Tip 20: How to choose what to cover

What has to be done

Many of our colleges have expectations of what we will cover. Obviously those must be included in our course.

Examples from Freshman Composition at my three colleges

CC2 requires that the students get a strong introduction to computer usage. They have included this as a requirement because most students at CC2 are from just above the poverty level or lower and often have no exposure to the internet.

CC1 requires that we have four papers and a research paper. (It turns out that not everyone actually requires this, but the school itself does.) Not doing the research paper is a way to get yourself banned from teaching there.

SLAC requires three outside class papers and three inside class papers. The in-class papers must be graded more heavily than the out-of-class papers.

The things you think are most important

In my Early British Lit class, I include Beowulf. Many people don’t because Senior English can include Beowulf in the high schools. But I find that a) most people haven’t read it and b) even those who have can use the review. If they haven’t read it, it is an interesting way to start the course. If they have read it, it is an easy way to start the course.

I also include “women’s studies” type readings because I am a woman and too often the positive aspects of Old English/Middle English literature and women are ignored.

In addition, I include “old faithfuls” like Shakespeare and Chaucer, but with a twist. We watch a Shakespearean comedy, instead of reading another of his tragedies. We read “The Miller’s Tale,” a bawdy story unsuitable for teens (though they would probably appreciate it the most).

The things you think are most fascinating

Whatever you love, you should teach. Perhaps that should not be all you teach, but you should teach it. Your enthusiasm will show.

I teach the Exeter Riddles. Most people haven’t even heard of them. I know I didn’t until I got to graduate school. But there are some great ones in there. And it is an interesting way to introduce the culture of the era for British literature or to talk about descriptive writing in freshman composition.

One paper I have had a lot of success with in my freshman composition courses is a riddle paper in which the students write a riddle about an object that is important to them. I tell them that it has to be clear by the end of the riddle what it is, but that I shouldn’t be able to guess at the beginning. This particular paper is an expressive bridge into collegiate writing. It lets the students write about something they know and love, while following my guidelines and writing a college-level paper.

Stuff you know something about

I don’t recommend teaching something you don’t know. If you are supposed to, make sure you learn enough about it that you know more than anyone else in the class is likely to.

Obviously you can’t teach everything you know, so go back to the points above.

One thought on “Tip 20: How to choose what to cover”

  1. Hello, I was just curious as to what your specific guidelines were for your riddle paper. I am teaching college prep English next year and would love to have them write one; it seems like a very creative and fun idea. Do you have them compose in terms of number of lines, or have them do an entire page? I am just wondering if I could make this work for high school or if it would be a bit over their heads. Thanks so much.

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