October 2010 Archives

What is a misconception?
I have no idea what your favorite flavor of ice cream, but that's not a misconception, because I have a blank in the space where that information should be. It's a misconception if, because one day I bumped into you while you were carrying a bowl of mint chocolate chip ice cream, I wrongly believe it's your favorite flavor. In the example I'm using, we'll say you were holding someone else's ice cream. I had a perfectly good reason for assuming you liked mint chocolate chip, but I didn't have a crucial piece of information that you do have.

I might likewise have a good reason to believe that you like vampire stories, but you wouldn't really correct my misconception if you listed all the things you hate about vampires. When you correct my misconception, you focus on giving an alternate explanation for the evidence that I used to come to my perfectly reasonable -- but ultimately faulty -- conclusion.

Brainstorming exercise.
1) List examples of misconceptions.
2) Choose one, and associate it with a specific source. ("Some people" (as in "some people might say...") is not a specific source. "My cousin Shirley says..." is a specific source.)

My wife believes that sending children out into the cold will give them an infection. My wife would say that I had the misconception that sending a child out without a coat on a chilly day has nothing to do with whether they catch a cold. She would use as evidence in her favor specific memories of a time a child 1) went outside without a coat and 2) caught a cold. I would mention that our children also catch colds during the summer, when they never need to wear a coat, and in the deep winter, when they always wear a coat, and I would point out to her that the incidents of catching a cold aren't strictly related to incidents of going outside on a chilly day without a coat.

Words like "although" and "because" and "nevertheless" -- words that connect chains of thoughts in complex, logical ways.

I'm about to suggest a formula -- and remember, this is just a tool that you can use to make sure you are ready to start writing. Please don't just fill in the blanks and call it a day -- remember everything else you've learned about showing instead of telling, surprising the reader, using powerful verbs, avoiding filler, and going in depth with a small set of carefully-chosen examples, rather than giving a long list of the kinds of things that would "always" happen.

Okay, here's the formula, which is just a tool to help you make sure you are ready to start writing.

A specific, trustworthy, well-meaning source says X because of factors A, B, and C; however, source X is wrong, because D, E, and F.

"Some of my friends" is only barely better than "some people," but you don't necessarily have to say "Sally Smith of 123 Maple Street says...." You can say "A cousin of mine..." or "A guy I met on a bus last week said..."

My point is that I want you to write about a specific expression of the misconception -- some action or speech or writing that you witnessed that SHOWS the misconception in action.

You don't need exactly three reasons. Your paragraph could change that formula, so that you say "X is true because of D, E, and F, even though person Y says X is false because of A, B, and C."

Avoid simplistic, one-sided statements such as "Hitler was evil" or "Water is wet," because there's nothing controversial or complex about those ideas.

Hitler and water may be perfectly fine as TOPICS, if you can find a more nuanced STATEMENT -- the actual claim that you want to make.


I recently spoke with a student who kept referring to her rough drafts as errors. "I did that assignment wrong," she said. "I can never figure out the right way to do it." She was probably thinking of high school in-class essays, where the student's job is to spit back as many facts and vocabulary terms as possible, and where the teacher is willing to give points for almost any sign of cleverness, memory, or a willingness to apply the material to the student's own life. But a rough draft isn't meant to be perfect. The reason the portrait hanging in the art gallery looks so life-like is because the artist made numerous charcoal sketches, trying out and rejecting many different possibilities, before settling on the best pose. Your rough draft is a dry run; it helps you and your teacher see what strengths you can build upon, and what needs more work. Just as a lightening rod keeps the house safe, a good rough draft lets you channel the flow of your teacher's criticism, so you can get that feedback early, while there's still time to learn from it (and revise accordingly).

Note that the paragraph above does not follow the rigid pattern of the formula I suggested, but it should be fairly easy for a reader to fill it in.

To keep this example under 200 words, I had to cut this example:

The reason a summer blockbuster is paced so well, is that the director used a storyboard - a series of rough sketches to illustrate the script, rather like a comic book - in order to predict how much time and money to invest in crafting each scene.

Should I have kept the film example instead? I'm not sure. Now that I look at what I just wrote, I wonder if instead of comparing a teacher's criticism to a lightening strike (which is certainly how it feels sometimes), I should instead try to emphasize the idea that the rough draft is like the key that Ben Franklin sent up on his kite. He wanted that key to be struck by lightening, so that he could attract a bolt and learn from it. In fact, his experiment led him to invent the lightening rod, but I couldn't work that detail into that paragraph without going way over the word count.

So... it seems I've got more to say about the lightening example. Should I expand it, cutting something else to make more room? That's what writing a rough draft is all about -- it gives you the opportunity to decide what you can change, in order to make your good ideas better.

