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Writing Analysis & Persuasion - Peer Review (NCAA Approved)

Open to: Grades 8 - 12
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required
Prerequisites: see below
Challenge Level: College Sophomore
Course 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); 6 weeks (Late Summer)
Grading: This course is typically ungraded.
Course Codes: PWR4

Course Description

This course builds on the techniques learned and practiced in prerequisite courses. Here, students learn the rhetorical modes of discourse. Examples of these modes include persuasion, definition, analysis, and narration. While inculcating the modes of classical discourse, this course typically focuses on cultural criticism.

The work of contemporary writer Susan Orlean provides subjects for critical analysis. Opportunities for revision allow students to hone skills and combine rhetorical modes for maximum effect. By the end, students are able to analyze and evaluate most prose forms. Students should be able to argue their interpretations convincingly.

The course culminates in a capstone essay incorporating the skills students have learned. This essay is based on a five-hour observation of social interaction in a cultural group. For more information, see "Cultural Studies and the Capstone Essay" on the Course Details tab. The majority of assignments apply the strategies of classical rhetoric (narration, definition, argument, persuasion, and so forth) to the interdisciplinary field of cultural studies, which is concerned with the production of meaning in society. Students read essays by authors including Susan Orlean and Joan Didion, along with more traditional writings about argument by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren.

Integral is a substantial metacognitive dialogue with the instructor about writing.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Students may be invited to interact in CTY community spaces that include students and instructors and potentially specially invited guests that are not enrolled in their course. 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. 

Grammar Note

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.


Completion of grade 9 English or successful completion of one course below:

CTY Online Programs

  • Crafting the Essay - Individually Paced
  • Crafting the Essay - Independent
  • Crafting the Essay - Peer Review

CTY Summer Programs

  • Writing Your World
  • Fiction and Poetry
  • Crafting the Essay
  • Whodunit?: Mystery and Suspense in Literature and Film
  • The Graphic Novel
  • Utopias and Dystopias

Note: It is strongly recommended that all students in grades 7-12 successfully complete Crafting the Essay before enrolling in Writing Analysis and Persuasion.

Materials Needed

The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean (Ballantine Books, 2000) ISBN 978-0449003718

Detailed Course Information

Course Details

Note: This describes Writing Analysis and Persuasion – Peer Review. Students interested in working one-on-one with an instructor should view Writing Analysis and Persuasion - Independent. Students interested in flexible pacing should visit the individually paced course description here. Review individually paced course descriptions. Formats cover the same concepts, but differ in approach.

Students participate in a mandatory online peer review workshop in which they critique each other’s writing. In this 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.

The peer review experience 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).

Cultural Studies and the Capstone Essay 

Cultural studies approach social interaction as a “text” to be analyzed, interpreted, and critiqued. Three assignments – Lessons 6, 8 and 10 – depend on observing a cultural group (for example, a brother’s Cub Scout pack, a mom’s finance group, a friend’s computer club: any group in which there is significant social interaction). 

Students write an informal proposal stating their plans for the observation – a description of the group, mentioning the logistics (parental and group approval, meeting frequency, and transportation) and, most importantly, WHY the group will make an interesting observation. The instructor must approve the group and the logistics. The informal proposal is Lesson 1A. 

Observations must have begun by the time students begin writing Lesson 6 but after instructor has approved. 

Observations should be completed by the time students begin writing Lesson 8. 

The capstone essay, Lesson 10, is a substantial revision of Lesson 8. This revision is intended to incorporate all the skills and rhetorical modes that students have worked on. 

In each assignment, students are required to submit a letter reflecting on their experience of writing the essay along with the essay itself. They should reflect on the reasons for choosing the topic, the process they used for writing and revising, and their satisfaction (or lack of it) with the finished product. 

Assignment 1 Persuasive Essay: Design your educational experience 

Students write a persuasive essay about something they want to see changed in their or others’ educational experience. Typical responses argue for starting school later or reducing the reliance on standardized testing. Some students argue that home schooling is a better option than traditional schools. 

Skills Taught 
Students learn the basics of argument. The assignment also covers writing effective thesis sentences, titles, introductions, and conclusions. Documentation is introduced. 

Assignment 2: Cause-Effect Essay 

Students write an essay that involves causes and/or effects. Students are encouraged to write about a contemporary issue and use their experience as evidence. A typical response concerns the effects of using social media. 

Skills Taught 
The lesson emphasizes causal chains, specific examples, and figurative language. Logical fallacies are introduced. A logical fallacy is an error in reasoning applied to an argument. 

Assignment 3: Topical Persuasive Essay: Taking a position

Students write a persuasive essay about a current issue. They are encouraged to pick an issue that affects them and use specific examples from their experience as support. A typical response might argue against requiring school uniforms. 

