Writing Prompts: Understanding what the teacher wants (3/3)

This post is a continuation of Writing Prompts: Understanding what the teacher wants (1/3) and Writing Prompts: Understanding what the teacher wants (2/3)

Third Example: Literary Analysis/Response

Dr. Koppy provided this example of a paper that is meant to combine literary analysis done in class with your own understanding of and critique of those materials. In this case, the writing prompt is in the first sentence (see below).

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Let’s take this first sentence apart a bit, though, because there’s a lot going on here.

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Thesis-driven essay: your essay should contain a strong thesis, which means that it makes a clear claim that is backed up by the essay that you write.

“Responds to the literature and the secondary materials:” what does it mean to “respond to” something? In laymen’s terms, it means that you have something to say in return to something. Someone writes you an email; you respond to it. In this case, the exchange is a bit more esoteric: imagine that you are having a “conversation” with what you’ve read in class–in this case, comic books. Look at the sample topics in items 1-4 at the bottom of the assignment. Number 3 asks if humanity really needs superheros, and then contrast Lex Luther’s option with that of Superman’s. What do you think?

Now here’s the catch, though. This is an essay and you are supposed to respond to the literature, so you can’t just write one or two lines about what you think about heros. Your job is to ground your opinion in the course material, using examples from that literature, calling on characters, and perhaps even linking those fictional examples with real life. One thing you should almost certainly do is write about how and why Lex Luther and Superman come to their differing opinions. Lex Luther, for example, like many comic book villains, has been harmed by a superhero. On the other hand, Superman can hardly stop being “super” as long as he is on Earth; therefore to deny the need for a superhero would be to deny himself. Now, insert yourself into this discussion. What do you think and why?

“The literature:” also sometimes called the primary source, this refers to the original work of poetry, literature, philosophy, theory, and so on. If you have read The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, for example, then you have read a primary source. Secondary sources are written about the primary source. If your textbook, for example, tells you about The Communist Manifesto instead of you reading it directly, then your textbook is a secondary source. For this assignment, then, you are to deal both with the primary and secondary sources.

Notice that the assignment says that outside sources are not required. This point is worth a few more words. For this assignment, Dr. Koppy clearly wants to see the student’s intellect at work. In the past, I have had students who were insecure about their abilities and, instead of showing me what they had learned, decided to do an internet search to see what others have said. Those students did cite the sources that they used, so they didn’t cheat, per se . . . but they also violated the spirit of the assignment. Their grades suffered.

Assessments–and papers are assessments–are intended to be a measure of what you are learning in a class. It’s better by far to write a less-than-perfect paper that shows your teacher your thinking on a topic than to use what someone else has written, even if it sounds great.

This assignment asks for citations, which we will cover in a later blog post. For a little help on page length and so on, see How to read an assignment sheet and rubric and How long does my paper have to be?.

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