Writing 201 is an introductory course in the basic conventions and expectations of college essay writing. Students write essays in response to assigned readings from a range of college-level texts. The course covers how to state and support a thesis, develop unified and coherent supporting paragraphs, organize the various parts of an essay, and write clear and effective sentences. The course also introduces students to critical reading, reasoning, and writing.

This blog is a resource for instructors of Writing 201 at Irvine Valley College.

To participate in the blog, leave your comments below.

You can also contact the blog's editor, Professor Lisa Alvarez, at lalvarez@ivc.edu

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Essay #1 Assessment Form

I am looking forward to grading the first essays this weekend using my newly revised (and much simplified) assessment form. (Some formatting lost or shifted during posting.)

Alvarez Fall 2012

Student ________________________

WR 201: Essay #1

Meeting the Goals of the Assignment (20 total)

             Final shows marked development through the drafting stages,
              the ability to incorporate suggestions and revise, with deletions and
              additions as necessary.                                                                          (10) 

             Subject choice, focus on description, detail and analysis as directed     (10)

Content (20 total)
            Development, support, elaboration with use of description, detail and analysis

Organization (20 total)
            Arrangement of content (paragraphs, transitions, essay form)

Style (20 total)
            Word choice and sentence variety

Conventions (20 total)
            Grammar, mechanics, spelling, usage, sentence formation 

Final Grade

Essay #1 is worth 10% of your final course grade.

Notes:                                                                                                                          Portfolio contents         
Wr 280 signature form


In-class work

At-home work


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Essay #1: In-Class Writing

At the end of last week's second class, the students completed the in-class writing exercise posted below.  I followed along on the board with my own example and conclude class with a brief discussion of how this exercise offers an opportunity to create a mid-essay thesis and transition to the second part of the assignment.

Today they bring in the first full draft of their completed essay. The final is due a week from today.  (Now, I think my due date is one class session too long. I should have had it done at the end of this week. Alas. Next time.)

WR 201:
Essay #1- The Ordinary, but Significant Person, Place or Thing (An Educational Memoir)
Workshop Activity: in-class writing
 Over the weekend, you will revise your Part 1 and develop Part 2.  For the next class session, you will bring two copies of your new draft which will include Part 1 (revised) and Part 2, an early attempt to explain the significance of your chosen subject.
 Take into consideration all we’ve discussed this week and the feedback you have received from me, your peers and instructors in WR 280.
 To begin Part 2, answer the questions posed below, filling in the blanks and exploring the implications.
   Although ____________________________________ seems ordinary or commonplace because, after all,
  ______________ is just _________________________________________________________________,   ______________ is significant to me because….(Try to think of two specific reasons (lessons) to support your assertion, one major, one minor. Allow these two “lessons” to begin to direct your drafting of Part 2 of your essay.  Aim to return to class with two paragraphs detailing these “lessons” or reasons.)


  The Writing Center: WR 280Now is also a good time to visit the Writing Center in B-353 and have a formal conference. Make sure to bring your assignment, the Writing Center signature sheet (attached) and your draft.  The center is open until 8 pm tonight and is open on Friday from 9-3.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Week 3: Self-Review

Following the activity  previously posted (a review of a sample student draft intro, approximately 30 minutes), my students did a directed self-review of their own draft using the exercise posted below.  I often use a directed self-review in advance of - and sometimes in place of - peer review.

In this case, the students will revise their intros and bring them back in order to participate in small group peer review session at the next class session.

WR 201:

Essay #1- The Ordinary, but Significant Person, Place or Thing (An Educational Memoir)

Workshop Activity – self-review

Now, read your own draft and answer the following questions.

1) What kind of attitude do you have about your chosen subject? What words or details reinforce this attitude? Should your attitude be made more explicit? Should you add words – adjectives, verbs, etc. – to create a stronger attitude? Locate places where you can add or change your word choice to strengthen this.

2) Look at how you use specific details and sensory description. Choose one sentence that shows you using detail and description at your best. Underline this sentence.

3) Choose two-three sentences that could benefit from the addition of specific detail and sensory description. Circle these sentences.

4) Consider any unadorned nouns you have used. (A noun is a person, place or thing.) Work your way through the draft, pausing at any unadorned nouns and try to add adjectives that will help reinforce the impression that you are building.

5) Look for 2-3 places where you could add one more sentence. Mark these with an >.

6) Finally, see if you have final sentences act as a bridge to the second part of the assignment. If you do not, try to write some now.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Week 3- first draft activities

Today, my students bring in their first drafts of the first part of their first essay - whew.  To set up a directed self-review activity, I will distribute this exercise first, then move on to direct a similar review of their own work.  For the next class session, they will return with revised drafts and we will do peer review at that point. 

