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This 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, generally holding students' work to college-level standards. 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.
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 – Peer Review. Students interested in working one-on-one with an instructor should view Crafting the Essay - Independent. Students interested in flexible pacing should review the individually paced course description. Formats cover the same concepts, but differ in approach.
This format provides a process-oriented approach. Students work through lessons and receive instructor feedback on prewriting exercises during the process of writing the essay as well as a detailed critique of the final writing assignment. In addition, students participate in a mandatory online peer review workshop in which they critique each other's writing. In the web-based format, although interaction is frequent, it is not real time. Interaction is conducted asynchronously, not via chat, I.M, or whiteboard. Students can work morning, noon, or night, so long as they meet the deadlines. Students deliver work by uploading it to a private space. They download instructor responses from the same place. Virtual classrooms are provided by a course management system.
This format is best for students who enjoy computer-mediated interaction, relish sharing their writing with an audience, and can commit adequate time to the work (see time commitment, below).
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.
Exercises demonstrating the importance of evocative sensory detail in description, especially details evoking the lesser used senses of smell, taste, and touch.
Exercises demonstrate organic form (the interaction of content and form), the use of descriptive and metaphoric imagery, and appropriate use of diction and syntax.
Exercises demonstrate how to recognize a persona's convincing voice and consistent psychology, as well as a method for developing 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Congratulations on joining Crafting the Essay. This course is for students who are at least in 7th grade and meet CTY’s eligibility requirements. This course develops clear communication through the familiar, or personal, essay. You explore strategies of narration and description, and you learn the revision process.
Write 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 introductory email.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This course requires that the student use a web browser with the Adobe Flash plugin. Note that many tablets and handhelds (particularly the iPad) do not support Flash and cannot view the lessons.