English Composition Syllabus or Comp So Hard The Registrar Wanna Fine Me

by Salvatore Pane

A new semester has begun, and I thought it might be interesting if I posted all my syllabi. I’ve done this before, but every semester I try to retool some things that aren’t working. I’ve just started work at the University of Indianapolis, and honestly, I can’t even imagine being happier than I am right now. My experience here has already gone above and beyond expectations, and they were pretty high to begin with. This fall I’m teaching two sections of English Composition, one section of Advanced Composition (the only course I haven’t taught before), and one section of Fiction Writing Workshop. I’ll be posting the syllabi separately over the next week. If you want to use these or take sections that work for you, please feel free to do so. I’ve cobbled these from syllabi I’ve photocopied and downloaded. Some of it comes from Cathy Day. Some of it comes from my friends back in Pennsylvania. Some of it was used as the standard comp syllabus at Pitt back in 2007. Most of the assignments and papers are my own inventions, but I really think syllabi are things to share and learn from. Let me know what you think of what I’m proposing here. Let me know what you’re doing in the classroom. Let’s collaborate.


MWF 8:00-8:50

University of Indianapolis
Assistant Professor Salvatore Pane
Office Hours: 10-11 MWF, 2-3 MW
Credits: 3.0

Public Connections: The Evolution of the Essay





Required Texts


The Best American Essays, Sixth College Edition, edited by Robert Atwan

Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E.B. White



Recommended Text

Writer’s Reference, Seventh Edition, by Diane Hacker

Welcome to English Composition

Somewhere along the way, you likely encountered the five-paragraph essay with its introductory paragraph and thesis statement, its three supporting examples and conclusion that re-states the central idea. Now, having arrived in a college Composition course, you may be expecting more of the same. But you will soon discover that English Composition—and writing in the university more broadly—demands more complex (and inventive) writing and thinking than this kind of essay allows. You might say this is a writing course that begins where the five-paragraph essay leaves off…

Course Description

This is a class in which we will write A LOT. We will write about the reading we do and write about the thinking we do and then write about the writing we do and just plain write. This description may sound exhausting or exciting, but either way, you can be sure that the course will be both challenging and rewarding. Keep in mind that writing is a skill, just like playing football or driving a car. That is, it is something that improves with diligence and practice. But in this class, unlike driving a car, you will never be asked to follow the same rote steps. The essay assignments and short exercises in this course are designed to help you approach writing from a variety of contexts, using a variety of techniques. We are trying to look beyond pat formulas (such as the five-paragraph essay) while still understanding the writely conventions specific to each piece and how they can be useful. At times, the prompts might ask you to employ a particular strategy or style of a published essayist, but always with the aim of exploring your own range of writing and voices.

Workshopping and revision will be key components of our work in this class. We will put essays from inside and outside of class onto the table to find out what is working or not working for us as readers and writers. The object is to take what we learn from workshop and apply it to our own writing in future drafts and revisions. I encourage you to look at every assignment that you complete as a draft that can be improved rather than a finished product.

Critical engagement and close reading will also be integral to this course. In fact, I hope that they will both become daily practices. A big part of this class is learning to complicate your thinking, to notice the details of language and composition on a micro and macro level. Throughout the term, we will do close reading exercises focusing on various literary and rhetorical devices with the aim of nuancing our own analyses and writing. Producing work that is fresh and insightful depends upon being able to draw out insightful readings of other texts, of ourselves, and of the world. English Composition will push you to ask not only the “how” of writing but also the “why” and the “so what.”

Things to Remember

Push yourself to be innovative and creative. Push yourself to take that extra step towards flushing out the complexity of an issue. This class is a safe place to take risks that may not always improve your writing in the short term but will help you better understand writing and the successful choices you can make as a writer over time. You will be given plenty of time to write during class. Use this to your advantage.

This small size of our class will help you get to know each other and each other’s work well. The goal is to forge a community of writers who participate in an ongoing and constructive conversation about the craft. English Composition illustrates quite literally how your writing is always part of a public conversation!

