Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Editing Your Literacy Narrative

Edditing Editing

The processes of revising and editing aren’t the same. As the authors of A Writer’s Reference note, when you revise “you focus on clarity and effectiveness; when you edit, you check for correctness” (29). 

On Monday, I asked you to focus on the big picture, on the “clarity and effectiveness” (29) of your literacy narrative. Today, as you begin the editing process, I ask that you focus on finding and correcting errors. As an exercise in that process, we will examine the You’ve Got to . . . assignment below. 

You’ve Got to . . .

In the first four installments in our You’ve Got to . . . series, we examined a novel (The Hate U Give), a video game (Counter Strike: Global Offensive), a song (“Keep the Wolves Away”), and a TV show (Community). For our fifth installment, I offer an assignment devoted to the film Step Brothers. As you read it, make note of any corrections needed.


One film “you’ve got to” see is Step Brothers. Step Brothers is a film that stars comedians Will Ferrell and John Reilly, who play 2 sons that are forced into a family when their divorced parents marry each other. At first, they hate each other with a passion, which leads to hilarious scenes of them fighting in a weird, dorky way. As they begin to live with each other though, they begin to learn that they just found their own best friend in each other (at the age of 40). They play video games together, watch movies and TV shows, and bond in their own dorkish way. This is, until their stepdad and stepmom get a divorce, causing them to separate.

This movie is so funny to me because I love Will Ferrell and I love the type of humor in this movie. Although it is very stupid and childish humor, it is right up my alley, and the jokes make in the movie are very similar to ones that I would make around my friends. I spent the entire movie laughing out loud, and I highly suggest watching this film.

YGT Notes: Untitled

  • In the first sentence, the phrase “you’ve got to” should not be enclosed in quotation marks. It’s the title of the assignment, but the writer simply uses it as a common phrase.
  • In MLA style, titles of films are italicized. (See A Writer’s Reference, page 301.)
  • On first reference, Reilly’s full screen name, John C. Reilly, should appear. The middle initial “C” needs to be added.
  • Another MLA note: The numbers one hundred and below and large round numbers (such as fifteen million) are spelled out rather than expressed as figures. 2 should be two; 40 should be forty. (See A Writer’s Reference, page 301.)
  • In the second line, “sons that” should be “sons who.” In formal writing, the relative pronoun “who,” not “that,” should be used to refer to people. (See A Writer’s Reference, page 150.)
  • The statement at the end of the second line and the beginning of the third should be corrected to read something like this: when Brennan Huff’s mother, Nancy (Mary Steenburgen), marries Dale Doback’s father, Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins), . . . .


A Writer’s Reference presents excellent advice on proofreading, which I am including verbatim below.

“Proofreading is a special kind of reading: a slow methodical search for misspellings, typographical mistakes, and missing words or word endings. Such errors can be difficult to spot in your own work because you may read what you intended to write, not what is actually on the page. To fight this tendency, try one or more of the following tips.

Proofreading Tips

  • Remove distractions and allow yourself ten to fifteen minutes of pure concentration–without your cell phone.
  • Proofread out loud, articulating each word as it is actually written.
  • Proofread your sentences in reverse order.
  • Proofread hard copy pages; mistakes can be difficult to catch on-screen.
  • Don’t rely too heavily on spell checkers and grammar checkers. Before automatically accepting their changes, consider accuracy and appropriateness.
  • Ask a volunteer (a friend, roommate, or co-worker) to proofread after you. A second reader may catch something that you didn’t.” (31)

Grammar, Punctuation and Mechanics, and Word Choice

The items listed below are the ones that I noted most often in your drafts. Review the ones that are trouble spots for you. 

  • active verbs/voice, 153
  • apostrophes, 275-78
  • capitalization, 293-96
  • colons and semicolons, 271-73
  • commas, 259-71
  • end punctuation, 283-84
  • hyphens, 291-92
  • italics for titles, 301
  • lay, lie, 182-83
  • like, as, 146
  • numbers expressed as words, 299
  • paragraph focus
  • paragraph length, 53-54
  • pronoun case, 196-97
  • reason why, 148
  • reflexive pronouns, 306
  • sentence fragments, 207-13
  • standard idioms, 166
  • than, then, 149
  • that, which, 149
  • there, their, they’re, 149
  • to, too, two, 149
  • verb agreement with subjects, 171-79
  • who’s, whose, 150
  • who, which, that, 150

Concluding Your Literacy Narrative

What word, idea, or image in the first paragraph might you return to in the final paragraph? The authors of A Writer’s Reference recommend bringing readers full circle with that strategy (Hacker and Somers 18).

Avoid concluding your narrative with a platitude: a phrase or sentence that’s been uttered so often that it comes across as neither interesting nor thoughtful. For example: It made me the person I am today. Who is that person? Write who that is, rather than the platitude, which tells readers nothing.

Also avoid the phrases “in conclusion,” “to conclude,” “in summary,” and “to sum up.” These can be useful, even welcome, in oral presentations. But readers can see, on the page or the screen, when a short essay is about to end.

MLA Style

The MS Word file that you will submit to Moodle should comply with the format guidelines for MLA (Modern Language Association) manuscripts. A Writer’s Reference includes a sample MLA paper (see pages 427-432). You can use the MS Word file posted in Moodle as a template. Your literacy narrative will not include a works cited list unless you quote or paraphrase a source.

Remember that in addition to submitting your revision to Moodle, you will publish it as a post on your WordPress blog. Your blog post will omit the first-page information included in your file submitted to Moodle (your name, course, section, instructor’s name, and date). You will include in your blog post an image that documents some part of your writing process away from the screen, such as a photo of your reading notes or a page of your handwritten draft.

