Open to: Grades 7 - 12
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required
Challenge Level: College freshman
Formats: Session Based. See calendar for session dates and application deadlines
Recommended School Credit: One-half academic year
Course Length: 20 weeks (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Spring); 12 weeks (Early Summer)
Course Code: IWR3
This most popular writing course uses the personal essay to explore narration, description, and reflection. Students learn to use vivid descriptions, specific details, figurative language, and variety in sentence structure. Students experiment with techniques for organizing paragraphs, transitioning between ideas, and composing effective beginnings and endings. Voice (consistent diction and psychology) and its interaction with audience and purpose are also examined.
In response to student essays, instructors comment on form, style, and content. Critiques explain successes and delineate problems needing further work. Sentence-level issues of grammar are not the main focus of instruction. Rather, instructors help students understand that the conventions of Standard Written English are part of what, for many audiences, marks a careful, learned writer, but that writing is always much more than that. Instructors introduce methods of revision, and several assignments are expected to be intensive revisions of essays previously critiqued.
This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.
Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations.
Note: Crafting the Essay challenges all CTY students in grades 7 thru 12, including those who already receive high marks in English literature or Language Arts classes.
Skilled, careful writers follow the conventions of Standard Written English, but writing is much more than mere adherence to convention. Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning. Writing courses are not remedial. Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English.
Note: This describes Crafting the Essay - Independent. Students interested in interacting with CTY peers should visit: Crafting the Essay - Peer Review. Students interested in flexible pacing should review the individually paced course description. Each course format covers the same concepts, but differ in approach.
The independent experience uses a web-based course management system that delivers assignments, receives finished essays, and returns instructor critiques. Students and instructors use the course management system's messaging module and email to communicate. The independent experience does not include peer review workshops. It is not necessary for students and instructors to be online at the same time, as most communication is done via writing. This format is best for independent, well organized students whose other commitments limit their available time.
Integral to all formats is a substantial metacognitive dialogue with the instructor about writing.
Ten lessons are available. Each lesson culminates in one of three types of final writing assignments.
Exercises in "thinking outside of the box" help students discover that there are other aspects of language besides the literal meaning of words.
Final Writing Assignment: Experiment with anthropomorphism.
Exercises demonstrating the importance of evocative sensory detail in description, especially details evoking the lesser used senses of smell, taste, and touch.
Important Writing Assignment: Poem focusing on sensory description of a place.
Exercises demonstrate organic form (the interaction of content and form), the use of descriptive and metaphoric imagery, and appropriate use of diction and syntax.
Final Writing Assignment: Revise 6 sentences to make them elegant, and write a paragraph for each revision explaining the revision choices.
Exercises demonstrate how to recognize a persona's convincing voice and consistent psychology, as well as a method for developing a persona.
Final Writing Assignment: Describe an event in the voice of a persona.
Exercises demonstrate freewriting, expanding prewriting through free association, and culling prewriting for significant themes. Develops the poem from Lesson 2 into an essay.
Final Writing Assignment: Write an essay that describes a significant place.
Exercises demonstrate a composing process, a method for choosing significant actions to include in a narrative, and tricks for avoiding narrative gumption traps (editing traps, nothing to say traps, too much to say traps).
Final Writing Assignment: Narrate in chronological order how you got into the Writing Series.
Exercises demonstrate how to research the meaning of the student's name, how the student's name was chosen, and how others feel about the student's name, as well as how to identify significant aspects of research.
Final Writing Assignment: Combine fact and feeling in a research essay about your name.
Exercises demonstrate the use of cause-and-effect to analyze events, how to avoid the post hoc, ergo propter hoc logical fallacy, and the difference between cause-and-effect and process analysis.
Final Writing Assignment: Write an essay about a major turning point in your life.
Exercises demonstrate how to find and make explicit evaluation standards, how to choose an audience and a persona appropriate for that audience, and how to match evaluation standards of the audience and persona.
Final Writing Assignment: Write an evaluation of this course.
Exercises demonstrate the use of outlines after the first draft, how to choose a narrative's best starting point, and how to create a catchy title.
Final Writing Assignment: Revise your draft narrative from Lesson 3 beginning either in the middle (in media res) or at the end (framed narrative). Also, comment on the instructor's comments about the outline made after the first draft.
Exercises demonstrate the use of figurative language in sentence-level revision, the use of alliteration and consonance in paragraph-level revision, and the use of thematic images to restructure the essay.
Final Writing Assignment: Revise the descriptive essay from Lesson 5.
Congratulations on joining Crafting the Essay. This third level is for students who are at least in 7th grade and have a qualifying SAT/ACT/SCAT Critical Reading/Reading/Verbal score. This course develops clear communication through the familiar, or personal, essay. You explore strategies of narration and description, and you learn the revision process.