Turning in Your Writing

It’s important that you turn in your writing on time, as late work cannot become part of class discussion. Likewise, because the Essays and Exercises build upon one another, turning in late work means you miss out on comments that would help you with the upcoming assignment. Since you will regularly revise your work, make sure to keep electronic and paper copies. All papers must be written in Times New Roman 12 with one inch fonts. Failure to comply will result in a lowered grade. Also, please title your work. Do not generically title your papers, “Essay 2” or “Essay on Singer.”


All of the assigned readings are either in Best American Essays or on Ace. It is your responsibility to print out the readings we will focus on in any given class session. Everything you will need is explained in the Course Sequence. You only have to read essays marked “Homework.” If you do not bring print outs of the readings, I will take off participation points. If this becomes a consistent problem, I will start marking you absent.


You will receive provisional grades on each of the essays you turn in, but you will have a chance to revise those essays throughout the semester. At your mid-term conference you will receive a provisional grade, which is in no way final and is not factored into your final grade. Rather, this mid-term assessment is intended to give you a sense of how your writing is being evaluated and of your progress in the course. You are always welcome to stop by during office hours to talk about your writing or your grade. Keep in mind that your final portfolio will be comprised of three polished essays. Thus, you are encouraged to keep on reworking essays that you like throughout the semester.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Classroom participation will affect your grade. Lack of engagement or preparation will lower your grade. Regular comments and involvement with moving the ongoing conversation of the class forward will increase your grade.

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: If you turn in a paper late, you will lose an entire letter grade. If you turn in a paper more than 24 hours late, it is an automatic failure. Automatic failures WILL impact your final grade in the class. No excuses.

Essays & evaluations                                                                                                 70%

Exercises and class participation                                                                                30%

Course Objectives

1)    A successful student will add thoughtful and complex commentary to every class discussion.

2)    A successful student will hand in thoughtful and complex essays on time for each corresponding assignment.

3)    A successful student will complete all of the exercises with great attention to detail.

4)    A successful student will substantially revise and extend two of their essays.


You will have at least one conference with me over the course of the semester at mid-term. This meeting takes place in my office. It will be brief and is designed to better gauge individual needs and interests as well as get feedback.


I want to be as clear as I can on this. If you miss class five times, you will fail. There will be no make up assignments. Don’t come back to class. The ONLY excuses I will accept are a doctor’s excuse or some kind of family emergency. I am not going to make any exceptions on this front.

You should always be on time for class. If you are late, you will not get credit for attending an entire class.

If you are unprepared for discussion or workshop, I cannot give you credit for attendance that day.


The syllabus is subject to change. I will only push assignments and readings back however. No assignment will ever be due earlier than it’s listed here.


Intellectual theft, like any other kind of theft, is a crime, and is especially dangerous on a college campus. Plagiarism is defined as any use of another person’s thoughts or words as your own. I don’t expect to see plagiarism in this class, and if I do each case will be dealt with on an individual basis, but the MINIMUM penalty will be failure for the assignment in question. Failing the entire course is not out of the question. If you are doing research and are unsure how to incorporate someone else’s work into your own in a valid manner, please ask—I’ll be more than happy to help you out so that there’s no danger of confusion.

Week One

Monday August 27

Syllabus & Introductions
Azar Nafisi “Words of War”
In Class Writing

Wednesday August 29

Farhad Manjoo “Is Facebook a Fad?”
Exercise A

Friday August 31

Ben Percy “Keep Doing What You Are Doing, James Franco”
Exercise B
Homework: Read Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”

Week Two

Wednesday September 5

Exercise C
Discuss Peter Singer “The Singer Solution to World Poverty”
Homework: Read ANY five opening paragraphs from Best American Essays

Friday September 7

Discuss Essay 1
Exercise D

Week Three

Monday September 10

Examples of Essay 1

Wednesday September 12

Nate Jackson “The NFL’s Head Cases”
60 Minutes
Exercise E
Homework: Read Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”

Friday September 14

Discuss Tom Bissell “Grand Thefts”
Homework: Read David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”