Writing Help

If you would like for someone to review your literacy narrative before you submit it, look to the Center for Academic Engagement, which offers a variety of options:

Posted in Teaching, Writing

A Clara-fying Lesson

Aunt Clara / Screen Gems, Yoda / Lucasfilm

As a writing teacher, I have often imagined myself as Yoda, the irascible Jedi master who trains her students to express their ideas with light-saber accuracy. But although Yoda and I are roughly the same height, the similarity ends there.

I grew keenly aware of just how un-Yoda-like I am when I began teaching online synchronously for the first time last month. Initially, I found solace in the knowledge that I would muddle my way through Microsoft Teams for only a couple of weeks before in-person classes resumed. Then two weeks became five, and then five became eight.

Now as we begin week seven online, my true identity as a teacher has moved into sharp focus. While for years I have envisioned myself as Yoda, I am in fact Aunt Clara.

For Gen Z readers, Aunt Clara may require a bit of explanation, or—dare I write it?—Clara-fication: Long, long before George Lucas dreamed up the Star Wars galaxy far, far away, Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) entered the lives of TV viewers as the well-meaning but bumbling great aunt of Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) on the sitcom Bewitched. Though Clara shared her great niece’s supernatural powers, she inevitably flubbed her spells, always conjuring or morphing something but never what she intended. That has been my modus operandi for the past six weeks.

And now as I stare into the screen of my laptop for the seventh week, I find myself wondering once again whether breadcrumbs is the correct term for those little icons for the microphone and the camera, and then my mind wanders into an enchanted forest because breadcrumbs make me think of Hansel and Gretel, not computer applications, and then I realize I’m lost in the woods—but in this case, the woods is the lesson plan. (If only the figurative breadcrumbs could morph into real ones and lead me back.) As Aunt Clara would say, “Oh, dear.”

Once while Aunt Clara babysat her grand-niece, Tabitha (Erin Murphy), she resolved to stop the toddler’s tears by playing a lullaby on the piano. But the size and location of the piano—a grand one, no less—presented a problem. Clara’s solution: cast a spell to shrink the piano and carry it upstairs to Tabitha’s bedroom. Clara’s plan worked—until it didn’t. As she carried the Schroeder-sized piano upstairs, it ballooned to its original size. Wedged halfway up the stairs, Clara wrestled with the piano and plunged the entire Eastern Seaboard into darkness.

At this point, I should mention that none of my technical blunders are to blame for the recent power outages—at least as far as I know, but perhaps you shouldn’t take the word of someone who still imagines she’s on Dagoba.

The words that my students want to write seem out of reach. With a little coaxing, I help bring those words to the surface. Voila! There they are, shining out from the darkness, rising like the X-Wing fighter from the swamp. To the students who are reading this: The last part is real. The writing force is strong in you; with persistence, you will find the words you seek. In the meantime, the struggle is real. Take it from the woman wedged on the staircase, trying to move the piano.

“No. Try not,” Yoda says to me, “Do, or do not. There is no try.”

After I catch me breath, I answer him. “Fair enough, Yoda—then again, you never had to teach online.”

Work Cited

Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back. Directed by George Lucas, performances by Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Frank Oz, Twentieth Century Fox, 1980.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Revising (or Reenvisioning) Your Literacy Narrative

The processes of revising and editing aren’t the same. As the authors of A Writer’s Reference note, when you revise “you focus on clarity and effectiveness; when you edit, you check for correctness” (29).

On Wednesday, I will ask you to check for correctness. Today, I am asking you to focus on the big picture. With that in mind, consider the differences between the side-by-side paragraphs below. On the left is the first paragraph of a rough draft of a literacy narrative written in 2015 by then-college student Michelle Nguyen. The paragraph on the right is her revision.

My family used to live in the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam. The neighborhood was small but swamped with crime. Drug addicts scoured the alleys and stole the most mundane things–old clothes, worns slippers, even license plates of motorbikes. Like anyone else in Vietnam in the ’90s, we struggled with poverty. There was no entertainment device in our house aside from an 11″ black-and-white television. Even then, electricity went off for hours on a weekly basis. (25)

I grew up in the heart of Hanoi–Nhà Dàu–a small but busy neighborhood swamped with crime. Houses, wedged in among cafés and other local businesses (see fig. 1), measured uniformly about 200 square feet, and the walls were so thin that we could hear every heated debate and impassioned disagreement. Drug addicts scoured the vicinity and stole the most mundane things–old clothes, worn slippers, even license plates of motorbikes. It was a neighborhood where dogs howled and kids ran amok and where the earth was always moist and marked with stains. It was the 1990s Vietnam in miniature, with all the turmoil and growing pains of a newly reborn nation. (32)

Revising (or Reenvisioning) by Adding and Deleting Details

In her revision, Nguyen paints a clearer picture of her neighborhood with these added details:

  • Nhà Dàu, the name of her neighborhood in Hanoi
  • the size of the houses, cafés, and other businesses
  • the thinness of the walls
  • the sounds of arguments
  • the howls of dogs
  • the sight of running children
  • the moisture of the ground
  • The image of her neighborhood as a microcosm of her country–a “Vietnam in miniature, with all the turmoil and growing pains of a newly reborn nation” (32).

Nguyen also deletes a couple of details:

  • the 11-inch black-and-white TV
  • the weekly power outages 

Although the TV and the power outages provide specifics about her childhood home, Nguyen realized through the process of revision that they were details she didn’t need to include.