When to send your first assignment:
Your assignment must be submitted by midnight of the due date on the schedule your instructor sent in the introductory message.
Choose an Essay
You may write one of two essays for your first assignment. Instructions for writing the essays are below. Please read both sets of instructions carefully. Along with your essay, you are required to send an explanation for your choice. This explanation can be as long as you wish, but no shorter than 100 words. Acceptable explanations can range from why one essay seemed easier than the other to why one essay seemed more interesting to write than the other. We encourage strong opinions tactfully expressed.
Essay Choice One
Becoming Functionally Unfixed
You're probably asking yourself--what does this heading mean? What is functional fixedness?
Borrowed from psychology, functional fixedness is a term that describes our patterns of perception. These patterns are functional because they help us perform life's simple jobs. Because these patterns help us function smoothly, we use them repeatedly until they become a habit that is fixed.
Here is an example: You probably have a morning routine. You wake up, go to the bathroom, brush your teeth, wash your face, put on your robe, and go to the kitchen to eat breakfast. Whatever your routine is, you more than likely perform the same simple tasks in the same sequence every morning. You're functionally fixed in a pattern that helps you get through the morning without too much thought. After all, you're still a little sleepy--you don't want to have to think about what you're doing every morning.
But, sometimes that morning routine changes. When you go on vacation or if you go away to camp, you might discover that it takes a couple of days to adapt to the new way of getting up. You're functionally fixed! You need to get unfixed.
We are also functionally fixed about the way we use language. For example, when you see
you probably think of the furry, four-footed mammals kept as pets (Felis domesticus). That is because, in your daily life, most people who see CAT usually think "pet cat." But, in other peoples' daily lives, CAT might not mean that.
For each of these groups, CAT has become a different functionally fixed perception.
Depending on our perspectives and backgrounds, we can become functionally fixed in differing ways. Functional fixedness can become a habit or rut. Habits can be helpful, but they can also prevent us from seeing other possibilities.
Writers need to see beyond the familiar meanings of words, to think about language in new ways. When we are functionally fixed, we use language as if it only has meaning. But meaning is just the component we use most often. Becoming functionally unfixed about language is the first step in learning to write well.
Now, be functionally unfixed by taking this short quiz. Pick the ONE correct answer. Do not choose the ONE correct answer until you have seen all the choices.
Hold this page up to a mirror to read the one, correct answer.
Meaning and Form
Meaning, also called content, is only one component of language. The other component is form. What is form? Simply put, form is every aspect of language except meaning. Let me show you the difference between form and meaning.
Here are two passages with the same meaning:
Ecclesiastes 9:11 (King James Version of the Bible):
I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
George Orwell's parody:
Objective consideration of contemporary phenomena compels the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.
What is different between the Ecclesiastes and Orwell passages? Which do you prefer? Most people will choose Ecclesiastes. They find it more pleasing because of its form. Everything from diction to syntax to figurative language distinguishes the fine prose of Ecclesiastes from Orwell's parody. (By the way, if you don't recognize words such as "diction" and "syntax," think of this as an opportunity to look them up in your dictionary.)
To get the one, correct answer to the CAT quiz, you have to be functionally unfixed enough to recognize that language is more than meaning. You have to recognize form, even if you don't know its name.
Your Assignment: Playing with Language/Committing an Act of Anthropomorphism
Becoming functionally unfixed about language is the first step in learning to write well. When you are functionally unfixed, you are able to play with words and structure, to experiment with voice and style, to surprise yourself and your reader. Now let's see if you are able to free yourself from conventional notions about ways to use language.
Children are frequently very good at thinking in unconventional ways. You may remember assigning human characteristics to non-human objects when you were younger. For example, your stuffed animals may have had human emotions. And Jonny 2 x 4's best friend on the cartoon show Ed Edd N Eddy, is a board named Plank, with whom Jonny has frequent conversations. When we do this in writing it is called anthropomorphism.
Here are some tips to get you started:
Submit your instructor as one file, according to schedule:
Do your best and enjoy this challenge. Your instructor is looking forward to the results.
An essay describing your most comfortable place. Since your readers do not know you and cannot see the place, you must emphasize the details that make it the most comfortable place for you.
There is no maximum length required. Write as much as you want, but instructors usually expect essays to have a minimum length of about 500 words, or about 2 printed, double-spaced pages.
When to submit your first assignment:
Your assignment must be submitted by the due date specified in the course.
What is an Essay?
