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A Course Plan for First-Year Students

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    Course Plan with Links

    First-year college writing classes vary in the number of major assignments that institutions require under institutional course outlines. Therefore, this plan includes more "units" than some instructors or institutions may use. The units are purposefully generic so that instructors may employ academic freedom to:

    • adopt readings appropriate for their student populations,
    • choose topics of current interest, or
    • use institutionally required readings.

    Instructors are encouraged to choose open source texts (readings, videos, other media, and podcasts) to align these resources with the goal of free educational resources to promote educational equity for all types of learners.

    The following table gives a general overview of possible units that generally build upon each other toward an end-of-semester research paper. The research paper assignment also assumes that students will have completed their community college library's trainings about finding and evaluating research and using database resources.

    Table 14.2.1 Flexible Course Plan

      Purpose of Unit Major Concepts and Skills Timeline*
    Describing Your Reading and Writing History This short introductory unit can be used for a writing sample, to give students practice writing descriptively, and to give instructors more information on the students' literacy histories and potential needs for course supplementation during the semester.
    • Description mode
    • Narrative mode
    • Setting goals and strategies
    • Metacognition
    Week 1
    Rhetorical Analysis This metacognitive assignment introduces students to the classical rhetorical elements of writing by having students use some of these elements in order to analyze their use in other people's writing.
    • Understand, identify, and implement the relationship between reader/writer, audience, purpose, and form
    • Understand the concepts and identify the use of ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos
    • Understand, identify, and implement the successful use of the elements of writing (organization, support, tone, and style)
    • Understand and apply punctuation rules for joining clauses
    • Understand that reading and writing are a joint-constructive effort between audience and writer.
    Weeks 2 - 4
    Ethical Analysis of a Controversial Topic The assignment requires students to apply various ethical approaches to analyze points of view about a controversial topic that is provided or researched.
    • Understand how people's ethical frameworks shape how they approach a topic
    • Understand how people's ethical frameworks shape how they approach problem solving
    • Understand the basics of persuasion and argumentation
    • Understand that an essay may be organized in various ways
    • Understand conditional logic
    Any time after the rhetorical analysis assignment, depending on instructor needs and choice.
    Create an Argument This assignment requires students to write a cogent argument that synthesizes support from at least three provided readings to develop their own point of view and effectively argue it to a neutral audience, using Toulmin argumentation.
    • Identify and implement Toulmin argumentation using various classical rhetorical devices
    • Understand and evaluate sources created by others, including statistical sources
    • Identify appropriate sources and synthesize them into an argument
    • Understand and apply the methods for writing clear and concise sentences
    • Understand that reading and writing are a joint-constructive effort between audience and writer.
    • Understand compare-contrast and cause-effect logic.
    Any time between weeks 4 - 8
    Create a Counter-Argument with Research This assignment requires students to persuade a potentially antagonistic audience toward the student's point of view about a controversial topic using Rogerian argumentation methods, including writing a counter-argument. Students must also use some outside resources to research the "opposition's" potential readings and find valid support for their own point of view.
    • Identify and implement the Rogerian argumentation method and organization plan.
    • Understand and evaluate sources created by others, including statistical sources.
    • Identify appropriate sources and synthesize them into an argument.
    • Identify potential objections to the student's point of view by analyzing and demonstrating and understanding of the audience's concerns
    • Understand the structure of and use relative clauses
    • Understand that reading and writing are a joint-constructive effort between audience and writer
    Any time between weeks 6 through 12
    Re-Purposing a Message for a New Audience This assignment requires the student to consider possible audiences, purposes, and the resultant relevant forms of writing to convey the message of a previous assignment. The product may be a document that is not necessarily intended for an academic audience.
    • Identify audience, purpose, and form for a particular message
    • Research, evaluate and implement the typical elements of that form of communication
    • Understand that reading and writing are a joint-constructive effort between audience and writer
    • Understand the reason for rhetorical analysis in real-life writing.
    Second half of semester
    Research Paper This assignment requires the student to identify a research question within the confines of the instructor's requirements. The student must then identify and evaluate resources through various annotation and note-taking activities. The student must learn how to organize their paper so that it addresses the research question using well-organized sub-themes. Each of these sub-themes must incorporate the sources in such a way that the student learns to "enter the academic conversation" about their topic in a discourse-appropriate manner. The student learns an extended and detailed process in which to compose higher level research papers with plenty of opportunity for metacognition through an annotated bibliography.
    • Understand that research involves shaping questions and how to go through that process
    • Understand how to choose and evaluate sources that are at the right reading level and appropriate for the topic
    • Understand how annotation is part of the "glue" of the reading-writing process
    • Understand how to identify themes, use their reading observations to develop their ideas related to those themes, and organize them while reading
    • Understand the reading-writing process as it applies to research papers
    • Understand how to work well with sources and the purposes of citation
    • Understand and implement structural and grammatical parallelism
    Weeks 12 - 17