As you work on your revision, turn to pages 25-26 and 32-33 of A Writer’s Reference. There you will find the complete rough draft and revision of Nguyen’s literacy narrative. As you revise the body paragraphs of your own narrative, examine the differences between the body paragraphs of Nguyen’s draft and those of her revision. Later, as you revise the ending of your essay, consider the changes in Nguyen’s conclusion.

Revising (or Reenvisioning) by Reorganizing

  • If you drafted your narrative chronologically, try starting in the middle or working in reverse.
  • If your draft begins in the middle or the end, try reordering it chronologically.

And for More Ideas and Inspiration . . .

Browse the New York Times feature “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The description of each memoir in the list includes a short quotation, a sentence or two, from the book. Browse the list, and if you read a line that you find evocative, write it down in your journal. Here’s one that I recorded in my journal:

He [J.M. Coetzee] feels like a crab pulled out of its shell, pink and wounded and obscene” (qtd. Szalai).

Writing of himself in third person, Coetzee vividly depicts the vulnerability that many of us feel when we put ourselves on the page for others to see.

Writing Help

If you would like for someone to review your literacy narrative before you submit it, look to the Center for Academic Engagement, which offers a variety of options:

Works Cited

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. “How to Write a Literacy Narrative.” A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 34-35.

Nguyen, Michelle. “A Place to Begin.” A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 32-33.

—. Rough Draft with Peer Comments. A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker and Nancy Sommers. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. pp. 25-26.

Szalai, Jennifer. 17: Boyhood by J.M. Coetzee. “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The New York Times, 26 June 2019,

You’ve Got to . . .

For the fourth installment in our You’ve-Got-To series, I offer an assignment that focuses on the television sitcom Community. As you read it, ask yourself how the writer might revise the paragraphs by adding and subtracting details. 

You’ve Got to Watch Community

Community is a TV show on Netflix with 110 episodes around 30 minutes each. The show starts off about Jeff Winger, a former lawyer who faked getting a bachelor’s degree. In order to become a practicing lawyer again he enrolls at Greendale community college to earn his degree. The show follows Jeff as he makes a study group with a bunch of random people in his spanish class. He ends up not liking anyone in his study group and constantly talks about how he can’t wait to get out of Greendale. As time goes on he continues to meet with his study group and he actually starts to like them and the school. 

I first started watching community at the beginning of quarantine because my sister showed it to me. I really enjoyed the show and I liked it so much that I finished it in 2 weeks. The show was super funny and it was pretty cool watching Jeff go from hating the school to loving it. You also get to watch the study group grow closer together and become a family.  Community has a little something for everyone and you should definitely watch it.

YGT Notes: “You’ve Got to Watch Community”

  • In the first paragraph, the writer includes the number of episodes and their run time. Although those are concrete details, they are specifics that the writer doesn’t need to include in the summary. 
  • While Community does stream on Netflix, it is not a Netflix original series (such as Stranger Things). Details that the writer might add to the first paragraph include these: Community originally aired on NBC (2009-14) and streamed for a sixth season on Yahoo.
  • After the writer names the central character, Jeff Winger, for the first time, he should follow the character’s name with the actor’s name in parentheses. That’s the stylistic convention for identifying actors when you’re writing about TV/streaming series and films. 
  • The writer notes that Jeff doesn’t like his classmates initially. Adding some of his personality traits, naming some of his classmates (followed by the actors’ names), and including some of the classmates’ character traits would give readers a clearer picture of Jeff’s circle of friends.  
  • The second paragraph offers a more effective place to present the number of episodes in the series. When the writer notes that he watched the entire series in a couple of weeks, he could include the detail that he watched all 110 episodes to emphasize Community’s binge-worthiness. 
  • Since the writer is a community college student, he might add to the second paragraph his observations about the similarities and/or the differences between the experiences of the fictional Greendale students and his own at GTCC.
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 259-71 (commas), 293 (capitalize proper nouns), and 301 (italic for titles). 
Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Ideas and Inspiration

Today as you continue to plan and draft, look to the essay excerpts I’ve included here for ideas and inspiration as well models for developing your own narrative through description, narration, classification, and definition.

Developing with Description

First, consider the paragraph that follows from a literacy narrative written by a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. In the first paragraph of her essay, the writer, Ana-Jamileh Kassfy, introduces readers to her family’s auto repair shop. In the second paragraph (the one below), she describes her role in the auto shop with details that lead to the incident at the center of the narrative.

From “Automotive Literacy”

Since I come from a family whose life revolves around cars, and since I practically lived at the auto shop until I was able to drive, you’d think that I’d understand most of the jargon a mechanic would use, right? Wrong. During my first sixteen years of life, I did manage to learn the difference between a flathead and a Torx screwdriver. I also learned what brake pads do and that a car uses many different colorful fuses. However, rather than paying attention to what was happening and what was being said around me, most of the time I chose to focus on the social aspect of the business. While everyone was running around ordering different pads, filters, and starters or explaining in precise detail why a customer needed a new engine, I chose to sit and speak with customers and learn their life stories. Being social worked for me–until it didn’t. (85)

The writer, Kassfy, develops the second paragraph using description as her pattern of organization, specifically by describing what she has and hasn’t learned about her family’s auto shop. What she hasn’t learned (because she focused on the social aspect of the business) leads to the incident at the center of the narrative, which she introduces with the line “until it didn’t.”

For more on developing paragraphs with description, see A Writer’s Reference (45-46).

Developing with Narration and Classification

In “Wet Dogs & White People,” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard Professor and host of PBS’s Finding Your Roots, begins with a one-sentence paragraph hook followed by a memory within a memory: a car ride with his daughter in which he recounts learning to read and write.