Skills Taught 
The assignment reviews thesis statements and the basics of argument, including consideration of opposing arguments and audience. The assignment covers types of persuasive claims. Documentation of research is reviewed. 

Assignment 4: Reacting to Reading 

Students write a reaction essay in response to one of two choices of persuasive essays. They summarize the essay in the introduction, then write a thesis expressing agreement or disagreement, and, finally, defend the thesis using examples from their experience. 

Skills Taught 
Skills include close reading and summarization. Specific examples from students’ experience are required. Figurative language (metaphors and similes) is reviewed. 

Assignment 5: Revision 

Students revise an essay that has previously received comments by the instructor, usually Lesson 1, 2, or 3. 

Skills Taught 
Emphasis is placed on revising content: adding, deleting, changing, and rearranging. An editing checklist is included. 

Assignment 6: Subculture Narrative: Initial meeting  

Students write a narrative about their first observation of a cultural group (the group was chosen and approved in Lesson 1A).  

Skills Taught 
Skills stressed include narrative arc and “showing” rather than “telling.”  Setting and character descriptions are also discussed. 

Assignment 7: Analysis of Creative Nonfiction: The Orchid Thief excerpt

Students write an analysis of a theme of the reading. They should support the theme they choose by referring to at least two aspects of the excerpt, such as setting and character. 

Skills Taught 
Skills include reading closely and integrating quotations. Literary theme is defined. The five components of creative nonfiction are discussed, and summarization is reviewed.  

Assignment 8: Subculture Analysis Essay                

Students revise the Lesson 6 essay and add to it, using material from at least one subsequent observation (after the first observation narrated in Lesson 6). Students are encouraged to write a thesis that sums up their conclusions about the group. 

Skills Taught 
The lesson provides information about cultural analysis. Revision is reviewed.  

Assignment 9: Persuasive Options 

Students have two choices: 1. a persuasive essay arguing that a certain system is (or is not) a meritocracy and evaluating whether or not that is beneficial to the people involved or 2. a practice college admissions essay. 

Skills Taught 
Using quotations is reviewed. Analysis of purpose and audience is reviewed. Tone is discussed. 

Assignment 10: Revision of Lesson 8’s Essay 

Students revise Lesson 8’s essay and add research that deepens their analysis of the group. 

Skills Taught 
Revision of organization and structure are discussed. Using and documenting research are reviewed.  

Time Required

  • 2 hours weekly for the 20-week sessions (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, and Spring)
  • 2 hours daily Monday - Friday for the intensive 6-week session (Late Summer)

Sample Assignment


Subculture Observation Project (web-based)

Hi Everybody,

Three of your assignments -- 6, 8 and 10 -- depend on information you gather from your observations of a subculture. What do I mean by "subculture"? According to The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism, "Generally speaking, the term subculture refers to a distinctive clique within a larger social group . . . subcultural activity does not aim to overthrow the dominant culture in the name of some more humane vision, but seeks only a measure of autonomy expressed in symbolic gestures, such as the distinctive forms of clothing, speech, and music . . ." (290-291).

How to Go About It

Make plans to observe a group with which you are not familiar. It could be your brother's Cub Scout pack, your mom's finance group, a friend's computer club: any group where there is significant social interaction. Ideally, you will not be a member of this group. For example, say you have always been fascinated by the clique of "regulars" who go to your local coffee house daily, as if it were an important ritual that gives their lives meaning. What is it that compels them to go there each day? Why do they get along so well in this isolated half hour to an hour of time and never have anything to do with each other outside of the coffee house? Why do they have their own little rules and codes? How were these codes introduced and how did a silent consensus form?

If you MUST observe a group of which you are a member, please email me with some details so I can evaluate whether the group is appropriate. (Before emailing me, please read this whole assignment.)

Plan to observe this group for at least 5 hours. Fewer hours are not permitted. More hours are good. You only need to observe the group for 1 hour to write the #6 Narrative. The rest of the observation time should be spread out over the rest of our term, finishing your minimum 5 hours before you start writing Assignment #8. Don't get too caught up in the details of writing Assignments #5 or #8 right now. What you need to focus on now is choosing the group to observe.

Part of this course is learning to schedule your time wisely and independently. It is crucial that you make a schedule NOW for the rest of the term. Don't just assume you can drop in any time for do the observations later. Set a schedule. Put it on your calendar.

How to choose your group

  1. You MAY NOT CHOOSE groups that are dangerous for you or other people. No terrorists. No drug rings. No Columbine High School types. No bungee jumping. Nothing illegal. Nothing dangerous. Nothing unhealthy.