    Describing your Reading-Writing History/Intro Unit

    This unit can also function as a writing sample with the dual purpose of getting to know your students better and evaluating where they are at with their reading and writing skills. This prompt is low stakes and is not meant to be graded, but meeting with a student about it in conference is encouraged. While it is best not to give students any breakdown of the time they should spend in various phases of writing the essay, you may want to tell them when ten or fifteen minutes are left so they know that it's time to proofread their writing. The paper the writer creates can become a starting place from which you and the student can set goals and areas of focus for the semester.

    Consider assigning the reading the evening before the in-class writing so that students can annotate the article. This will help you evaluate their reading skills as well. It is probably best to administer this prompt in class so that you can get an idea of the speed with which a student can process ideas relative ot the task. One hour of writing time should be sufficient to derive how well a student can integrate a text with their own thoughts and develop those integrated ideas on paper in an organized and well-written manner.


    We all have different reading, writing, and educational histories. Considering the ideas in "How Praise Became a Consolation Prize," reflect on how praise, achievement, persistence, and learning strategies have affected your educational history, specifically in the realm of reading and writing.

    This essay should be at least two single-sided pages long and double spaced. Handwriting is acceptable, but be sure to write neatly. Use what you know in terms of working with sources, academic writing style and format, development, and organization when writing your essay. Be sure to give yourself time to proofread it at the end.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.2. Describing Your Reading-Writing History Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Supplemental Instruction Activities
    This is a reading-writing sample for teachers to evaluate at the beginning of semester. The only other beginning-of-semester items that may happen at this point are listed below.

    "How Praise Became a Consolation Prize" (Fry Readability Grade Level: 10)

    None. This is pre-assessment.  
    Create an Understanding of College Expectations College vs. High School Assignments (1.2)
    • Create classroom guidelines together
    • Exercise in section 1.2
    Becoming Part of a College Community Becoming a Successful College Student (1.2) Identify three campus groups you might join.
    • Campus Scavenger Hunt
    • "Field Trip" to Campus Reading-Writing Tutoring Services
    Understand Which Strategies Might Be Most Useful for You Understanding Yourself as a Learner (1.3) Learning Style Quiz Identify reading and writing strategies that might align with your dominant learning styles
    Understanding How to Manage Your Own Time Time Management (1.4) Exercise 1 in section 1.4 Exercise 2 in section 1.4
    Creating a Supportive Classroom Campus Support Networks (1.3.1) Ice breaking/community building activities  

    Rhetorical Analysis

    This unit is requires the student to analyze the moves writers make and how effective those moves are. Because any communication occurs within a rhetorical framework, the materials for this unit can be almost anything and, perhaps, self-selected.


    Meme, Cartoon, Commercial Analysis: 4-5 pages. You will analyze the rhetorical strategies and effectiveness of one or two Education-themed memes, an education-themed cartoon or a commercial of your choice.


    *Show understanding of rhetorical analysis including ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, audience, purpose, tone.