From “Wet Dogs & White People”

You just wouldn’t know it from Mama.

I remember the first time I got angry with my older daughter, Maggie. Not the angry that a parent gets when he’s tired, or irritable, or stressed. But angry, deep-down angry, angry like: Do I know this person I’ve helped bring into the world and have been living with for seven or eight years? We were driving along the highway that connects Piedmont to Cumberland, and I was going on about Mama, about how she had taught me to read and write in one day in the kitchen of our second house, down Rat Tail Road. (“You want to learn how to write?” was all she had asked me. And I had said yes, so she wrote out all of the letters in printing and in script, and we made them together on our red kitchen table.) (84)

After opening his essay with a one-sentence paragraph hook, Gates begins his narration with a memory, then interrupts it with classification. Note how Gates begins to develop his paragraph by classifying types of anger before he returns to the narration that leads to the memory within a memory. 

For more on developing paragraphs with narration and classification, see A Writer’s Reference (45, 48).

Developing with Definition

Novelist Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, begins her essay “Mother Tongue” with a definitionfirst by defining herself by what she isn’t, then by turning to how she defines herself as a writer.

From “Mother Tongue”

I am not a scholar of English or literature. I cannot give you much more than personal opinions on the English language and its variations in this country or others. 

I am a writer. And by that definition, I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in daily life. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language—the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth. Language is the tool of my trade. And I use them all—all the Englishes I grew up with. (462)

In the first paragraph of her essay, Tan defines herself by what she is not (“a scholar of English or literature”). She develops the second paragraph by expanding her definition of what it means to her to be a writer, a definition that serves as a lead-in to her exploration of her identity as someone who grew up hearing and speaking more than one form of English: her own standard English and the nonstandard English of her immigrant mother.

For more on developing paragraphs through definition, see A Writer’s Reference (48-49).

Works Cited

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “Wet Dogs & White People.” Colored People. Knopf, 1994, pp. 29-39.

Hacker, Diana, and Nancy Sommers. A Writer’s Reference. GTCC Custom 9th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2018. 

Kassfy, Ana-Jamileh. “Automotive Literacy.” The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings and Handbook. 5th ed., by Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Francine Weinberg, 2019, pp. 84-86.

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” The Norton Book of Personal Essays. Edited and with an Introduction by Joseph Epstein. W.W. Norton, 1997. pp. 462-68.

You’ve Got to . . .

For the third installment in our You’ve-Got-To series, I offer an assignment that focuses on “Keep the Wolves Away” by Uncle Lucius. In it, the writer addresses the song’s themes of overcoming adversity and the dynamics of parent-child relationships. As you read the assignment, ask yourself if a similar experience of overcoming adversity or a story of a lesson learned from one of your parents might serve as the subject of your literacy narrative.

Now It’s My Turn

So a former banker, a bassist, a rock guitarist, and a drummer walk into a bar. What are they doing? The answer: playing a show. These four men, by the names of Kevin Galloway, Hal Vorpahl, Mike Carpenter, and Jason Armstrong made up the band “Uncle Lucius” . Formed in 2005, then retiring in 2017, “Uncle Lucius” embraced the Texan music culture, inspired by musicians such as Willie Nelson. The song that helped the group gain traction, “Keep The Wolves Away”, is a true story based on the life of lead singer Kevin Galloway and his father’s misfortunes. Galloway’s father was involved in a chemical accident while at work, and being the only one working in the house, his father had to “Keep The Wolves Away” while his family struggled.

“Keep The Wolves Away” is a song about misfortune and overcoming misfortune. I feel that although not everyone’s fathers get into chemical accidents, everyone faces adversity and misfortune at some point or another, and everyone also has a metaphorical father, being someone to ward off the sorrows of life. Galloway details the way life goes on, and now that his father is growing old, Kevin is now the one “Keeping The Wolves Away” from his father. This is a song I can listen to with my best friends, or my own father, and it sparks conversation starting with “ Do you remember when…”. Yip Harburg said it best, “Words make you think. Music makes you feel. A song makes you feel a thought” .

Notes on YGT: “Now It’s My Turn

  • The writer draws readers into the first paragraph with a guy-walks-into-a-bar set-up, which he uses to introduce the band Uncle Lucius, whose song “Keep the Wolves Away” serves as his subject.
  • In the summary, the writer conveys a sense of Uncle Lucius’s sound by including the group’s locale (Texas) and one of its influences (Willie Nelson).
  • In the fourth sentence, “by the names of” is an empty phrase, which A Writer’s Reference defines as one that “can be cut with little or no loss of meaning” (151). Listing the names alone suffices.  
  • In the fifth sentence, the writer states that the group retired. More accurately, the group disbanded. At least one of its members, frontman Kevin Galloway, continues to record and perform. 
  • Not everyone’s father falls victim to a chemical accident. That is a statement of fact, not a perception. “I feel that” should be deleted from the second sentence of the second paragraph.   
  • Yip Harburg should be identified as a lyricist and the source of his observations should be listed in a works cited entry.
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 164-65 (exact language), 281 (periods and commas–placement inside quotation marks), and 383 (documenting sources). 

Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Beginning the Literacy Narrative

The first draft of “A Bridge to Words,” the literacy narrative that I wrote with my students in September 2020

This week’s classes will be devoted to planning and drafting your literacy narrative, the first of the three essays that you will write for English 111. The assignment file is posted in Moodle and I have included an additional copy here. (See the link and rectangle labeled download below.)

Although I have emphasized the importance of revising and editing your writing, I am asking you to resist the urge to revise and edit this week. Your primary goal for now is getting your ideas down on paper. In Bird by Bird, author Ann Lamott’s guide to writing, she offers these reassuring observations about beginning the process:

Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something–anything–down on paper. A friend of mine says the first draft is the down draft–you just get it down (25).