    Be aware that comments about dangerous actions (for you or anybody else, including allegations of abuse of any sort or threats to use violence) must legally be referred to the people in charge of this program and, ultimately, to the University's General Counsel (lawyers). After consultation with the University's General Counsel, action may be required in your home state. The particular action depends on where you live and can have quite far-reaching consequences. In short, please choose your group wisely.
  2. You may not disrupt the group beyond your entrance into it. Please don't use your course as an excuse to disturb the group's usual activities. Your job is to observe, take notes, learn about these people, and write an essay for me.
  3. Discuss your choice of a group with your parents since they are likely to have to drive you to the meeting site or approve your late stays at school or whatever) and get parental/guardian approval to join the group.
  4. Look for a group with significant interaction among the same people. A group of ice-fisherfolk on one lake that each fishes in separate ice-fisher houses and never speak to each other is inappropriate. A kiosk in a shopping mall might not work well because the customers would be constantly changing, and the number of employees would be too few to observe extensive interaction. A group of Warhammer players who paint their own models in shared space and don't speak to each other is inappropriate. A group of chess players who kibitz each other is okay BECAUSE there is social interaction. A group of mall walkers might work perfectly for this assignment. (Kindly choose your own group rather than following these examples.)
  5. Choose a group that is accessible. If you live in Seattle, don't choose an ice skating class in Minneapolis. If your parents will have to drive you, be sure they're willing to do that as often as necessary.(Also, don't use this obligation to evade another obligation: "I can't mow the lawn because I have to do my observations.")
  6. Choose a group that isn't composed of people exactly like you. The idea here is that you are learning about folks who aren't you. Although some writers have been wonderful self-observers (Proust, perhaps), it's easier to observe people you don't know (or whom you don't know well in the context of this group).
  7. Pick a group that you're going to be comfortable working with for the next few weeks. Make sure it's a group that will hold your interest. In fact, pick a group that you will ENJOY learning more about!

What I need from you now

Once you have decided on the social group that you will observe, write a paragraph or two (but no more -- this is not a formal essay) letting me know about the group you intend to observe for our upcoming Subculture Observation Project.


  • the name of the group,
  • the type of group it is (the purpose of the group),
  • and how often it will meet during our course term.


  • that you have or can get your parent's permission to observe,
  • as well as any permission you may need from the group itself.

As you are thinking this through,

  • make sure you will have ready transportation to the group meetings when you need it.

Along with those essential details,

  • show me why you are excited to be observing this subculture (thereby getting me excited about the possibilities)

This is not a report of your observations of the group. It is a proposal about which group you want to observe. Do not start observing until you have received my approval of your group. Once your group is approved, start observing and take good notes. Your first report on your observation is in Lesson 6.

Now that you know what you'll be doing over the whole course, it's time to go on to your first full-fledged assignment.

Sample First Assignment

Redesign your educational experience

Welcome to CTY Online Programs! We hope you have a wonderful experience writing analytical and persuasive essays.

Topic: Redesign your educational experience. Figure out what would make school really great, or at least worthwhile, and persuade me of your ideas' benefits.

As you know, there is no maximum length to your essays. Write as much as you want, but instructors usually expect essays to have a minimum length of about 500 words, or about 2 typed pages.

Why This Assignment?

This essay will introduce your instructor to your writing style. It also allows us to jump right into persuasion (a standard essay form in which you should become most fluent) about a topic you know well and are likely to care about.

Planning Your Content

If you are a homeschooler, feel free to write your essay on the benefits and deficits in your educational experience, however contained or wide it is. In other words, don't get stopped by the word "school." Write about your own educational experience.

The first step is to begin thinking about what ideas you'd like to cover in this assignment. This essay question is broad and can lead you in many directions, so it is important to focus your topic. For instance, you could choose to write about curriculum, arguing that English classes would be more useful if students studied more contemporary writers, or perhaps you could argue for a shorter - or longer - school day. Other questions to consider might include the following:

  1. What would you study in a typical year?
  2. What stuff are you reading, writing, drawing, building, performing?
  3. Who is teaching you and how are they going about it?
  4. What role does the computer, including the Internet, play in your education?
  5. What does the school look like, and what facilities does it have?
  6. What are the criteria for evaluating student work?

School is something that you know a lot about, and you probably know how to make it better. The trick is to narrow your topic. Don't try to discuss everything. Find the most promising ideas for which you can argue convincingly.