    *Display competence in essay writing: clear, concise thesis statements and well formed paragraphs

    *Claims should be backed up with solid evidence, and should have a rationale

    *Strong introductions and conclusions


    Ethos, Pathos, Logos chart: due

    Thesis and outline: due 

    Paragraph deadlines: due

    Peer Review: due

    Final Draft: due 

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.3 -- Rhetorical Analysis Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading-Writing Connection "The Reading-Writing Connection" (3.1)
    • Have students annotate the reading for particular types of annotation.
    • Do exercise 1 on page 3.1
    Evaluate when and in what environment Ss read and retain information best.
    Public Discourse and Rhetorical Analysis "Writing as Conversation" (2.1), "Rhetorical Analysis" (2.6), and "How to Read Like a Writer" (3.10)
    • In-class activity looking at different types of communications or ads -- audience, purpose, forms
    • Reflection about how you might approach reading after reading "How to Read like a Writer."
    • Exercise 1 in "Rhetorical Analysis"

    Exercise 2 in "Rhetorical Analysis."

    Additional work emphasizing the difference between a writer's ideas and how the writer conveys the ideas in the rhetorical context.

    College expectations "The College Essay Assignment" (4.3)    
    Tone and details in rhetorical analysis "Purpose, Tone, Audience, Content in an Assignment" (4.5) Revise wording in an ad or other communication for a different audience. In class practice/discussion about code-switching.
    Writing Process/Essay Draft "Writing the Essay Draft" (5.3) and "Strategies for Developing Paragraphs" (6.1)
    • In-class group work on how they might organize their essay (on white board or sheets of large paper).
    • Metacognitive component -- students must explain why they believe the organization of their essay will be the most effective for their audience.
    Identifying which details go with which writing component the student is analyzing.
    Essay Writing Skills

    "Developing a Strong, Clear Thesis Statement" (5.1)


    Peer review of thesis statements Work with instructor/tutor
    Proofreading and Pronoun Reference "Proofreading" (7.5) and "Pronoun Reference" (12.11)
    • In class-lesson with pronoun reference once students have a rough draft. Do Exercises 1 and 2 in "Pronoun Reference". Then apply concept to their own draft.
    • Do proofreading backward activity in class on the day their essay is due.

    Ethical Analysis of a Controversial Topic

    This essay can be with instructor or student-chosen materials although it is best if practice is done together with an instructor assigned reading. This assignment will help students think more critically about the world and its problems, give them some language to do so, and help them develop analysis in other essays.


    Essay about Ethical Controversy

    For this option, you will write at least 5 full double-spaced pages minimum*, focused on XXXXXXXX ethical issue. Answer the question, "How Can We Solve the Ethical Dilemma of X?” Use each of the ethical approaches to analyze the problem and help you decide what the best solution to the issue would be. Remember to think about the various viewpoints people hold in regard to the issue and fully develop an explanation about how and why they think about it that way, incorporating evidence that demonstrates their ethical approaches. You may use up to four sources for your essay, including our class reading. Be sure the sources they choose are credible. This essay may be organized in a couple of ways, the first being by ethical perspective, and the second being by topic (into which you would incorporate the various ethical perspectives). Remember that there isn’t one simple answer to this question. You should try to come to what you see as the best solution to the problem in the conclusion of your essay.

    *The 5 pages do not include your Works Cited page, which should be in the same document at the end of the essay.



    "A Framework for Ethical Decision Making"

    Things to remember:

    • Remember to review and apply everything you learned in your first essay and apply your instructors' comments on your final paper to this essay where they might be relevant.
    • Start finding any research you may need for this essay early because the opinions in that research will be the basis for your analysis. Do not just use quotes to support your point. Develop your points from what you observe in your sources.
    • Decide on what factors you believe are the most important. Also decide if you believe one factor is most important.
    • Organize the essay by discussing a number of sub-reasons for XXXX or by ethical approach.
    • Your unified thesis should generalize but clearly connect to each individual paragraph.
    • Be sure to provide a broad context for your reader in the introduction so that it introduces the problem at hand in it's historic and current context.
    • All sources you use in your paper should be cited both in line (MLA style) and on the Works Cited page at the end.
    • Use up to four sources for the project, and remember that you are not just arguing one point of view, but you are explaining various points of view and discussing the drawbacks and strong points of those points of view.
    • All paragraphs need to have stated main ideas (topic sentences).
    • Try to include strong, logic-based transitions to link your paragraphs together.
    • Be sure your explanation is thorough. Don’t make your reader guess the importance.
    • Make sure individual body paragraphs are cohesive.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.4 -- Ethical Analysis Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading-Writing Connection
    • Group activity analyzing various ethical dilemmas using the framework for ethical decision-making. Make posters for class.
    • Class discussions of ethical dilemmas students have found themselves in. Determining whether it truly is an ethical dilemma.
    • Metacognitive activity about which note-taking strategy works best for them given their preferred learning styles.
    Reading-Writing Process
    • Topic sentence peer review
    • "Alternate introductions" and the effect on the reader
    • Pair activity -- what support might best work with your topic sentence
    Revision plan

    Grammar and Style

    • Pair/share activity -- Highlight weak verbs and replace with strong verbs in one paragraph in class.
    • Metacognitive paragraph describing the change in feel of the paragraph.
    • Practice with clause types and punctuation in draft.

    Create an Argument


    Essay about XXXXXX

    For this option, you will write at least 4.5 full pages minimum*, focused on XXXXXXXX. Answer the question “XXXXXXXXXx?” Try to differentiate between the various causes we’ve read about XXXXXXX. Use four to six sources for your essay, two of which must be from class. Be sure they are credible and of different types (see types of support) Focus on XXXXXX so that your essay will stay organized and coherent because you are writing about various reasons and their interactions. Remember that there isn’t one simple answer to this question, and we’ve read about many perspectives. You should argue what you think is the most important or overarching factor.

    *The 4.5 pages do not include your Works Cited page, which should be in the same document at the end of the essay.






    Things to remember:

    • Remember XXXX from your first essay.
    • Decide which articles or movies seem relevant for the essay option you have chosen.
    • Decide on what factors you believe are the most important. Also decide if you believe one factor is most important.
    • Organize the essay by discussing a number of sub-reasons for XXXX.
    • Use the Toulmin method of argumentation for your paper.·
    • Your unified thesis should generalize but clearly connect to each individual paragraph.
    • Be sure to provide a broad context for your reader in the introduction so that it introduces both the concept of XXXXX and scope of XXXXX
    • All sources you use in your paper should be cited both in line (MLA style) and on the Works Cited page at the end.
    • Use at least four sources for the project, and try to use at least two different sources in each body paragraph.
    • All paragraphs need to have stated main ideas (topic sentences).
    • Be sure your explanation is thorough. Don’t make your reader guess the importance.
    • The conclusions can talk about how things could be changed in the future if you would like. Do not just repeat what you've already said.
    • Make sure individual body paragraphs are cohesive.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.5 -- Argumentation Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading-Writing Connection
    • Apply the questioning circles to the common class reading
    • Apply the questioning circle strategy to the readings students found in their research.
    • Discuss the "How to Say Nothing in 500 Words Essay" -- How do you think that may relate to the points in "The Art of Rhetoric"?
    Extra practice about questioning.
    Reading-Writing Process
    • Logical fallacies activity
    • Identifying logical fallacies in the world around us.
    • Group and individual activities with practice with Toulmin argumentation both in reading and in writing their own paragraphs
    • Synthesizing Sources Graphic Organizer
    • Work with a tutor/instructor on identifying the components of Toulmin argumentation and building their own argument.
    • Require some prewriting strategies or metacognitive review of prewriting strategies they've tried.
    Grammar and Style
    • In class practice with their own concession statements
    • Sentence focus exercise in 11.6 in class and application to their drafts.

    Create a Rogerian Counter-Argument with Research

    This assignment helps students understand the oral and written advantages of understanding and being able to explain other people's points of view. This is important both in terms of maintaining a well-functioning society and as a good persuasion technique.