I think my paragraph would be stronger if I cut a few more words, in order to make room for some final statement that brought that specific student back into the story. I could do that by changing the last sentence so that it begins like this:

When I see that student again, I will tell her that, just as a lightening rod protects the house...

Due Today:

Essay 3 Draft

A draft of a 2-3 page persuasive essay. Upload to Turnitin.com.

Demonstrate your ability to use some combination of the rhetorical triangle (ethos, pathos, and logos) to support a non-obvious claim -- something that a reasonable person might disagree with.

Recall also the strategies we have explored lately, that involve actually listening to and using someone else's viewpoint (the creative writing "tandem story" in-class exercise) and moving from hot-button bumper-sticker slogans to a more complex, subtle exploration of the issues that cause people to disagree.

Nobody disagrees that "School lunches are an important part of healthy nutrition," but there is likely to be a divided opinion on "Because school lunches are such an important part of healthy nutrition, all public school students should purchase their meals from the school cafeteria."

Remember also to avoid simply making claims about the way things should be, or would be if you were in charge of the world.

  • Students should stop bullying each other.
  • Prices at the bookstore should be lower.
  • People should stop judging each other based on their skin color.
It would be very hard to find rational arguments on the "con" side of any of these claims, so these would not be good thesis statements for this paper.

But consider instead, "Teachers who act as if bullying and being bullied are normal parts of growing up, and who decline to get involved when bullying takes place, fail to secure the kind of safe, comfortable learning environment that all children require in order to thrive."  This sentence doesn't come right out and TELL the reader "Bullying is bad" -- instead it makes an ethical and logical argument, equating a teacher's acceptance of bullying with a teacher's failure to teach.


Rather than simply stating beliefs and opinions, back up your claims with specific evidence. Avoid "Some people say..." or "It is usually the case that..."  It's enough to SHOW me one specific incident you witnessed, and draw appropriate conclusions from that incident. (Just because you saw one person do this one thing does not mean that all people do it, but you can at least share what you observed, on this one occasion, when this one thing happened.)

This class does not require any outside research; you are free to choose a topic that you can support with your own personal experience and common sense. However, if you should choose a paper topic that involves statistics, current events, or other specialized knowledge, please see SF Writer, Chapter 27, MLA documentation, for the proper citation method used in basic composition classes.

See also Chapter 18, "Strategies of Argument."


Class does not meet. You will get credit for attendance class if:

1) You submit a draft of Paper 3 to Turnitin.com, before the deadline


2) You schedule an office visit, by Friday, 29 Oct.


3) You actually attend that office visit, by Friday 29 Oct. (Any cancellations should be treated as an emergency absence request.)

On your own time, before class, complete the "Midterm Homework" assignment in MyCompLab.  Open book, open notes, no time limit.
Assigned Text:

SFW 12 c-e: Paragraphs

Logos = Rational Appeal (the actual idea you are communicating)
  • specific cases / anecdotes
  • analogies ("Telling a devout Muslim woman to take off her headscarf is like telling a Southern Baptist woman to parade around in nothing but a thong.")
  • facts and statistics

Pathos = Emotional Appeal (gives your message force)

  • higher emotions: love, justice, empathy, responsibility (demonstrate how your argument arises from these noble feelings)
  • lower emotions: anger, greed, fear, revenge (avoid these in your argument; if you can show your opponent's argument is driven by these emotions, you can make your argument more convincing)

Ethos = Ethical Appeal (establishes you as a trustworthy, informed, well-intentioned writer)

  • fairness to all sides (including the "con" side)
  • credibility (speaking from personal experience)
  • reliable sources (you have heard from specific people with direct experience; you're not relying on what "some people say")
  • you respect the opinions of others (you emphasize a solution, rather than complaining about the way things are; you take the high ground, and don't seem threatened by admitting when other people have a good point)
Come to class prepared to discuss:

  1. What is your topic for Essay 3?
  2. Can you make your point without relying on outside statistics?
    I don't mean to ban all outside references, but I will ask you to approve them with me beforehand, since "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."
  3. What is the counter-argument?
    (Most people in the world are not evil; they think of themselves as good, rational people, who have weighed all the evidence and come up with the best answer. If their answer makes your skin crawl, or makes you want to scream, it's worth exploring. Seek out and ask a real, live human being who disagrees with you, listen to what they say, and fairly record what they think the issues are. You can still follow up with your own opinion, but it will be an informed opinion.)
  4. Are there any attacks in your essay?
    1. Unanswered questions ("What do they think they are doing?" "Do they really think that this will work?"  "I don't understand why anyone would think that way.")
      Question like this are great at riling up people who already agree with you, but in an academic setting, admitting that you are uninformed about your topic ("I don't understand why...") is not a persuasive approach.)
    2. Biased language ("When wrinkled old hypocrites band together to crush the innocent pleasures of fun-loving youths..." "If irresponsible hooligans who think of nothing but today's illicit pleasure continue to disrespect the values that made America great...")
      Your task in this assignment is not to "win" the argument by making your opponent look evil or ignorant. Rather, your goal is to demonstrate that you can see multiple sides of a complex issue, including the best arguments in favor of a position you reject, and the weaknesses of the position you favor, while still taking a clear stand on that issue.
Beware of Hot-Button Topics

If your opinion fits on a bumper sticker, leave it there.