This exercise is cobbled together from a previous student draft.


Professor Lisa Alvarez

February 2, 2009

WR 201- draft 1 of essay 1

The Backseat 

At first it was spacious and then, over the years, it seemed to grow smaller as I grew bigger. In the beginning, my feet did not touch the floor and I could not manage to open the windows or doors. I was trapped until someone bigger let me out.

Initially, I was alone but as the years passed, first one sister then another joined me, one wedged on each side, all of us strapped tightly in before our father or mother agreed to turn on the ignition. During the summer my exposed legs stuck to the vinyl-like seat covering and if I dreaded getting in, I dreaded getting out more because I had to peel my bare thighs from the hot sweaty seat. The seat was upholstered in a pale blue, a half fabric, half plastic-like fabric. Crumbs from countless numbers of snacks crept into the corners, potato chips, tortillas chips, anything fried and salted. It was a cheap car, the only one we could afford and I knew I would spend my childhood in it.

I spent more hours back there bored by my sisters or bored by my parents or both than I care to count. I'd look out the window in a trance imagining other places I wanted to be. But the back seat was also the place where I learned so much as I watched my parents navigate not only the roads and freeways but also life. As first one sister than another fell asleep and slumped next to me, my parents would begin to talk, imagining all of us sleeping unable to hear what they said.

1) What kind of attitude does the writer have about the chosen subject? What words or details reinforce this attitude?

2) Notice how the writer uses specific details and sensory description. Choose one sentence that shows the writer using detail and description at its best. Underline this sentence and be prepared to share.

3) Choose two-three sentences that could benefit from the addition of specific detail and sensory description. Circle these sentences.

4) Consider the unadorned nouns the writer uses: floor, windows, doors, summer, seat, snacks, childhood, hours, window, places, seat, roads, freeways, life, sister… Work your way through the draft, pausing at these mostly unadorned nouns and add adjectives that will help reinforce the impression the writer is building.

5) Look for 2-3 places where the writer could add one more sentence. Mark these with an >.

6) Finally, notice how the final sentences act as a bridge to the second part of the assignment. Where do you think the writer is going with this? Do we need to know more at this point or not?


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Typical First Assignment: Personal Narrative

Often Writing 201 is taught in a series of take-home and in-class assignments which move from the "personal' to the "academic" essay.  The number of formal assignments vary from 4-6 with some instructors opting for a portfolio option (more on that later).

The first assignment is often a narrative which relies upon assigned readings as models.  It seems helpful to offer these beginning students more direction here rather than less - and many instructors opt for shaping or directing the subject choice by specific theme or focus.

Here is an example of Summer Serpas' first assignment:

Essay 1: An Educational Memoir

Please write an approximately 3 page essay (minimum of 2 full pages) containing at least 5 paragraphs in response to the following prompt:

In all of the essays we read for this assignment, “The Grapes of Mrs. Rath” by Steven Mockensturm and “The Thrill of Victory…The Agony of Parents” by Jennifer Schwind-Pawlak, the authors describe memories of times when they learned important lessons, both in school and in their lives outside of school. For this assignment, you will be writing about a specific memory of a time when you learned an important lesson. In your essay, you should provide the necessary background information, clearly explain the specific experience, and analyze the deeper lesson that you learned from that experience. In your explanation of your experience, make sure to use descriptive details that help make your experience come alive for your readers. In analyzing your memory, make sure you deeply analyze the lesson you have learned from your experience. Remember that you are not writing a diary entry about what happened to you; you are sharing an experience and its deeper meaning in order to connect with your readers and create meaning for them.
It's worth noting that the first draft submitted for peer review is due on one Tuesday -and the final draft due the following Tuesday - which suggest a drafting period of approximately three weeks.  The assignment is influenced by the assigned reading - but does not yet incorporate quotations from them.  The desired length is between  two and three pages.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Typical First Assignment: Description

Here is a first assignment  that Lewis Long uses in WR 201. Notice how he breaks it down into two parts.  This is the first part. The assignment is two pages in length and requires a clear descriptive thesis statement at the beginning.

First writing assignment, part 1Context: One essential function of writing is to get your readers to see things as you do. This does not always mean that they should share your opinions, but often that you try to get them to adopt your point of view, or way of seeing, so that they see objects in the same way that you see them. A particularly vivid and detailed description that creates for your reader a mental image of what you see is one effective way to do that. But presenting an image to others is not the only purpose of a written description. Often, the very act of writing about an object helps the writer to see it more clearly as well. It is only when you are faced with the necessity of translating a thing into language so that you can show it to someone else that you really begin to see it.