    For this paper, you will argue your point of view about a self-chosen but approved topic using the Rogerian argumentation method. The paper will include at least one full paragraph of well-reasoned counter-argument to one fully developed point of view that you don't agree with. However, the counter-argument cannot constitute most of the paper. You must give fully developed and organized reasons for your own point of view as well. Imagine that the audience for this paper does not share your point of view; you must try to persuade them to change their mind. Therefore, you must follow the Rogerian method of argumentation, which shows that you understand something about their point of view. Your paper must be at least five pages plus a Works Cited page with all relevant information included. You must use at least four different and credible sources.

    Things to remember:

    • Be sure to include your thesis at the beginning of the conclusion. DO NOT include your thesis at the end of the introduction; otherwise, you will give away your point of view, which you don’t want to do if you are trying to convince someone who doesn’t agree with you.
    • The viewpoint that differs from your own should appear after the introduction (body paragraph 1). Your counter-argument should appear in the next paragraph (body paragraph 2). The later body paragraphs focus on developing and supporting your point of view.
    • A concession sentence needs to appear where you switch between the counter-argument and arguing your own point of view.
    • Body paragraphs should be fully developed, as well as organized and focused on your individual reasons for or against your point of view.
    • All sources you use in your paper should be cited both in line (MLA style) and on the Works Cited page at the end. Remember to cite even when you paraphrase.
    • You must include a full counter-argument in your paper. This means using at least one full paragraph to explain another person’s point of view, and then using a whole other paragraph to show why that point of view uses bad logic, bad data, or is misguided in some way.
    • The introduction should move from a general statement about the topic and narrow down to the particular point of view you are going to argue against.

    Notes to instructor:

    Student have trouble with the organization with this paper because they are so used to giving their own opinion without considering others' first. They will need to be guided into this.

    You can choose readings that you would like to focus on in the course, or you can have students practice doing research for this essay. They may need a warning to avoid pro/con websites about particular topics because they don't explain the reasoning behind the particular points of view very well.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.6 -- Rogerian Counter-argument Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading-Writing Connections

    Summarizing (3.9)

    The Art of Rhetoric (2.4)

    Rogerian Argumentation (9.7.1)

    Counter-argument (9.7.3)

    Cause and Effect (9.5)

    Class debate

    Summarization demonstration

    Act out trying to convince your parents to let you drive the car

    Main Ideas and Supporting Details (3.8)

    Cause and effect wording and identification

    Reading-Writing Process

    Outlining (4.7)

    Evaluating and Working with Sources (10.5)

    Review a sample essay Post-outlining (review 7.1)
    Grammar and Style

    Relative Clauses (11.12)

    Sentence Variety (11.11)

    Grammatical Parallelism (12.21)

    Review Introductions and Conclusions

    In-class practice with relative clauses once students have done a rough draft.

    Same with sentence variety

    Capitalization (11.3)

    Spelling (12.2)

    Verbs and Verb Tense (12.6)

    Modal auxiliaries (12.7)

    Other Verb-Like Words and Their Functions (12.8)

    Re-purposing a Message for a New Audience


    Using one of the topics and messages (thesis statements) you have previously written about this semester, choose an audience and purpose that is different. This may mean that the form, tone, organization, and amount of information will likely differ from your original piece of writing. It's even possible that most of the document may be more visual than verbal (for instance, an essay that is turned into a graphic novel for a different audience). Alternatively, you may choose a visual or written communication by someone else and re-cast it for a new audience and purpose. You will need to write a proposal for your project for your instructor to approve before beginning on your project. In addition, you will write a two-page explanation of the rhetorical choices you made when creating your new messaging. You will be graded both on the detail and depth of the explanation, the number of types of changes you identify, and the execution of those changes in your new communication piece.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.7 -- Re-purposing Your Message Unit Plan

    Topics Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading-Writing Connections

    Review Rhetorical Analysis (2.6)

