Sample Assignments

Poem or Short-Short
This assignment asks students to develop their own self-reflexive creative work (either a poem or short-short) after reading works by local creative writers and articles on craft. As an introductory assignment, the poem or short-short transitions students from personal to public writing; this assignment requires students to both write for self-discovery and submit their work—via workshop and peer review—to the scrutiny of their peers. In keeping with the syllabus approach, this assignment stresses the ideas of revision and craft. Students will become “working writers,” focusing on details, diction, and the creation of meaning.

Book Review
This minor assignment asks students to create a book review based on one of the works (short story or poem by a local or visiting creative writer) read for class. Students will read sample books reviews—ranging from the New York Times review to local magazine or newspaper reviews—and will use these reviews to consider their own inherent rhetorical situation. This assignment is an excellent tool for teaching audience awareness, purpose, and context. An alternative to this assignment would be to ask students to create two short reviews of the same piece of work, each embedded in an entirely different rhetorical situation.

Advertisement Analysis
Students are asked to locate and write a three page critique on advertisements that share a common theme, whether that be product, target demographic, or some other sociological connection. To give students the necessary tools to complete the assignment, the class will read Marjorie Perloff’s heralded essay on the form, “Against Transparency: From the Radiant Cluster to the Word as Such,” as well as other essays on advertisements and visual rhetoric. Furthermore, craft elements such as color, repetition, alignment, font, and contrast will be discussed in terms of movie posters and album covers to help students get a handle on how each compositional element contributes to the overall significance and purpose of a visual rhetoric form with which they are already familiar. The analyses are graded based on clarity of purpose and awareness of the discourse’s craft elements.

The profile assignment is particularly useful under this syllabus approach in a unit focusing on visiting writers and scholars.  Students will be asked to attend a reading or event featuring the visiting writer and write a short profile based on their observations. This assignment should also incorporate small-scale research into the writer’s life and works, and it could be useful as a precursor to a larger research project.

Student Handout

Visual Argument
The visual argument assignment asks students re-envision their research paper thesis as a multimedia project, incorporating the ideas of Visual Rhetoric and C.R.A.P.

Cover Art C.R.A.P.
This assignment asks students to engage in Visual Rhetoric and the principles of C.R.A.P. (Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, and Proximity). Students will pick a book from one of the works read in class during the semester and re-design (and re-think) the cover art. This assignment could be a multimedia project in which students actually create their new book cover using PowerPoint, Photoshop, or a similar program, or the project could take the form of a short, analytical essay. Students will be forced to make decisions based on the convergence of meaning and design, and they will begin to make connections between the physicality of written and visual compositions.

Literacy Narrative
This assignment asks students to examine their own experiences with reading and writing and to translate their experiences into a vivid, detailed, and descriptive story. This introductory, informal narrative allows students to explore the line between public and private writing, and it forces them to consider what their writing reveals about themselves. By narrating a significant instance in their “literacy life,” students recognize that they do indeed have experiences with composition that they can eitherbuild on or overcome.

Literary Analysis
This assignment is particularly useful within this syllabus approach when it is connected with a literary text written by a visiting author to the Purdue campus. Students are able to read an excellent literary text, compose an essay that is investigative and argumentative, and then, after becoming familiar with the text, attend a reading or discussion by the visiting author. This assignment allows students to see writing (and writers) as something tangible, something worthy of investing their efforts in. The Literary Analysis can also be used as a precursor to a larger research project; it allows students small-scale practice in the art of incorporating quotations and formatting citations.

Visual Poetry
After reading poetry by several writers at Purdue and discussing the symbolism, with help from Tony Hoagland’s essay, “Metaphor,”  and prosody of those poems, the class works in groups to create a multi-paneled “comic” for one of the poems. This, however, is merely a trial-run exercise for the students’ own, personal visual/textual poem. By combining textual and visual components in a paneled construction, students can create dynamic, poetic experiences where the necessary tension does not have to come from the writing itself but from the relationship between the text and the images. The idea behind this project is to make the creation of poetry less intimidating. Students are often overly sensitive to their predicament as novices in this form and feel uncomfortable expressing themselves in it. But because they haven’t had the experience to develop a dynamic “voice,” does not mean that they cannot create sophisticated compositions that utilize the fundamental poetic elements of tone, imagery, and symbolism in a visual/textual composition.  This approach takes the weight off the writing itself and allows the student to express his or her self through imagery, symbolism, and textual expression. The projects are not evaluated on how the author’s apparent talent but on whether the author shows a self-awareness of the poetic elements used in the composition.

Student Handout:

Essay Deconstruction
One of the major elements of successful academic writing is clarity. Making the purpose of an essay clear doesn’t just require the writer to relate his or her thoughts through understandable and fluent sentences, it requires the writer to construct an essay that guides its reader through numerous points via an easily discernable construction.  Beginning writers often skip the step where a clear outline of several points that comprise the overall argument is identified. Beginning writers often assume that as long as the words end up on the page, the meanings are there for the audience to gather.  Yet, this is not the manner in which scholars, we hope, present their information. Thus, students are asked to find an essay written by a professor at Purdue that works in a field of interest to them. After reading the essay, the students create an extensive outline that follows the main argument through its various points and sub-points.  The students then do the same for another essay provided in class. After both outlines are complete, students will write a single page reflection on the two essays and their experiences with unpacking the essays’ construction. Students are asked to identify what made their job as a reader easier, at what point(s) did they lose track of the author’s argument and why do they think that happened. The goal is for students to begin to recognize that sophisticated writing of all types and genres have underlying frames on which they are built. Once students identify these constructions, they can begin to see how to use them in their own work. They can see what is successful, where others have faltered, and, ultimately, that all writers must actively build a composition with the intention of providing a rhetorical space the audience can successfully navigate.

Student Handout