Written Assignments

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Analyzing Film (Postville)

As a follow-up to the interview unit, students viewed the documentary film Postville (often shown twice by the instructors). The instructors used various approaches in teaching the film (choosing one or more of the following):

  • analyzing film techniques and comparing a documentary to other film forms
  • evaluating the use of multiple interviews/perspectives (connection to the interview unit)
  • discussing diversity issues
  • examining the vocabulary of different faiths
  • analyzing the use of irony and satire in the film (the oral narration often stated one belief and the visuals depicted the opposing perspective)

The film Postville was chosen because it shows religious and ethnic diversity in Iowa when populations of Hasidic Jews and Latinos/as moved into a small Caucasian community. Challenges to this unit included focusing on one or two objectives (rather than the many objectives listed in the bullets) and encouraging students to talk about diversity issues.

Copies of Postville may be checked out from 403 Ross Hall. Postville may be used with a multicultural or global theme or for a general diversity discussion. Instructors may also wish to use it as a way of analyzing a visual form. The materials also may be helpful in teaching other films.

Visual Analysis Assignment

Rhetorical Analysis of Visual Communication
600–800 words


  • Develop ability to rhetorically analyze visual communication by describing how shared context and persuasive appeals [ethos, logos and pathos] determine "meaning."
  • Adopt concepts for the Visual Communication section of the Student Guide for English 150 and 250.
  • Notice how persuasive principles interact with cultural and technological change.
  • Contribute your analysis to the "Romancing the Consumer" team.

What does the artist or designer assume the reader thinks/believes and understands about the subject, and what does the artist or designer hope the reader will think/believe and understand after interacting with the visual elements of the communication?


Your unit I Team, investigating the role of romance conventions in current consumer culture by comparison with ads from a previous time period.


Each team member will choose one example from those selected for your "Romancing the Consumer" presentation—a print or video still. Use this as your specimen or example (integrate a copy into your analysis--not tacked on the end) to support your discussion of how the advertisement uses romance conventions to persuade viewers to buy a product or service. (Not just "see there's a couple in the foreground kissing" or "see there's a sunset on the beach" but how those images are developed to support claims for the specific product or service. How does persuasion work?)

Develop your analysis by comparing your main example to a similar ad from an earlier time period. (Not just, "see, they're kind of the same and kind of different," but how do the differences and similarities support claims you make for the persuasive strategy of your main example.)

Show us specific images, visual features and culturally coded elements which

  • support the credibility or character of the product or producer [ethos]
  • deliver evidence, claims, supporting imagery and detail for the ad’s persuasive purpose [logos]
  • depend on the viewer’s emotional response, appealing to the viewer’s interests and predispositions, anxieties and desires [pathos]
  • assume shared background, experience, and response to romance conventions' culturally coded imagery [context]

—submitted by Jim Noland

Email Assignment

Constructing an Effective Email Message

Directions: One of the objectives of this course is to prepare you for the communicating you will do further along in your college careers and later in the workplace. And as this message itself demonstrates, email is a common method for sharing routine information. An example of a routine communication in college would be to inform one of your instructors that you will miss a class meeting. The purpose of this assignment is to have you practice that routine task.

Assignment: We are scheduled to have a special class on Saturday (September ____) at 6:30 in the morning, at Memorial Park in Boone, IA. If you cannot attend class at that time and location, please send me an email.

Note: If you don't want the entire class to read your email, do not press the "reply all" button.

–adapted from an assignment prepared by Dave Roberts, Tad Patterson, and Viviane Vasconcelos

Supplemental Teaching Strategies

  • Send this email assignment to the class’s listserve. Consider assigning this type of task twice—once in the beginning of the semester and then again at the end of the semester—to see what learning has occurred.
  • To encourage students to think of the rhetorical situation, have students send three emails on a similar subject to three different audiences (such as a friend, parent, and teacher).
  • Have students examine some examples of poor or unethical email in small groups. To promote impromptu speaking skills, select one student from each group to share the group’s reactions to the examples.
  • In small groups, have student develop guidelines for email to instructors and classmates. This small group interaction will encourage students to practice oral communication skills of critical listening and negotiation.