Brainstorm and Freewrite

If your initial plan doesn’t seem to be taking shape, turn away from your draft for a while. Try brainstorming or freewriting in your journal. Don’t concern yourself with spelling and structure; attend to those matters later. The aim of brainstorming and freewriting is to get your ideas on paper as quickly as you can.

For more on brainstorming and freewriting, see A Writer’s Reference (6).

If you write on one topic in the list of options and that doesn’t seem to lead anywhere, return to the list and try writing on another topic–or two, or three . . . . The complete list of options is in the assignment file, and I am including an additional copy below.

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write 
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that you found significant in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking (one of those, not all three)
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog

Write Your Uncertainty into Your Story

If you’re unsure of some details, make your uncertainty part of your literacy narrative. Art Spiegelman does just that in the epigraph for Maus when he writes, “I was ten or eleven . . .” (5).

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 5.

Look to Maus and An American Childhood as Models

Continue to examine Maus as a model. Study how Spiegelman creates tension in the panels of his comic. Also reread the excerpts from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood, included in my class notes for February 8 and 10. Look to Dillard’s words as models for creating dialogue and shifting back and forth from scene to summary.

More Models for Your Literacy Narrative

Remember that I am writing a literacy narrative along with you and will post mine as a model next week. In the meantime, I offer links to six literacy narratives, three that I wrote with my students in previous semesters and three written by students of mine at Catawba Valley Community College.

You’ve Got to . . .

For the second installment in our You’ve-Got-To series, I offer an assignment that focuses on Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO). In it, the writer observes how the skills he has developed as a player differ from those of his teammates. As you read his assignment, ask yourself if a similar experience of your own–whether as a video game player or an athlete–might serve as the subject of your literacy narrative.

Drop AWP Bro

Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) is the third installment of the video game series Counter Strike. It is a competitive first-person shooter game with a strong player base, a real-life economic system with skins in the game being able to be sold for real life money, and a big professional scene. The game is different from most shooters as it’s round based and you can earn in game money to upgrade your kit for each round, from getting armor to an upgraded pistol or if you have the money you can buy a sniper or a rifle. In most shooter games you just go in and shoot’em up but in CSGO you must use your brain because of the in game economic system of needing to buy new guns.

I really enjoy the game because my skills in the game aren’t the best but my skills in what we should buy for the next round or how to set up with different kits, like where to throw smoke grenades to block vision or flash bangs to have the other players blind and easy wipes to be able to win the round. My friends can win almost any fights they get themself into but with the addition of the utility sets that I set up with them makes it almost impossible for us the lose the first engagement of each round and then hopefully when the second fight happens when the players who were on the other side of map move to take us out, I can hold them off with the sniper.  The Sniper in the game is called the AWP and it’s my favorite weapon because you can lock off a hold side of a map if you place it in the right spot and can change the whole round with one player. 

Notes on YGT: “Drop AWP Bro”

  • The writer has crafted a title that engages readers. Those who aren’t gamers may not catch the reference to CSGO, but presenting an imperative sentence that begins with a concrete verb (one that describes a literal action) indicates that the paragraphs that follow will be action-filled. That said, note that AWP should be followed by a comma because the title is a statement of direct address (Drop AWP, Bro).
  • Among the additional details that the writer could include in the summary are these: the game’s developer and publisher (Valve), the designations of the two opposing teams (Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists), and the game’s sequence in the Counter-Strike series (it’s the fourth).
  • In the second paragraph, when the writer turns to the specifics of his own game play, he might identify the mode in which he plays (there are a total of nine). He might also mention the five categories of weapons. On first reference in the second paragraph, the acronym AWP should be followed by Arctic Warfare Police enclosed in parentheses (Arctic Warfare Police). The writer should also specify that “skins” are virtual goods and identify the type of kit he mentions.  
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 145 (hopefully), 193 (pronoun-antecedent agreement), 259-71 (commas), and 291 (hyphens in compound words).

Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. 1994. Anchor, 1995.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs, Part II

On Monday, our study of Art Spiegelman’s dialogue in Maus served as a starting point for exploring how writers render conversation. Today, as we continue to examine Maus and as you prepare to write your literacy narrative, we will shift our focus to conflict, scene, and summary.

Narrative Conflict or Tension

Notice how many panels in Maus convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict, which is essential to narrative, appears on virtually every page of Maus.

The first half of Chapter 2, “The Honeymoon,” depicts six conflicts or problems:

  • Vladek combatting his medical condition (heart disease, diabetes)
  • the policemen’s pursuit of Anja
  • the interrogation of Anja’s aide, the seamstress,  Miss Stefanska
  • Art questioning his father’s storytelling
  • Anja’s struggles with postpartum depression, and
  • the train passengers facing the threat of the Nazi regime, signified by the flag in the center of the page (32).

Scene and Summary

As a comic, Maus consists primarily of scenes but it includes summary as well. In the panel below, which depicts Miss Stefanska’s interrogation by the Polish police, the scene is depicted with the panel’s drawing and its speech balloons. Spiegelman presents summary in the rectangles.

Panel from page 28 of Maus.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 28.

Scene and summary are the building blocks of narratives. Simply put, scenes show and summaries tell. Narratives can consist primarily of scenes, but ones that rely heavily on summary don’t capture our imagination. As you plan your literacy narrative, keep this in mind: Readers would rather be shown than told.

The paper-craft graphic below illustrates the organization of scene and summary in a narrative essay.