Week Four

Monday September 17

Essay 1 Due
Peer Review

Wednesday September 19

Discuss David Masello “My Friend Lodovico”
Exercise F

Friday September 21

Discuss Essay 2
xTx “We Have to Go Back”
Exercise G

Week Five

Monday September 24

Examples of Essay 2

Wednesday September 26

Student Workshops

Friday September 28

Essay 2 Due
Peer Review

Week Six

Monday October 1

Molly Lambert “The ‘Poor Jen’ Problem”
Exercise H

Wednesday October 3

Revision Pamphlet
Discuss Revision 1
Exercise I

Friday October 5

Roxane Gay “A Profound Sense of Absence”
Exercise J

Week Seven

Monday October 8

Student Conferences

Wednesday October 10

Student Conferences

Friday October 12

Student Conferences

Week Eight

Wednesday October 17

Revision 1 Due
Roger Ebert’s Twitter Feed
Kellee Santiago “Are Video Games Art?”
Homework: Read Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Friday October 19

Discuss Roger Ebert “Video Games Can Never Be Art”
Exercise K
Homework: Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”

Week Nine

Monday October 22

Discuss Read Jason Wire “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?”
Exercise L

Wednesday October 24

The Simpsons “Marge vs. Itchy and Scratchy”
Exercise M

Friday October 26

Class Cancelled

Week Ten

Monday October 29

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Wednesday October 31

Exit Through the Gift Shop

Friday November 2

Discuss Essay 3
Exercise M

Week Eleven

Monday November 5

Examples of Essay 3

Wednesday November 7

Ray Fisman “Clean Out Your Desks”
Exercise N
Homework: Read Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”

Friday November 9

Discuss Mike Rose “I Just Wanna Be Average”
Exercise O

Week Twelve

Monday November 12

Essay 3 Due
Peer Review
Homework: Read Richard Rodriguez “Aria”

Wednesday November 14

Discuss Richard Rodriguez “Aria”
Exercise P
Homework: Read Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”

Friday November 16

Discuss Hephzibah Roskelly “Redneck Daughter in the Academy”
Discuss Essay 4

Week Thirteen

Monday November 19

Examples of Essay 4

Week Fourteen

Monday November 26

Peer Review First Page of Essay 4

Wednesday November 28

Student Workshops

Friday November 30

Student Workshops

Week Fifteen

Monday December 3

Student Conferences

Wednesday December 5

Student Conferences

Friday December 7

Final Portfolios Due

In-Class Writing

For this first writing assignment, we would like you to discuss authority in Azar Nafisi’s “Words of War.”

At some point in your response, we would like you to focus in on specifics.  Which details capture your attention and why?  As you describe what you read—bombs over Iran, some strange book called Pride and Prejudice, allusions to the US War in Iraq—consider what gives Nafisi “authority.” Authority, on the page, is when readers believe what a writer writes. What makes you believe that Nafisi knows what she’s talking about? Is it because she is from Iran? Is it because she is a university professor? Is it because she uses big words? Or do you not believe her, and if so, why not?

While you may come to some interesting conclusions by the end of your response, you should not feel obligated to wrap things up neatly or to offer a definitive set of statements.  In fact, rather than driving toward a pre-determined conclusion, we want to encourage you to surprise yourself, to discover new interpretive territory.  Try writing without knowing quite where you will land.  You may even find that as your understanding deepens, a whole new set of questions arises.

You will have the rest of class to complete your response.

Essay #1 (3 pages)


“My belief is that art should not be comforting; for comfort, we have mass entertainment, and one another. Art should provoke, disturb, arouse our emotions, expand our sympathies in directions we may not anticipate and may not even wish.”

—Joyce Carol Oates

As readers, we are often drawn to voices we consider “conversational,” by which we usually mean friendly or non-threatening.  And yet there are many modes and styles of conversation.  Consider the differences in tone, diction, cadence, and syntax that characterize the dialogues in which you regularly engage, your varied motivations for speaking or listening.  Talks with your teachers no doubt differ markedly from those with your parents, your friends, your romantic partners, your cat, or that police officer who pulls you over for speeding.  Even chats between the same two speakers can vary considerably according to circumstances: arguments, heart-felt confessions, interventions, seductions, lies, denials, comic relief.

