I tell them that they have to actually write the facts down.)

2. Now, write down how you would describe each of their personalities (in other words,  their character traits) and what words/quotes from the play help you characterize them that way.

3. Then, we went over the facts and character traits, starting with the facts about a character before moving onto their traits. I put the lists up on the projector. This was an excellent way to reinforce the difference between facts (or details) and character traits. While doing the facts, students would sometimes say that a character was, say, “self-centered” or “rude” and I was able to say, “Well, that can be argued, so you’re moving into character traits. We’re doing facts now. Hold onto that for a minute.”

4. During the character traits discussion, I would always ask what made them describe the character that particular way and, most of the time, they referred back to the facts on the board or details from their assigned page.

5. Once our discussion was over, they were assigned to write Penny’s obituary as she herself would write it or as her husband Bill would write it. (I assigned them to either Penny or Bill.)

That last bit is also a little bit of a test in reading comprehension since Penny says exactly how she wants her obituary written. I always ask my students to share if they’re willing. If they’re not, I ask them what they did, so we can discuss their choices and why they made those particular choices. Students usually think they just come up with details in their writing out of their heads, so I use those moments as an opportunity to show them how they use details from the text in their own writing or how the details from the text inform their writing.

As I said, though, this can be easily adapted for another play or with different characters. My plan is to use this activity (minus the obituary) with a short story. That should be particularly interesting because that story is told with a first-person narrator. We’ll see how it goes.

Creative Commons License
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Lesson Plan Friday: Works Cited Page

Lesson Plan FridayI don’t know about anybody else, but teaching my students how to do a Works Cited page can be tedious at best. If I go over it in class, it’s like they don’t hear me. I tell them where to find the information in their book to make sure they’re doing it right–they do what they want.

Worst of all, they want to use citation websites like EasyBib and Citation Machine.

I don’t have a problem with those sites in general. My issue is that the sites always miss information or put the information in the wrong place. I tell my students if they use the sites to still double check because the citations might be wrong.

They don’t.

So! This semester I decided to do a different type of citation activity. I took them to the campus computer lab and gave them the following activity. This activity concentrates on formatting the works cited page as well as finding information of web sources to do citations.

From working with my students and my work in the Writing Lab, I’ve learned that a lot of times, students’ citations are incomplete because they don’t know where to look for the information to complete their citations, so they don’t take the time to do so.

For this assignment, students need computers with internet access. They also need their assigned handbook. My class used The Bedford Handbook (8th Edition), so any page numbers referenced are from that. The Practical Argument referenced is the 2nd edition. (Again, whichever book they use is fine. It should just have a sample works cited page and a section on how to do citations.) I always have students who come unprepared to class, so I also used The Purdue Owl.

The sites below were all chosen randomly. I tried to get a good mix of blogs, news sites, and sites with no author since my students could use a small number of non-scholarly internet sources for their forthcoming paper. I present the links as numbers because I didn’t want to give them any information about the sites. I wanted them to find all the information on their own.

I start with explicit formatting instructions because Microsoft Word has that new default that automatically adds space when you hit enter, even if a document is single-spaced.

Our lab has all Windows computers that run Office 2013.

Directions for the activity:

  1. Open Microsoft Word.
  2. Click on the Page Layout tab. Click on Margins. Select Normal.
  3. Click on the Home tab. Change the font to Times New Roman and the font size to 12.
  4. Click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner. Under Spacing, set the After to 0 pt.
  5. Put a heading on your paper. Hit enter.
  6. Press Ctrl + E.
  7. Type Works Cited in plain text (do not bold or italicize or make larger). Press enter.
  8. Press Ctrl + L.
  9. Save your document to the desktop or to your flash/jump drive.

For this assignment, you will type up citations for the links given below.

On pg. 550 of the Bedford Handbook is a sample web page with information on how to find the information needed for an online citation. Refer to that as you complete your assignment. You should also refer to pgs. 548-557 for how to cite the various types of online sources you may encounter.

If you do not have your handbook, you should refer to pgs. 338-341 in Practical Argument.

If you do not have either book, go here.


Use the following links to complete your citations and SAVE YOUR WORK OFTEN as you go:









Now that you have finished typing up your citations, you need to properly format your document.

  1. Put the list in alphabetical order (see pg. 572 in BH and pg. 530 in PA for directions).
  2. Properly indent your citations.
    1. In Microsoft Word, click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner.
    2. Under Indentation, set the Special dropdown to Hanging.
  3. Double space your document.
    1. Press Ctrl + A to highlight the entire document.
    2. Click on the Home tab, go to Paragraph and click the little arrow in the bottom right corner.
    3. Under Spacing, set the Line Spacing dropdown to Double.
  4. Check that your list of citations looks like the sample on pg. 588 in BH, pg. 349 in PA, or this one.
  5. Double check your citations to make sure they are complete.
  6. Submit your assignment to Canvas. You may work quietly on other assignments until you are given further instruction.

And that’s it!

As a follow up, I tell them that they are allowed to use the citation generators (because they will anyway) but that they need to make sure to refer to their book or The Owl to make sure the citations are complete and correctly formatted. And since they have to do that anyway, they may as well just type up the citations themselves since I think it’s faster and less work. But, you know, do what you want, I say.

Creative Commons License
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.