ENGL 103 syllabus

As adapted from the Council of Writing Program Administrators (2014) and the NIU “English 103/203/204 Rhetoric and Composition Outcomes” (Northern Illinois University Department of English, n.d.), below are class goals for a planned section of English 103, ranked more or less in order of priority. During English 103, “Rhetoric and Composition I,” the student should:

  1. Develop flexible strategies for reading, drafting, reviewing, collaborating, revising, rewriting, rereading, and editing
  2. Practice writing as a recursive process, that is, as an ongoing process that allows writers to later invent and rethink as they revise their work
  3. Experience the collaborative and social aspects of writing processes as well as learn to give and to act on productive feedback to works in progress
  4. Gain experience reading and composing in various genres to understand how genre conventions shape and are shaped by readers’ and writers’ practices and purposes
  5. Understand why genre conventions for structure, paragraphing, tone, and mechanics vary
  6. Read a diverse range of texts, attending especially to relationships between assertion and evidence, to patterns of organization, to the interplay between verbal and nonverbal elements, and to how these features function for different audiences and situations
  7. Use strategies—such as interpretation, synthesis, response, and critique—to compose texts that integrate the writer’s ideas with those from appropriate sources
  8. Develop knowledge of linguistic structures, including grammar, punctuation, and spelling, through practice in composing and revising
  9. Reflect on their own progress with regard to the above goals

The resulting syllabus – for a fifteen-week course – takes the shape of a series of modules. (In the table of assignments and activities included in the embedded document, MYHAS stands for Make Your Home among Strangers [Crucet 2015], the common-read text at Northern Illinois University in 2017-18.)

There are three modules on rhetorical features; three modules on practical skills needed to translate ideas into text (generating ideas, sharing with and evaluating peer-group members, and shaping written discourse); and four modules on skills in revision (critical self-evaluation of writing and assorted techniques at the paragraph, sentence, and word levels). Roughly, the skills-based models follow rhetorical concepts presented in Lindemann 2001.

The design is process-oriented and leads to two completed, presentable papers – a revised narrative essay and, the student’s choice, a revised persuasive essay or rhetorical analysis of Make Your Home among Strangers. The course also aims to develop in the student a “portfolio consciousness” by having students create written artifacts throughout – responses, journal entries, sketches, crónicas, diaries, observations, mini-ethnographies, social-media posts, and entries to discussion fora. These artifacts, tied to the common-read as well as the students’ own experience, are intended to generate content for the major paper assignments: rhetorical analysis, narrative-essay revision, persuasive essay, and final reflection. Roughly speaking, the course is front-loaded with practical skills and rhetorical concepts; the final seven to eight weeks are meant to address the art of revisioning and, thus, to offer support for the reworking and polishing of two major papers.

Thematically, inspired by the character Lizet in Make Your Home among Strangers, the emphasis throughout will be transitional identities – in Lizet’s case, that constitutes, at eighteen, moving from a multilingual Cuban-American neighborhood in Miami to a posh private college. Related topics, to be the basis for personal written artifacts, as well as subjects for debate and discussion leading to the persuasive essay, could be border crossing, culture shock, language barriers (including social-media-based, oral, and formal academic discourses), emergent sexuality, and others.

In addition to Crucet’s book, reading will come from previously published NIU student compilations and online sources. The latter will be mined for contemporary material related to the transitional-identity theme. These article clusters – on immigration debates, language policies, the right to speak, LGBT rights, and so on – will provide background for the persuasive-essay assignment.

The class will be loosely organized, relationally, around small-group peer-review collaboratives. The aim is to create the habit, for each major assignment and at other times, of sharing unfinished written work with an audience other than the instructor, receiving feedback, processing feedback, and lending constructive comments and support to fellow student writers. Having the same group configurations for peer review is meant to routinize the process and, ideally, to establish trust and comfort.

With regard to student evaluation, below is the planned distribution for each assignment:

Personal narrative 1 | paper 15%
Rhetorical analysis | paper 215%
Personal narrative (revision) | paper 310%
Persuasive essay | paper 415%
Second revision (analysis or persuasive) | paper 520%
Paper portfolio, e-portfolio & final reflection paper | paper 625%
Class/lab preparation and participation10%

Note that the largest single chunk is a longitudinal assessment. Twenty-five percent of the student’s grade will be based on the artifacts compiled – both material and electronic – throughout the fifteen weeks. (In addition, each major assignment will be submitted with source artifacts – pre-writing, notes, research, etc. – and will be assessed in part on the quantity and quality of experimentation.) Artifacts will document the student’s creative process; thus, they will consist of sketches and freewriting mentioned above. The aim here is both to highlight the iterative nature of the composing process (like composing a life)1 and to give students self-satisfaction from compiling authentic testimony to their generative labors.


1. So says Gloria Anzaldúa: “The art of composition, whether you are composing a work of fiction or your life, or whether you are composing reality, always means pulling off fragmented pieces and putting them together into a whole that makes sense” (Ikas 2012 [1999], 276–77).


Council of Writing Program Administrators. 2014. “WPA Outcomes Statement for First-Year Composition (3.0), Approved July 17, 2014.” Council of Writing Program Administrators (WPA).

Crucet, Jennine Capó. 2015. Make Your Home among Strangers. New York: Picador.

Ikas, Karen. (1999) 2012. “Interview with Gloria Anzaldúa.” Pp. 267–84 in Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza, by Gloria Anzaldúa. 25th anniversary 4th ed. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.

Lindemann, Erika, with Daniel Anderson. 2001. A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers. 4th ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Northern Illinois University Department of English. N.d. “English 103/203/204 Rhetoric and Composition Outcomes.” Northern Illinois University.