Arnold Lazarus and H. Wendell Smith, writing in A Glossary of Literature and Composition (1983, Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English), define an essay as follows:
From the French essai, literally "attempt." Brief non-fiction reflections in prose. . . . As distinguished from the article or feature story, both of which, however informal, are devoted mostly to informing, the essay (also known as familiar essay and personal essay) is devoted to entertaining, or reflecting, or inspiring. It tends to be relaxed and philosophic, or witty, or poetic, or all of these at once. . . . The style of an essay is both informal and urbane--the voice of a civilized speaker in conversation with a civilized audience. . . .
In writing an essay, no matter how commonplace the topic, the writer strives for unusual treatment. An anecdote or a personal experience ("narrative hook") or an appropriate quotation may introduce feelings and opinions that are further illuminated and supported with appropriate examples. Above all, the reader is led to discover the main drift, attitude, theme. To qualify as an essay, in fact, the piece of writing must make a point expressly or by implication (109).
The English word assay also comes from the French essai. To assay is to "try" or to "weigh," as in assaying the contents of ore for gold. We might say that, in an essay, you are trying out ideas, weighing thoughts, with the intention of discovering which are most valuable, or useful, or important.
You present these thoughts in a familiar tone. There is no need to write "one" in place of "I." Writing is a bit like speaking to yourself, and you aren't likely to say to yourself, "One likes to write." However, essays are usually written for an audience larger than yourself. Since you do not know your instructor, you must assume your instructor fits Lazarus and Smith's description: "civilized." Civilized does not mean prissy, snobbish or unctuously suave. Civilized means someone who is well-read, urbane, knowledgeable about many subjects, and interested in what you have to say.
Civilized as instructors may be, they are not perfect people. Your instructor is likely to have fallen out of a tree (at least once) and burned the popcorn (several times). Because your instructor was once a beginning writer, you can be sure that your instructor has written imperfect prose (many times). When we attempt something, we do not always succeed, especially on the first few tries. Your instructor will be sympathetic to your efforts. Your instructor will comment on successes and suggest how to improve other areas.
You may be wondering what your instructor wants in the way of description. Most of the advice that follows was composed by writing instructor Greg Seagle under a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
How Do I Use Description?
The first rule in using effective descriptive detail is that there are no rules. If you can do something that's never been done before, and it works, the literary world will be your oyster (if not now, then maybe one or two hundred years after your death). There are, however, some favorably tested formulae for effective prose description.
What Does Comfortable Mean?
Comfort to one person is agony to another. Hemingway wrote standing up, with his typewriter atop a bookcase. Proust wrote in bed. Some people get backaches from a too soft mattress, others from a too firm mattress. Some city dwellers need sirens and car engines to go to sleep. Some people can only sleep with the light on. Some people are allergic to wool; other people are allergic to man-made fibers. Obviously, your essay needs to show what "comfortable" means to you.
And physical comfort isn't the only kind. We speak of people who are comfortable with calculus, comfortable amid chaos, comfortable with themselves, and comfortable with their earnings. Your essay may want to discuss non-physical forms of comfort.
Thus, your essay is an attempt both to discover what comfort means for you and to communicate your discovery to the reader. This dual purpose might suggest that you write more than one draft of the essay.
What Is Revision?
In general, instructors expect you to write at least one draft and make significant changes to it before submitting the essay. Some instructors ask to see your earlier drafts, and others do not.
When writing a first draft, don't worry much about such niceties as spelling, punctuation, and subject-verb agreement. You'll clean those up later. The first draft is for discovering what you have to say: it doesn't matter how you say it, whether you say it perfectly, or if you say too much. The idea is to get lots of thoughts on paper. Author Annie Dillard claims, "It doesn't hurt much to babble in a first draft, so long as you have the sense to cut out irrelevancies later."
Revision happens after the first draft. Revision is the act of re-seeing, of perfecting your language and ideas. Painters will go through a series of sketches to get to the final vision they want on the canvas. The same is true for writers. With each draft or revision, the writing moves closer to a final vision. Many writers save grammatical and spelling corrections for the last draft.
In College Writing: A Personal Approach to Academic Writing (1991, Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook), Toby Fulwiler provides two easily applied revision techniques.
The success of a company can be attributed to the market analysis of the executives of the company.
To rewrite this sentence I would go after the three "of" constructions . . .
The company's success can be attributed to its executives' market analysis (128).
How much revision is "reasonable"? Those who seldom revise should do one more than they want to. Those who always revise may do one less. You know which you are.
In a perfect world, we would revise until the essay was perfect. Walt Whitman revised his book of poems, Leaves of Grass, ten times. But in the real world, we must stop revising when the assignment is due. To do well then, you should start writing when you get the assignment, not the night before it is due. (Instructors usually recognize rush jobs, though they don't always say so.)
Submit to your instructor according to schedule:
Do your best and enjoy this challenge. Your instructor is looking forward to the results.
This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.