Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Notes on Teaching ENG100: Analysis & Creativity

To prep my ENG100 students for the dreaded "research paper" I am assigning a "short" (meaning 500-700 word) analysis essay on Lisa Linn Kana'e's book Sista Tongue (Tinfish Press). Sista Tongue is just another way for me to impose creative thinking (absurd!) onto my students. I'm not sure I would have known about this gem of a book unless I came to the University of Hawaii. Kana'e's book serves many purposes, as it's as genre-bending as they come (part research, part argument, part personal narrative, and a whole lot of creative), but also exemplifies traditional scholarly writing. I am using this book as a model for the ENG100 research paper assignment, which is a collage essay.

Collage essay? Now what is that? you ask. Collage stems from the surrealist "cut-up" (a term later associated with William Burroughs) technique where texts and images are organized in a non-linerar way. The collage essay uses this technique to synthesize different types of writing--personal narrative, fiction, poetry, argumentative, analysis, and so on. By writing in a non-linear way, ambiguity is embraced, meanings are explored, and the old becomes new.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our students are learning in an environment that is constantly creating, sharing, and manipulating information, and as educators we need to acknowledge that the definition of composition changes with time.  Collage seems only natural; the page becomes as transitory as the internet. Collage mimics our minds' RSS feeds. This doesn't mean ENG100 students will be writing essays composed with their Twitter updates. It does mean, however, that academic writing is changing. And because I think creative thinking can inform critical thinking, the collage essay seems to be the answer (for now) of how to incorporate both creative and critical writing into the first-year writing classroom. So thank you Lisa for writing Sista Tongue and thank you Tinfish Press for continuing to publish such great (and useful) work!

Now back to the analysis assignment....

I cannot and should not expect that my ENG100 students read Sista Tongue and automatically know how to write a collage essay. First, students need to be able to write traditionally. This is where Sista Tongue is a multifunctional text; it serves as the sources for the analysis paper and a model for the research paper. After class discussions about the content and form of the book, students should be prepared to write a literary analysis. Below is the assignment:

ENG100 Summer 2010
Instructor: Jaimie Gusman

Literary Analysis Essay

What is Literary Analysis and why am I writing one?

The purpose of a literary analysis essay is to carefully examine and sometimes evaluate a work of literature or an aspect of a work of literature. As with any analysis, this requires you to break the subject down into its component parts. Examining the different elements of a piece of literature is not an end in itself but rather a process to help you better appreciate and understand the work of literature as a whole. For instance, an analysis of a poem might deal with the different types of images in a poem or with the relationship between the form and content of the work. If you were to analyze (discuss and explain) a play, you might analyze the relationship between a subplot and the main plot, or you might analyze the character flaw of the tragic hero by tracing how it is revealed through the acts of the play. Analyzing a short story might include identifying a particular theme (like the difficulty of making the transition from adolescence to adulthood) and showing how the writer suggests that theme through the point of view from which the story is told; or you might also explain how the main character’s attitude toward women is revealed through his dialogue and/or actions (

The assignment

Analyzing Sista Tongue is different than analyzing a piece of fiction or a poem. Because Sista Tongue is a collage essay, there are many different parts that make up the whole: personal narrative, analysis, reflection, fiction, argument, and images are some of these parts. You may choose to focus on one or many of these elements in your analysis, but whatever you choose to do your essay must:
  1. cover the topic you are writing about (you may choose to write about anything we covered or didn’t cover in class);
  2.  have a central idea (stated in your thesis) that governs its development; and
  3.  must be organized so that every part contributes something to the reader’s understanding of the central idea.
Your literary analysis will be 500-700 words (2-3 pages, 12-pt font, one hard-copy), which explores some aspect of the form (elements such as narrative and research) and/or content (elements such as Pidgin and Standard English, Harold’s experience on the bus, etc.) of the book. Avoid extensive summary, and focus on your examination/evaluation of the work. Your essay must have a clear thesis, be written in the PRESENT TENSE (all literary works are considered to “exist in the present), and be reflective. Think of this assignment as a summary and response essay which is light on the summary and heavy of the response.

Due on Monday, June 21, 2010, in class.

This is your analysis, meaning the only source you need to use is Sista Tongue. This, however, does not mean you do not have to correctly cite Sista Tongue. On the contrary, every direct quote and paraphrase must be correctly cited according to 2009 MLA standards. You must have a works cited page, too! If you use an epigraph, you must cite that as well.

CHECKLIST—don’t turn your paper in without it!

  1. Is the topic you have chosen to write about manageable for the length of the paper you are writing? Is it too narrow or too broad?
  2. Is your title engaging? Does it suggest the approach you are taking in your paper?
  3. Does your first paragraph introduce your topic, name the writer and the work, and end with your thesis statement? Will it get the reader's attention?
  4. Is your thesis clear? Does it state the central idea of your paper?
  5. Is your paper organized in a way that your reader will be able to follow?
  6. Are your developmental paragraphs unified (everything in the paragraph relates to the topic of the paragraph) and coherent (everything in the paragraph is arranged in a logical order)? 
  7. Have you used transitional words where necessary within each paragraph? Are there transitions linking all the paragraphs of your essay?
  8. Does your concluding paragraph provide a sense of closure? Have you used technical terms correctly? Defined them, when necessary?
  9. Have you used brief summary, paraphrase, specific details, and direct quotations? Have you explained why you are using them and how they support your central idea?
  10. If you have used information from sources outside the actual work of literature (for example, books of criticism), have you documented this information properly? To provide documentation for literary papers, you need to use MLA documentation style, which can found in most English handbooks and in books on how to write research papers.
  11. Have you proofread your final draft? (
Works Cited

“How to Write a Literary Analysis Essay.” Gwynedd-Mercy College. 13 June 10.

Definitions and checklist items were taken and slightly altered from Gwynedd-Mercy College's Academic Resource Center


Kirsten said...

This is so cool! I used the "collage" theme at UW, but the collage/experimental aspect ended at the text and didn't really extend to the students' writing. It's really interesting that you're building up to that via literary analysis, and using a non-traditional literary piece to spark that discussion. If I ever teaching comp again, I am totally stealing this...hope you don't mind. ;-)

Jaimie Gusman said...

That's awesome Kirsten! Steal away! You must get Sista's such a great example of a collage and research paper. Doubly awesome.