Write an essay in which you present your conversation with “The Singer Solution to World Poverty.” What do you notice about how Singer shapes and manipulates the relationship between writer and reader? Where, for example, does Singer anticipate your response?  How does he ask you to see yourself, and what strategies does he employ to get you to do so? What do you notice about your responses to Singer’s provocations, his anticipated counter-arguments, his questions and direct addresses? Where did you listen quietly, and where did you speak back? Do you agree or disagree with Singer? Why or why not?

Keep in mind that we are not asking you to summarize the essay, but rather to describe and reflect on your reading process. Unless you have a compelling reason for doing so, you should avoid the five-paragraph essay form.  Write as many paragraphs as you need, structuring your work according to the logic of what you have to say.

In your essay, make sure to use quotations from the text to illustrate your ideas or support your claims.

Essay #2 (3 Pages)


“We must remove the mask.”


“If you must preserve your secret, wrap it up in frankness.”

                                                                                 —Alexander Smith

One way the essayist fashions a persona is by choosing what to reveal to the reader, and what to conceal.  Personal history is offered piecemeal, often while the writer appears to be focused on another subject altogether.  In telling someone else’s story, the writer plays the part of looker-on, a lens trained on the essay’s real subject.  When such essayists turn to talk about themselves, their candor seems almost accidental, a slip of the tongue.

In Tom Bissell’s “Grand Thefts,” we learn about the writer’s Grand Theft Auto avatar Niko Bellic. We discover vital information about Niko’s world and personality, but at the same time, Bissell reveals his own faults and obsession with drugs. In David Masello’s “My Friend Lodovico,” we meet the author’s dear friend, Lodovico Capponi.  But we also get to know the author—his history of love affairs and lost friends, his changeable fashions and wandering eye.  For as much as David Masello looks at Lodovico, Lodovico (and we) look at David Masello.  One might say these essays are as much autobiographies as they are biographies, double-portraits of the subjects and the writers.

Try your hand at a double-portrait in the spirit of “My Friend Lodovico” and “Grand Thefts.”  Like Masello, your subject will be a friendship, an acquaintance with someone (or something) you have never actually met.  A figure from art, history, or popular culture.  A character in a book, film, or television show.  An image in a painting or photograph.  A celebrity.  An athlete. As you prepare to write, consider the persona you will shape on the page, the tidbits of personal history you will reveal.

Revision #1 (5 pages)


“When you write,” Annie Dillard says, “you lay out a line of words . . . Soon you find yourself in new territory.  Is it a dead end or have you located your real subject?”  You write a first draft.  A few weeks pass and the terrain changes. You have some ideas for improvements.  Those comments in the margins are a good place to begin.  A few pointed questions, the occasional word of advice.  You have the voices of your classmates, a few new ideas about writing.  That’s a good start, you say to yourself.

For this assignment, you will substantially revise one of your essays and take it in a new direction.  Begin by reading over your writing, looking again at those lines of words you laid down.  Think about where you want them to go now.  How have your ideas about what you wanted to say, or how you wanted to speak, changed?  Where do you find yourself at a dead-end?  Are there questions in the margins that open up new routes, perhaps calling to mind stories you have yet to tell, ideas you would like to pursue further?

Once you have read through your writing and the comments, decide which essay you will revise.  Be sure to ask if you have questions about anything written on your draft.

Plan on spending at least as much time and effort revising as you did writing the original.  In some instances, you may write new paragraphs, entirely new pages.  In others cases, you will undoubtedly find yourself fine-tuning single sentences.  Highlight the revised and new material by using a different colored font.  Once you have completed your revision, the new essay should look quite different from the original.

If you scored an A on the first draft, cut 10% of your material. If you scored a B on the first draft, cut 25% of your material. If you received a C or lower on the first draft, cut 50% of your material.