Assignment: In a typed, double-spaced essay of about two pages, choose and describe a thing. You may choose an object with special significance to you, or just something that’s convenient, but your goal is not to describe the memories associated with the object, or the object’s sentimental value, but to describe the physical object in as much detail as you can. Paint a word picture of your object for your reader. Your description should create a detailed, multi-sensory image that allows your reader to experience your object as you have, and persuades your reader to see the object as you do. The object you choose to describe has to be a real, actual object, not an abstract idea of an object: for example, if you choose to describe a rose, you must find and study one, specific real rose—rather than roses in general—and show how this rose is colored, how it reflects the light, how it is shaped, etc. You should not choose too abstract objects, such as the ocean, or too complex objects, such as cars, rooms, stereos, calculators, cellular phones, or computers. Also, you should not choose a photograph or collection of photographs, since a photograph is both a thing, and contains other things, and the description of both will be too difficult in the space you have. Your object should be simple enough that you can describe it in detail in about two pages.

Suggestions: This assignment is not as simple as it may seem, and it would not be a good idea to take it too lightly. Choose your object carefully, so that it has enough detail to produce a full description, but don’t choose anything that’s too complex to describe in one page. You need to describe your object as vividly as possible—using concrete and specific language, invoking multiple senses and drawing vivid comparisons—so that the reader is able to visualize the thing you have chosen. You do not need to make your reader guess what your object is, so be sure to identify it early in the description.

I would suggest you start by simply examining your chosen object very closely for an extended period of time, from as many different angles and in as many different ways as possible, noting details in a list as you observe them. Sit down with your object in front of you and write as many different things about it as you can. What does it look like? What color is it? Is it bright? dull? reflective? What is its texture? Is it soft or hard? wet or dry? smooth or rough? spongy or rubbery? What is its shape? Is it made up of different parts? Is it symmetrical and balanced, or awkward? Is it heavy or light? Does it have a smell? a taste? What kind of activity does it suggest? You do not have to answer all of these questions, but you can use them as a guide to the kind of detail you should be representing to your reader. You might also discover some ideas and helpful similes or metaphors through brainstorming and freewriting sessions. Does its appearance remind you of anything that might help create its image in your reader’s mind? Let your mind go free, and even come up with weird stuff. You don’t have to use it all, but it might give you some interesting ideas.

After you have as many ideas as you can come up with, sit down and start to organize them into related groups, which you can use to construct paragraphs. We will discuss organizational methods in detail in class. Once you have organized the details of your description, you can begin to put them into coherent paragraphs, which you can then organize into an essay.
Your goal in this essay is not to make your reader guess what your object is. Begin your essay by naming the object you’re describing in a clear, descriptive thesis statement. Your audience for this paper is made up of your classmates, and you are writing a paper to describe your image to them.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Typical First Assignment: Description plus

Here is Sarah Bereiter's first assignment.  This asisgnment has elemnts of personal narrative, description and analysis.  She offers her students three options from which to choose.  She also presents a specific format for students to follow as they draft their essays.

ESSAY ASSIGNMENT 1: Identity Essay – Exploring our Experiences and Ourselves


In the readings “Hair,” “Burls,” and “Prince,” we see that every individual has a unique identity that is influenced by a variety of experiences, knowledge, people, places, objects, etc.

For our first formal essay assignment you will be writing a descriptive essay that says something about your identity. For the focus of this essay, you may choose from one of the following three options:

1) Discuss, analyze and describe an object or place and its personal meaning or connection with you. For example, you could relate your car to your sense of freedom or write about a vacation spot you visited when you were young that reminds you of innocence.

2) Discuss, analyze, and describe an element of your identity and how it affects your larger identity/life. For example, if you identify yourself as a soccer player, does it make you a team player and open to collaborative work in other environments?

3) Discuss, analyze, and describe a significant moment in your life and how it has affected you or the course of your life.

Though you will be using yourself as the subject of this essay, remember that your essay should have a specific purpose and you should use concise and concrete language that is appropriate for an academic audience. As you write your essay, consider using various rhetorical strategies, such as description, narration, analysis, etc.

Organization: Your essay should consist of at least 6 paragraphs. 

Introduction Paragraph: Your introduction should be engaging and encourage your reader to want to continue reading. It should establish the focus of your essay in a clear and effective manner (without summarizing the essay).

Body Paragraphs: Each body paragraph should include a specific sub-topic of your overall topic. Be sure that your paragraphs thoroughly explain your experience and flow together logically.

Conclusion Paragraph: In your final paragraph, be sure to emphasize the significance of your essay topic.

Length: 3-4 pgs