Look to the passage that follows as another model for your literacy narrative. Here, in her memoir, An American Childhood, Annie Dillard recounts seeing an amoeba for the first time:

Finally late that spring I saw an amoeba. The week before, I had gathered puddle water from Frick Park; it had been festering in a jar in the basement. This June night after dinner I figured I had waited long enough. In the basement at my microscope table I spread a scummy drop of Frick Park puddle water on a slide, peeked in, and lo, there was the famous amoeba. He was as blobby and grainy as his picture; I would have known him anywhere.

Before I had watched him at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee. They, too, could see the famous amoeba. I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried. It was the chance of a lifetime.

Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair. Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue slacks, smoking a Chesterfield. The dessert dishes were still on the table. My sisters were nowhere in evidence. It was a warm evening; the big dining-room windows gave onto blooming rhododendrons.

Mother regarded me warmly. She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I  began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.

I had essentially been handed my own life, in subsequent years my parents would praise my drawings and poems, and supply me with books, art supplies, and sports equipment, and listen to my troubles and enthusiasm, and supervise my hours, and discuss and inform, but they would not get involved with my detective work, nor hear about my reading, nor inquire about my homework or term papers or exams, nor visit the salamanders I caught, nor listen to me play piano, nor attend my field hockey games, nor fuss over my insect collection. My days and nights were my own to plan and fill. (148-49)

Those paragraphs from An American Childhood don’t include any direct quotations. In the second paragraph, Dillard recounts what her mother said, but she doesn’t present it as dialogue. If the exact words spoken aren’t crucial to a scene, you can present the conversation indirectly, as Dillard does above.

Narratives Don’t Have to Center on Dramatic Events

The excerpt above demonstrates how to create scene and summary and how to shift from one to the other. And perhaps most importantly, it demonstrates this: Narratives don’t have to center on dramatic events.

If you think that you don’t have a story to write as your literacy narrative, look again at Dillard’s depiction of herself as a student of the natural world. There’s no dramatic conflict, but there’s desire. First, she wants to see an amoeba,  something she’s never seen before. Second, she wants her parents to share her excitement, but they don’t. With her microscope, Annie Dillard develops her knowledge of nature, but the larger learning experience that takes place is her realization that “you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself” (149). She has “essentially been handed [her] own life” (149).

What quiet, significant learning experience of yours has lingered in your mind? Your answer to that question could be the start of your literacy narrative.

You’ve Got to . . .

The You’ve-Got-To assignment that follows was composed by one of your classmates in English 111. As you read it, ask yourself if a similar reading experience of your own might serve as the subject of your literacy narrative.

The Hate U Give

When I first read this story, I fall in love with it. I am not a person who like to read but with this book I had too. It’s tell you about life, been a black and white kids. Mostly a black kid. How some kids grow up. And how some of them did not have a happy childhood experience like other had. Why other been kill before they could even be done with high school.

In this story it tell you about a black girl name Starr and her family and friends. She and her friends when to a party and have a little bit of drink cop came to the party, she and her friend decided to leave. On their way home they get stop by the police. And her friend get kill that day by the cop. She and her family went to a restaurant. Why the was eating her father get pull outside by the police and embarrass him in from of his family by pushing him on to the ground in from of everyone. People try to protest about what was going on in their community, but it did not go well, the protest turn to a violated one. Gas was everywhere, stores and houses get burn down.

Many of us have been surprised to discover enjoyment in something that we were required to do (and wouldn’t have done otherwise). If the YGT assignment above reminds you of one of those occasions, try writing about it in your journal.

Notes on YGT: “The Hate U Give

  • The assignment requirements specify that the subject’s title–in this case, The Hate U Give–may be part of the assignment’s title but not its complete title.
  • Additionally, the assignment stipulates that the first paragraph consists solely of summary, which is objective. Neither first-person (I) nor the writer’s opinions should be present.
  • Among the details that should be included in the summary are the subject’s genre and subgenre (novel and YA or young adult) and its author (Angie Thomas). In the first paragraph, the writer might also mention that The Hate U Give, though a work of fiction, was inspired by the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, and that a film adaptation of Thomas’ novel was released in 2018. 
  • As a guide for addressing trouble spots, the writer should consult these pages of A Writer’s Reference: 149 (to, too, two), 186-89 (verb tense), 207-12 (sentence fragments), 213-18 (run-on sentences).

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 12.

Last week, in my notes on Maus, I asked you to consider how Spiegelman’s  book is not only a memoir, or a narrative of memories, but more precisely a dual memoir, a story of both Vladek and his son, the comic artist Art, and a meta-memoir, a memoir about the memoir-writing process.

I also noted how the panel above, from Chapter 1, illustrates the concept of meta-memoir.

In the panel, Art says to his father, “I still want to draw that book about you . . . .” (12). When we read those words of Spiegelman’s, we know that the book that he’s referring to is the one that we’re holding in our hands. He is writing about the process of writing and drawing his father’s story, and we see that on the page as he draws himself recording his father’s memories.

At the end of Chapter 1, Spiegelman creates another meta-memoir moment when he argues with his father.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 23.

Vladek doesn’t want his son to write about Lucia Greenberg, the girlfriend he left behind after he met Art’s mother, Anja. In the last panel of the chapter, when Art promises his father that he won’t tell that story in his book, we as readers know that Art has broken his promise because we have just read the story of Vladek and Lucia’s tryst.


As you prepare to begin writing your own memoir (your literacy narrative), examine how Spiegelman develops the chapters of Maus primarily through dialogue. Every page of his book demonstrates the important role that dialogue often plays in narrative, but it doesn’t show how dialogue is presented in an essay. In comics, dialogue appears in speech balloons. Prose narratives (essays, short stories, novels, and book-length  nonfiction) present dialogue with lines of speech enclosed in quotation marks and with dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a short phrase at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the dialogue that attributes the dialogue to a particular person or character.

