New College Writing Program

The Rhetorical Situation: Assignments

Developing A Conceptual Toolbox and Working Vocabulary: Essay Exam

Now that we have introduced and discussed some key concepts of rhetoric, let’s put them to use through an imaginative exercise. The goal of this assignment is to begin developing a “conceptual toolbox,” that is, strategic resources for serious writing. The first step is gaining a common working vocabulary for the challenges of this course.

This assignment works like an essay exam, which means you will offer a substantial written response to the prompt (approx. 500-750 words). 

1. First, read following scenario:

With only two weeks remaining in the semester, your English instructor walks into the classroom and announces a new assignment, one not listed on the syllabus. He explains that because he feels the course hasn’t progressed the way he had hoped, he is assigning a 20-page research paper on topics relevant to the class. He explains that the paper requires at least 15 sources and should support a thesis related to the assigned topic. Acknowledging that this is short notice, the instructor cancels several of the remaining class meetings to allow more time for the research and writing required for the paper. Although the majority of the assigned course work has already been completed, the instructor explains that this new assignment will make up 30% of your final grade.

After class, a number of students gather outside the classroom. Most are angry about what they take to be an unfair assignment. All are concerned about how this new turn of events might impact their grade in the course. Several of the students encourage the group to work together to come up with a response that will convince the instructor to reverse his decision. The students plan to meet later that night to decide how best to make the case. Later, sitting around the table at the coffee shop, the students share ideas about what to do.

Imagine that you are one of those students gathered to discuss the situation.

2. Next, review “Concepts in Rhetoric” in the New College Guide.

3. Now, write your response. You could write this as a letter to the teacher, or, you can simply explain the response your imaginary student group has planned to make. Exactly how you respond is up to you. You might try to convince the teacher to cancel the assignment, or to change it, or you might explain why you refuse to do the assignment. You might agree to do it, but lodge a formal complaint. The choice is yours.

Successful responses to this assignment will:

  • Use most if not all of the key terms in the “Rhetorical Concepts” section of the New College Guide
  • Demonstrate strong knowledge of those terms / concepts
  • Be effectively edited

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