    Discussions of Genre/Genre Activity

    Read and do exercises in Incorporating Effective Visuals into a Presentation (8.2)

    Read Narration, Description and Classification (9.2) in preparation for examining what needs to change from the original and describing what you did

    Extra observation activities

    Reading-Writing Process Metacognitive Writing about What Student Feels They Need to Do to Improve their Writing  
    Grammar and Style Read and do exercises in Punctuation and Style (11.2). Apply to draft

    Apostrophes-Possession and Contractions (12.12)

    Adjectives and Adverbs (12.14)

    Research Paper (I-Search)

    The research paper support in this e-book views a research paper as an exploration, led by the student, within very wide parameters. Thus, the process in the supporting documentation is detailed and includes many exercises.


    This is the culminating project of the semester. In this project, you will develop a central question; find appropriate secondary sources, which you will read and annotate extensively (see below); conduct primary research about your topic (optional – extra credit if documented); identify themes within all of your sources and develop your thoughts about the sources and the themes; and write an 7 – 8+ page literature review style research paper (not including the Works Cited page) about your research question. Your goal is to synthesize all the information you gather and read so that you are combining and discussing the research and building on it, all the while citing appropriately, to answer your research question.

    Central Question: For your research, you will develop a central question, which is what you are trying to answer with your research. You should not know the answer to your central question before you begin your research. Your central question should begin with the word "how" or "why." Your central question must be approved by your instructor before you proceed, and you may not change the central question without approval.

    Things to remember:

    • Research papers are basically an extended essay – with an introduction, an extended body, and a conclusion. The body may be broken apart into different sections with headers.
    • All sources you use in your paper should be cited both in line (MLA style) and on the Works Cited page at the end.
    • Identify themes/topics that the various sources write about. Compare and contrast them; discuss whether you think the arguments are strong or not. Think about whether they are forgetting to consider anything. Group themes and topics together when you write about them.
    • All paragraphs must have topic sentences.
    • The introduction of a research paper may focus on the history of a topic, explain a current controversy, define relevant terms, and introduce any seminal (foundational) research that has been done on the topic that you will rely on for your research.
    • Don’t tell your reader what you’re going to do in your essay – just DO it – in an organized way, of course.
    • Conclusions of research papers generally point out what research still needs to be done, what would be the benefits of finding out the answers to the research in the future, etc.

    Other important points to remember:

    • Do not discuss your research process in the essay.
    • You may include up to three labeled and numbered figures or tables that are no larger than one-half page.
    • Be sure to follow the advice and guidelines from our previous essays here – have fully developed ideas with topic sentences and explain and support them, cite and paraphrase texts appropriately, and proofread.
    • Research papers and literature reviews can be overwhelming tasks, so it’s good to put yourself together a plan with deadlines to accomplish and review the strategies and requirements for previous essays, as well as the comments on previous essays.

    ** IMPORTANT: Go into your research paper with an open mind. If you must start writing before you begin your research, do it only for brainstorming and to get yourself to think about the topic. Do NOT write your research paper and then go out and hunt for research to fill in the blanks. This is not in the proper spirit of academic inquiry.**

    Rather, start with your central question, develop key words for your source search, and then start reading, taking notes, summarizing, and thinking about how the various ideas you have been reading about fit together.

    Unit Plan

    Table 14.2.8 -- Research Paper Unit Plan

    Topics Readings Activities Additional Scaffolding
    Reading Writing Connections
    • Annotated bibliography
    • Develop a research proposal
    How to critique
    Reading-Writing Process
    • Do the exercises as they relate to your research paper as you read through the readings.
    • Checking your paraphrasing using plagiarism software
    • Help student create a step-by-step plan and figure out self-rewards for meeting deadlines.
    • Extra practice with synthesizing
    Grammar and Style
    1. Appositives, Adjective Clauses, and Verbals (11.8)
    2. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers (11.10)
    Do exercises in the readings about style and then practice them on the students' research paper drafts Extra Grammar Practice with Verbs (12.23)

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    This page most recently updated on June 26, 2020.