A three-page essay that chooses one or the other side of a long-standing division (such as abortion, gay marriage, or the drinking age) is not going to change anyone's mind.

Of much more value is an unpredictable essay:
My gay friend convinced me to be pro-life, because he pointed out that if scientists can isolate a genetic connection to homosexuality, couples who don't want a gay child may decide to abort a gay fetus. Initially I thought he was overreacting, but he said...
I'm an animal lover who is also an animal eater. My friend Sally is a strict vegan, who says I'm a hypocrite because of X and Y, but I respond to X by saying A and B, and I respond to Y by saying C and D.
(The examples I've provided are a little stiff in terms of phrasing, but my point at this stage is to emphasize the kinds of ideas that make good papers.)
Due Today:


Describe a change.

It can be personal, political, academic, athletic... any sort of change. Any change has a phase before the change began, while the change was taking place, and after the change is complete -- though you don't need to write one sentence on each, and you might want to begin after the change has taken place, and then flash back to the "before."

Every change takes place over a certain amount of time, but you may wish to rush through the change and focus on the results, or you may wish to emphasize the time span by taking the reader through the chronological steps.

Whatever you choose, remember to focus on one thing, rather than a list. Try to SHOW, not TELL, just as you do for all your other assignments.

Persuasion involves taking a clear position on a controversial subject -- not just a shocking one, but rather something that rational people can and do disagree about. You will presenting your best case for your position, and address good arguments against your position.

This means presenting evidence.

In this class, I do not expect you to cite government studies, or academic articles, or scientific reports. Instead, I ask you to chiefly to refer to your own experience. You will SHOW, but no longer chiefly for the purpose of encouraging me to feel your emotions; instead, you will SHOW in order to tip an uncommitted reader over to your side.

Your task is not to belittle or insult "the other side." If you honestly cannot think of a reason why any rational human being would differ from your opinion, I suggest you choose another topic. You might be too close to this one.

Avoid peppering an invisible opponent with questions you don't plan to answer. Avoid whining. It's very easy to be AGAINST something... it's much more challenging (and more intellectually valuable) to argue FOR something.

Assigned Text:

SFW 12a-b: Paragraphs

Due Today:

Essay 2 Reflection

What are the most important changes that you made to Paper 2? Include specific examples (quoting from the "before" and "after" passages).

Length: 100-150 words.

Submit: Upload to Turnitin.com, by 11am Oct 14.

Your Essay 2 revision will be complete, and I will be able to start evaluating it, when you have uploaded this assignment to Turnitin.com.

Due Today:

Essay 2 Revision

In-class Activity

Grammar Mid-test

In class.

Due Today:


In a single paragraph, explain a difficult concept for a reader who does not share your specific knowledge of a subject. Do not spend time offering dictionary definitions of words anybody could look up, and do not repeat lists of procedures or data that somebody else has created (such as a recipe, or the parts of an orchestra, or the rules for playing a sport).

I would rather you explain why you like a particular food (perhaps something exotic or unpopular), or why you love/hate your cousin Beatrice's tea parties (explaining in detail the formal customs and rituals of a tea party).

This assignment asks you to spend 200 words, SHOWING me a single incident (such as single time you prepared/served/ate the food in question, or a single tea party), with specific and vivid details that help you to make your point.

Document your progress in MyCompLab.

An informal statement, explaining your recent progress in MyCompLab. (100-150 words. Submit to Turnitin.com.)

  1. What recent evidence can you provide that you are investing effort into the MyCompLab material? (This answer is advance work on the MyCompLab section of your Final Self-Reflection Essay, which is the most important paper you will write in LA100.)
  2. Give at least one recent example of how the work you have put into MyCompLab has improved your grammar skills in this class.
  3. Does the time you are investing into MyCompLab accurately reflect the importance of MyCompLab to your grade? Consider the way MyCompLab affects your final score, and assess the way you have prioritized it so far.
    • The MyCompLab pretest (taken in the beginning of term, 5%), the post-test (due near the end of term, 5%) and the excercises (the score will be recorded near the end of term, 10%), MyCompLab directly accounts for 20% of your grade.
    • Because the ILP and Final Self-Assessment Essay are also evaluated in part based on your discussion of the MyCompLab portion of the course, that means that MyCompLab is part of your score for another 25% of your grade.
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