“Have you chosen a topic for your literacy narrative?” she asked.

In the sentence above, she asked is the dialogue tag.

When you write dialogue, you begin a new paragraph whenever the speaker changes. That’s why paragraphs of dialogue are generally short, often only one line.

Consider the dialogue below, from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood:

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987. p. 112.

In the first paragraph, Annie Dillard summarizes how her mother would tell her to spell words. In the second paragraph, Dillard moves to the scene of one particular evening, the night when her mother says there’s a deer in the hall.  Only the first of the three short paragraphs that follow the summary includes a dialogue tag. The other two don’t need tags because the new paragraph itself, the indentation of five spaces, signals a change in the speaker.

Once you’ve established who the speakers are in a dialogue between two people, you don’t need to include dialogue tags.

Notice that the first and last paragraphs include single quotation marks within the lines of dialogue. In the first paragraph, the words poinsettia and sherbet are enclosed in single quotation marks because words referred to as words are enclosed in quotation marks. Since the two words are contained within a longer quotation, Dillard’s mother’s line of dialogue, the words are enclosed in single quotation marks.

In the last paragraph, the words I know are enclosed in single quotation marks because the mother is quoting her daughter.

Words referred to as words in dialogue and quotations within lines of dialogue are enclosed in single quotation marks.

For more information on quotation marks, see A Writer’s Reference (279-80).

A Writer’s Reference

  • One of your reading assignments for the first week of class was pages GT-3-24. Although additional readings in A Writer’s Reference are not listed on the course calendar, I will ask you to refer to your handbook throughout the semester.
  • My notes on your introductory blog post direct you to pages that cover some of the trouble spots in your writing. If I asked you to consult pages 259-71, that means that there are comma errors in your post.
  • On the days when you will revise your second and third essays in class (see the course calendar for dates), you will be required to have your copy of A Writer’s Reference. I may conduct book checks on those days. If I do, those book checks will serve as grades in the participation and preparedness category. 

Introductory Blog Posts

  • If you haven’t visited your classmates’ blogs and read their introductions, please do so ASAP.
  • Also consider writing replies to their introductions.

WordPress Help

  • If you have encountered issues creating your blog or publishing your first post, visit the support page, If you cannot find a solution there, email ASAP.
  • Also look to the Titan Hub as a resource. Located on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center on campus, the Titan Hub is open 9-4 Monday-Friday. The Hub can help you with all technical matters related to your course work at GTCC. If you need to download and install Microsoft Word (you will need to type many of your GTCC writing assignments in Word), if you need help with MS Teams, or if you have trouble with your password, Titan Hub,, can help. In addition to visiting Titan Hub on the third floor of the LRC, you can contact the hub by phone or email: 336-334-4822, ext. 50318,

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Panteon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Field Notes

To begin our last class meeting before Super Bowl LV, we will turn to a piece of writing about football–not simply to read about a sport that’s on the minds of many of us this week but instead as an opportunity to explore how skillfully the writer Michael Lewis dramatizes a few seconds on the football field. 

In the passage that follows, Lewis recounts the moments in the November 1985 Redskins-Giants football game leading up to the injury that ended quarterback Joe Theismann’s career. These are the words that begin Chapter 1 of The Blind Side, now widely regarded as a nonfiction masterpiece.

From the snap of the ball to the snap of the first bone is closer to four seconds than to five. One Mississippi: The quarterback of the Washington Redskins, Joe Theismann, turns and hands the ball to running back John Riggins. He watches Riggins run two steps forward, turn, and flip the ball back to him. It’s what most people know as a “flea-flicker,” but the Redskins call it a “throw-back special.” Two Mississippi: Theismann searches for a receiver but instead sees Harry Carson coming straight at him. It’s a running down—the start of the second quarter, first and 10 at midfield, with the score tied 7–7—and the New York Giants’ linebacker has been so completely suckered by the fake that he’s deep in the Redskins’ backfield. Carson thinks he’s come to tackle Riggins but Riggins is long gone, so Carson just keeps running, toward Theismann. Three Mississippi: Carson now sees that Theismann has the ball. Theismann notices Carson coming straight at him, and so he has time to avoid him. He steps up and to the side and Carson flies right on by and out of the play. The play is now 3.5 seconds old. Until this moment it has been defined by what the quarterback can see. Now it–and he–is at the mercy of what he can’t see.

What Theismann cannot see is Lawrence Taylor. A second later, as Taylor sacks Theismann, Taylor’s knee drives straight into Theismann’s lower right leg, leading to the “snap of the first bone” that Lewis mentions in the first sentence. He hooks the reader by linking the beginning of the play, “the snap of the ball” to the gruesome “snap of the first bone” that will follow. Lewis develops the paragraph using the common one-Mississippi, two-Mississippi method of marking seconds to present the events leading up to the compound fracture that ends Theisman’s career.

Lewis doesn’t dramatize the injury itself because his interest lies instead in the blind side that led to it and subsequently elevated the status and salary of the left tackle, the player who protects the quarterback’s blind side.

When you’re struggling to develop a piece of writing, reread the opening paragraph of The Blind Side. Study how Lewis dramatizes 3.5 seconds–yes, only 3.5 seconds–with 224 words.

And now we turn to a game of another sort: Scrabble, the subject of my version of the You’ve Got to . . . assignment, the sample that I wrote for you.