Summary Assignment Sheet

Writing a Summary (200-250 words)

Audience and Purpose

Writing summaries is a standard practice in the academy. Online indexes, for example, often include abstracts (a kind of summary writing) of the articles listed. Each article in many academic journals also begins with an abstract. Readers use these abstracts to determine if they want to read an entire article or to remind themselves of the content of an article they read some time ago. Summary writing also serves as a useful heuristic for students. For instance, writing a summary of one’s own work can help a student determine if an essay is complete and coherent. Writing a summary of another person’s work can help a student determine the main points of an essay to analyze or evaluate.

During class, we will discuss and practice summarizing essays from the textbook. For this assignment, you are to write a formal summary that should be 200 to 250 words.

Remember: A summary of someone else’s work fairly describes the thesis and main points of the essay without judging the essay’s merit. Most of the summary should be a paraphrase of the essay, and quotations should be accurate and correctly punctuated.

Writing the Summary

Planning the summary. You have already read the essay; now reread it carefully. Underline important words and annotate the margins to mark key points. Next look at the summary you have already written: Does it accurately identify the thesis of the essay and the central points that support the thesis? If your first summary was an outline, determine if the order of the essay will be appropriate in a summary. (Some authors may repeat themselves or circle around a point; a summary needs to be succinct.)

Drafting the summary. The first sentence of the summary includes the name of the essay, name of the author, and thesis of the essay. Summarize and paraphrase the important points that support the thesis.

Revising the summary. Return to the essay to make sure your summary is accurate, is written in your own words, and connects ideas smoothly. If your summary is too long, try to eliminate secondary points or reduce wordiness. If your summary is too short, explain in more detail a major point.

Some Evaluation Criteria

The summary

  • identifies the thesis and main points of the essay
  • identifies the author and title
  • has a style and organization that are easy to follow
  • includes only ideas or examples
  • reads smoothly with transitions connecting ideas
  • paraphrases the important ideas of the essay without using the author’s phrasing
  • quotes sparingly and accurately
  • avoids judgments about the essay
  • avoids errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling


Reflection directions to accompany this assignment

Analyzing Visual Communication: Magazine Ad

Analyzing a Visual Argument

Today the average person in the United States is saturated with advertisements–on television, on billboards, buses, and buildings, in magazines and newspapers. Advertisements are used to sell a point of view, promote a charity, or support political leaders. And, of course, they are used to sell commercial products. Think of all the products you use in a day: toothpaste, cereals, tissue paper, shampoo, blow dryers, jeans, t-shirts, soft drinks, bottled water, radios, computers. The list goes on and on. How many of these products do you absolutely need? And how many of those products that you use are brand names? Why do people want Calvin Klein's name on their underwear, "Levi's" on their back pocket, or a favorite team logo on their caps?

Because the purpose of advertisement is to persuade viewers to buy or support something, it is crucial that today's informed citizen learn to analyze carefully the strategies used in advertisements. Through the critical analysis of all kinds of commercial communication, the informed citizen can address fundamental questions like these:

  • What is the ad really trying to sell?
  • What visual and verbal strategies is the ad using to convey its message?
  • Is the ad ultimately persuasive?
  • Are the message and its rhetorical means both honest and ethical?

The audience for this paper will be your teacher and the purpose will be to explain how the ad helps to sell the product.


Locate a magazine ad that you would like to analyze. Colorful, full-page ads will be easier to describe. You might consider ads for vehicles, cosmetics, food, clothes, alcohol, or charities. First, jot down notes that describe the ad. Second, since the customer's eye goes immediately to the visuals, think about how the advertiser has used visuals: people or places in the ad, uses of color, choice of font, movement of customer's eyes, etc. Third, examine the brand name (and its display), the product's slogan, and other print information and analyze why this slogan was chosen. Fourth, consider the types of emotional appeals that are meant to entice the customer. Finally, consider the overall impact of the ad and decide upon a thesis sentence for your upcoming paper. Use the questions on the Visual Analysis handout to help you focus on these areas.