So what makes a good argument? Ideas and real evidence to back up those ideas (see Guidelines for Persuasive Writing, below). In an assignment like this, you are probably going to be using mostly anecdotal evidence (for example, "Four out of five of my classmates sleep through trigonometry."). That's fine, but you should also try to draw in the rest of the world as you know it. So, if you just read that math scores are down, you might try and explain that from your perspective. A mix of the individual and the (believably) global is ideal. You also might want to consult some outside sources. In that case, make sure you document any ideas that aren't yours. (See "Documenting Your Sources" below.) Of course, it doesn't hurt to believe in your cause.

Don't forget a key to effective persuasion -- an awareness of your reading audience. For instance, you are writing to an instructor who probably believes in education at least a little. So perhaps you would think twice about trying to persuade your instructor that no one should go to school at all. But, see for an example of a veteran public school teacher and New York State Teacher of the Year who doesn't believe in school.

Documenting Your Sources

It is very likely that you might consult an outside source to provide evidence for your essay. The authors of Writing Worth Reading: The Critical Process clearly explain the importance of documentation of sources:

Documenting is an essential part of presenting evidence. You must identify the source of every quotation, fact, statistic, graph, or opinion about your subject that you include in your paper. You must tell your reader where you got every bit of information that you use. Further, you must list for your reader every source you have cited in your paper. In short, you must thoroughly document your research (375).

Writing Worth Reading: The Critical Process, by Nancy Huddleston Packer and John Timpane (1997, Boston: Bedford/St.Martin's)

Since we're working with the humanities (literature, history, philosophy, etc.) here, and MLA style is used in the humanities, that's what we'll use. The basic form is to use the page number in parentheses at the end of a sentence containing a quotation.


As a rule, your instructor will expect you to write at least one draft and make significant changes to it BEFORE mailing the essay. Some instructors ask to see your earlier drafts, and others do not. You may write and revise as often as is reasonable.

When writing a first draft, don't worry much about such niceties as spelling and 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.

  1. I read aloud to myself and listen for the places where the language sounds thick. (In the previous sentence, the first version read like this: "I read out loud to myself and am able to hear when a sentence is not economical." I didn't like the rhythm or precision and so recast it.) (127)
  2. In the following case, too many prepositional phrases slow down the reader:

"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 in the mail. (Instructors usually recognize rush jobs, though they don't always say so.)

Think and design first, and then try for clean, clear prose. To your computers (pens). Design and persuade on! Do your best and enjoy this challenge. Your instructor is looking forward to the results.

Guidelines for Persuasive Writing

The following are guidelines for writing persuasive essays. During the course we will focus on each one particularly, but it is never too early to take all these points into account as you write your papers. Keep this list beside your due dates calendar.

  1. THESIS: having a strong thesis -- i.e., a statement that succinctly gives your opinion about your limited subject -- is essential. You need to be able to articulate what you think if you have any hope of persuading another to accept your point of view.
  2. PERSONA: you need to have a personal stake in what you assert. Your reader will be more persuaded by you as an authority with first hand knowledge of a subject than about vague, distant claims.
  3. PROS (i.e., reasons for): you need to present multiple reasons for why your position is valid. "Just because I say so" is not enough.
  4. CONS (i.e., reasons against): this one is especially tough because it forces you to imagine points of view other than your own. A powerful persuasive argument brings up opposing views, then counters them to prove them wrong, or concedes them to admit they have a point but then show how pros outweigh the conceded cons.
  5. ORGANIZATION: a strong persuasive essay is architecturally constructed, following a clear outline. Unlike creative writing, which may evolve through play of imagination, persuasive pieces are very carefully planned. Of course, the early stages involve scattered brainstorming, but the final form is tightly constructed. Remember, writing an essay involves several steps:
    1. draft,
    2. revise for organization,
    3. draft again,
    4. copyedit/proofread
  6. SPECIFIC DETAIL: your paper comes alive with specific detail. Stronger than "The lifeguard wasn't very good" is "The Monday afternoon lifeguard ignored five boys running beside the pool and didn't warn the mother who brought glass bottles of Coke."

Yes, all this takes thinking! You can do it.


  1. Minimum 500 words on redesigning your educational experience
  2. Your thoughts about the planning, documenting, and revising of this essay.
  3. (Optional) If you have a question about an earlier draft (perhaps a qualm that you removed something you shouldn't have), feel free to send that earlier draft for comparison with the last version, along with a note about why you're sending it.

Technical Requirements

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.



"It was really fun and interesting. I learned a lot and am glad I took the course."

"Excellent course and outstanding instructor. I loved every minute of it. Thank you."

"[Instructor's first name] was a supportive instructor and as a parent, I enjoyed reading her comments each week."

"Dr. [Instructor's last name]'s detailed and thoughtful comments on essays are greatly appreciated."

"This was the first course that I felt my daughter was really pushed to improve her writing assignment, and my daughter actually liked having to work harder at improving her writing ability."