A Game for Hardscrabble Times

The Guardian article “Spell Bound” notes that the exact beginning of Scrabble is “debatable,” adding that “Scrabble experts are the kind of people who like to debate it at length.” In a piece of writing such as this–one that begins at the beginning of the game–the starting point could be Lexico, which is the game that Alfred Mosher Butts developed before he invented Scrabble–which, by the way, wasn’t named Scrabble until Butts sold the game to Jacob Brunot. That’s when the game that Butts had christened Criss-Cross Words became the game that would multiply to more than 150 million sets worldwide, a game that can now be found in a third of homes in America (Bukszpan 16).

If that description of Scrabble’s beginnings doesn’t capture your interest, perhaps because you don’t think of yourself as a word person, consider this: Scrabble’s inventor wasn’t a word person either. Butts was fascinated by games of all sorts and saw word games as the category that offered the most opportunities for innovation. For him, that innovation meant creating a game in which the frequency of letters corresponded with their frequency in the English language. As part of his research, he documented how often each letter appeared on the front page of the newspaper. E is most common, so there are twelve E’s in Scrabble but only one tile for each of the rarest of letters: J, K, Q, X, and Z. For many players, including me, part of Scrabble’s appeal is the combination of skill and luck. Word power alone won’t win the game. You don’t know which letters you will draw or which seven letter tiles are on your opponent’s rack. And for many players, another source of the game’s appeal is its synthesis of crosswords and anagrams.

Since creating words from anagrams is a process of letter scrambling, James Brunot may have chosen the name Scrabble in part for its similarity to scramble, but the word scrabble itself is apt for a game that often requires players to struggle (or scrabble) to make a word from a seemingly impossible combination of tiles. It’s notable, too, that Scrabble’s beginnings date to the 1930s, when its inventor was an out-of-work architect. He wanted to create a diversion from the dark days of the Depression. Now it’s a game that many of us have returned to, pantomiming the ghosts of those first-generation players. Once again, it’s a game for hardscrabble times. 

Works Cited

Bukszpan, David. Is That a Word?: From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of Scrabble. Chronicle, 2012.

“Spell Bound.” The Guardian, 27 June 2008,

In addition to including my model of the assignment in the body of this blog post, I am including it below as a PDF along with an additional copy of the assignment file. (See the links below and the rectangles labeled download.)

You’ve Got to . . . Assignment Notes

  • Unlike my sample, yours does not have to include sources. If, however, you do quote or paraphrase a text, follow MLA style guidelines and look to my sample assignment as a model.
  • You are welcome to write more than two paragraphs, as I did, but be sure that the first two paragraphs comply with the directions outlined in the assignment.
  • Approach your writing as a process. My model did not begin with what is now the first sentence. Instead, it began this way: “Designed for two-to-four players, the board game Scrabble begins with each player randomly drawing a letter tile from an opaque bag. The player whose letter is closest to the beginning of the alphabet is designated the first player.” My first draft fulfilled the basic requirement of the first paragraph, but I was doubtful that it would hold the reader’s interest. I asked myself where else I might begin, and it occurred to me that I could begin with the debate about the origins of the game.

Preparing to Submit Your You’ve-Got-to . . . Assignment

  • Review the assignment file, and look to the guidelines as a checklist. 
  • Reread the notes on revising and editing in my January 27 blog post.
  • Remember that you will submit your assignment to Moodle as a Word document, not a PDF, and you will not post it to your blog. A Word file template is posted in Moodle for you.
  • If you would like for someone to review your assignment before you submit it, the Center for Academic Engagement offers  a variety of resources, which are outlined on pages four and five of the course syllabus.

Lewis, Michael. The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. 2006. W. W. Norton, 2009.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: You’ve Got to . . .

You’ve Got to Read This, edited by Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard, the book that inspired the You’ve Got to . . . Assignment

Today we will return briefly to our study of Maus, but we will focus primarily on your second short writing assignment, the “You’ve Got to . . .” assignment, which is now posted in Moodle. I have included an additional copy of the assignment below. (See the link and the small rectangle labeled download.)

I am in the process of writing a model YGT (“You’ve Got to . . .”) assignment for you and  will publish it on my blog on Wednesday morning.

Because this is a brand-new assignment, I cannot offer you samples from previous semesters. But remember, you will have a sample on Wednesday morning. In the meantime, you can look to the two paragraphs devoted to Maus in my January 27 blog post as a model of sorts. The first paragraph is a summary, as the first paragraph of yours will be. The second paragraph is an analysis; similarly, your second paragraph will be a reflection or an informal analysis. Together, my two paragraphs on Maus are 172 words long, which is slightly longer than your minimum requirement of 150 words. 

Continuing Our Study of Maus

Last week, in my notes on Maus, I focused Spiegelman’s  book as a memoir, or a narrative of memories. Unlike an autobiography or a biography, which aims to  present a comprehensive account of a subject’s life, a memoir usually focuses on one period of a person’s life or one aspect of it. Maus I centers on the life of the writer’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, in the years leading up to the war and during the war and the Holocaust. But Maus is also a dual memoir, a story of both Vladek and his son, the comic artist Art, and a meta-memoir, a memoir about the memoir-writing process.

Consider how Chapter 1 demonstrates how Art Spiegelman’s book is both a dual memoir and a meta-memoir. Note how the panel below illustrates the concept of meta-memoir.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 12.

In the panel, Art says to his father, “I still want to draw that book about you . . . .” (12). When we read those words of Spiegelman’s, we know that the book that he’s referring to is the one that we’re holding in our hands. He is writing about the process of writing and drawing his father’s story, and we see that on the page as he draws himself recording his father’s memories.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.