After these prewriting activities, you can judiciously decide which types of information you will use to support the claim within your 2-3 page paper. Be sure to orient your reader by identifying the name and date of the magazine, describing the ad itself, and providing a thesis sentence about the claim you are making about the ad. If you write, "The Mustang ad in Time sells freedom," your reader won't know what you mean unless you describe the man standing alone by his car with a brown desert in the background. And then you'll have to explain how that image represents freedom in U.S. society. Remember to back up comments with specific details. If you say the ads depict beautiful people, describe the characteristics of these beautiful people.

Using Sources

Your instructor may direct you to specific articles which analyze ads. If so, you may be asked to include quotes from the articles to support your points.

Visual Design of Your Paper

  • Within your paper, you could use headings or choose appropriate font sizes/styles to fit this type of ad.
  • You could scan the ad into the paper and have your text flow around the ad. Scanners are available in the computer labs–just ask a lab monitor for assistance.
  • You could take a digital photo of the ad and insert the photo in the paper.

Note: Placing the ad within the paper is more effective than placing it at the end. Including the ad does not mean than you can be less thorough in your commentary because showing the ad itself does not make your argument. You will still need to describe the ad and explain which parts of the ad are significant and why.

Evaluation Criteria for the Essay

The analysis should

  • orient the reader by identifying the magazine, its date, the target audience, and purpose
  • contain a clear and interesting thesis supported by specific, concrete details
  • address the ethical dimensions of the ad
  • provide sufficient description of and insightful comments about the ad being analyzed
  • use secondary sources appropriately and cites these sources appropriately
  • integrate text and visuals effectively
  • avoid errors that distract reader's attention


Reflection directions to accompany this assignment


Documented Essay

English 250: Documented Essay

(minimum of 1,000 words plus a Works Cited page)


Now that we have read and discussed issues related to a specific topic, you should be ready to offer your own observations and argument on it. As a class, we will brainstorm specific issues you might address in your paper.

A cautionary note: even though this is the longest paper of the semester, you'll need to narrow your focus. Even in a 5-page paper, you simply can't address a large, complex topic. Remember, less is more when it comes to your topic.

You must use at least four sources for your essay, and two of these sources must come from the essays we have read for this unit. If you use sources on the internet or from texts we have not read, you must attach a photocopy of these materials to your essay.

Planning and Drafting

This assignment, more than any other this semester, requires careful planning. To a large extent, the success of your paper will depend on how thoroughly and diligently you carry out the writing process. Below are some suggestions for getting started.

  1. Restrict your topic to an area of the subject that you can handle in a short paper. State your topic in the form of a question and then decide whether or not you can answer it within the limited scope of your paper. If you tightly restrict your topic, you'll find that you can construct a much more complete and satisfying paper.
  2. Once you've focused your topic, collect your evidence from readings in our class and possible other sources, and formulate a preliminary thesis. As you write your draft or outline, test your thesis and, if necessary, modify it as you go.

As you can see, you need to complete several preliminary steps before you begin writing in earnest. Between composing your rough draft and your final paper, you'll need to keep several additional things in mind.

  1. Consider your readers. How much do your readers know about your topic? Are they interested in it? Do they have strong opinions about it? Do not assume that your readers have read the sources you have read.
  2. Keep in mind your purpose--e.g., to persuade your readers to accept your position (and perhaps to act on it).
  3. Interweave your sources into your paper to substantiate your thesis. Be careful, however, not to rely exclusively on one source. Verify the accuracy of your information and quotations. Miscues can undermine the credibility of your thesis.


In documenting your sources you may use the MLA, APA, or other style used in your discipline. MLA is used widely in the humanities, APA in the social sciences. For examples, see your handbook or articles written in your field.

Evaluation Criteria

Since this is your last out-of-class essay (except for the revision paper), you will want to demonstrate that you can employ the strategies and techniques we've talked about in the course. Some of them are listed below:

  • a focused topic with a thesis that goes beyond the points made in the essays we read
  • relevant, concrete details that support your thesis
  • a logical pattern of organization; transitions from one idea to the next that guide your reader through your material; unified
  • paragraphs, language and tone adapted to your subject, purpose, and audience.
  • a variety of sentence types (not short, choppy sentences)
  • accurate, well-documented use of sources (including paraphrasing and quoting)
  • few or no errors in correctness that distract the reader


Reflection directions to accompany this assignment