Example: William Spengemann's English 5
Professor Emeritus William Spengemann believes that the primary difficulty in teaching first-year writing courses is moving young writers from narrative (with which they are generally comfortable) to exposition (which they find difficult). To accomplish this aim, Professor Spengemann takes students through a sequence of rhetorical modes, beginning with narrative and ending with argument. As they move through the assignments, students learn to rely less on chronological organization and to organize their essays logically.
Professor Spengemann uses one book, Paradise Lost, as the basis for eight assignments:
- Narrative: Students are asked to recount the history of the world according to the "arguments" that precede each book of Paradise Lost. To complete this assignment, students must extract the information they need and arrange it chronologically to explain the history of the fall of Adam and Eve. Note that this narrative is not a personal story but is entirely text-based. Still, it requires students to tell a story—something that they are generally comfortable doing.
- Description: Students are asked to describe Hell or Paradise so as to convey some single idea. Students have to consider how to arrange their description so that every detail serves that one idea.
- Combination of Narration and Description: Students are asked to narrate Satan's flight from Hell to Paradise as Satan experiences it. This assignment raises the questions of position and point of view: Where is Satan when he tells his story? When does Satan tell his story? Years after his adventure? Or just after? How do these choices influence point of view? And how does point of view then influence the entire story? Students are clearly being asked to consider questions appropriate not only to narrative, but to analysis as well.
- Process Analysis: Students are asked in this assignment to describe the creation of the world. Process analysis is considered the first of the four expository forms in that it still relies on chronology as an organizing principle. However, process analysis carries students one step beyond narrative in that they must consider the ways in which motive, intention, plan, agents, tools, materials, and procedures condition one another and conspire to determine the product.
- Cause and Effect: Students are asked to consider and then to describe the immediate consequences of the fall. In this assignment, students consider not only what happens, but why those things happen, and how certain actions lead logically to certain consequences.
- Comparison and Contrast: Students are invited to compare any two of the following characters: Adam, Eve, Satan, and The Son. Here the comfort of the narrative form has vanished completely; students must seek out logical ways of organizing their observations regarding the characters being compared.
- Definition: Students are asked to define freedom in Paradise Lost. Throughout their reading, students will have been collecting passages concerning freedom. Now they must abstract from these passages a single definition of freedom that will accommodate them all. The task of organization here is purely expository.
- Argument: As their final assignment, students construct an argument for or against the use of Paradise Lost in first-year writing classes, using the techniques of narrative, description, and exposition they have learned in order to make their case reasonable, authoritative, and persuasive.
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