Essay #3 (3 pages)


“I remain convinced that in principle, video games cannot be art. Perhaps it is foolish of me to say ‘never,’ because never, as Rick Wakeman informs us, is a long, long time. Let me just say that no video gamer now living will survive long enough to experience the medium as an art form.”

–Roger Ebert in “Video Games Can Never Be Art”

Over the last few weeks, we’ve talked a lot about what exactly constitutes art and who gets the right to proclaim that something isn’t art. Kellee Santiago claims in her YouTube video presentation that Roger Ebert is wrong, that video games can be art, and in fact, already are. Ebert’s response essay, “Video Games Can Never Be Art” very much defends his position. And of course, Jason Wire argues in “Urinals, Amputations, Starvation, and Silence: Controversial Art or Just Crap?” that everything is now considered art, even demonstrations as bizarre as an orchestra sitting in silence for four-and-a-half minutes to the demented, a starving dog tied up just out of reach of food in a museum.

For this essay, you must come up with your own definition of art and argue for its validity using examples and logic just like Wire and Santiago and Ebert. In our society, what constitutes art? Do you take the hard-line view that only so-called “great works”—the classic novels and poems and paintings and operas—should be classified as art, or do you feel that everything—a sock, Transformers 2, the New York Knicks, a double cheeseburger—should be considered art? What is your stance? Prove it. Where do you draw the line?

Secondly, do you think that the specific people who have the ability to declare things art or not—Roger Ebert and other critics—in any way mimics the social power structure that governs our lives? Who in this society has power, and how do arguments about what and what is not art reflect that struggle? Remember Roxane Gay’s essay “A Profound Sense of Absence.” She makes a case that the art that is most often valued in our society focuses on upper-middle class white people from America. What does that say about us as a society?

NOTE: For this paper, include a works cited. You must use 3 of the essays/videos we’ve gone over in class during this unit (the Ebert, the Santiago, the Wire, the Simpsons episode or the Gay), and you must find 2 more CRITICAL sources on your own. I don’t want Wikipedia.

Essay #4 (7 pages)


“Students will float to the mark you set. I and the others in the vocational classes were bobbing in pretty shallow water. Vocational education has aimed at increasing the economic opportunities of students who do not do well in our schools. Some serious programs succeed in doing that, and through exceptional teachers… students learn to develop hypotheses and troubleshoot, reason through a problem, and communicate effectively—the true job skills. The vocational track, however, is most often a place for those who are just not making it, a dumping ground for the disaffected. There were a few teachers who worked hard at education; young Brother Slattery, for example, combined a stern voice with weekly quizzes to try to pass along to us a skeletal outline of world history. But mostly the teachers had no idea of how to engage the imaginations of us kids who were scuttling along at the bottom of the pond.”

—Mike Rose in “I Just Wanna Be Average”

For Essay #4, you will produce an essay that combines personal inquiry and argument, an essay that not only reveals the writer’s life ala David Masello and Tom Bissell, but one that also strives to make a point ala Peter Singer and Roxane Gay.

The educational system is something every one of you has experienced on some level. Each person in this course has gone through high school, and now you’ve chosen to extend your education here at UIndy. Yet many of you feel there are a great many problems within the educational system. Richard Rodriguez tells a personal story about being forced to speak English instead of Spanish and how badly that damaged his relationship with his family. He then parlays that into an argument against widespread bilingual education. Mike Rose tells a personal story about being shuttled into the vocational track instead of the honors courses where he rightfully belonged. He then parlays that into an argument about students rising to what’s expected of them so that honors students act like honors students and vocational students act like vocational students. Hephzibah Roskelly tells stories about stories, referring to her days growing up on the farm and listening to her family’s tales. She parlays this into an argument about narrative as educational tool and the unjust stereotype most people think of when they hear the term “redneck.”

For this essay, you must write a personal story about education and parlay that into an argument about education. Pick something you care about. Be interested in your work. If you are bored with your topic, so will your readers. What links Rodriguez, Rose and Roskelly is that they have all chosen to write about deeply personal matters and use those feelings to write a coherent argument about education. You must critique the educational system. Nearly anything is fair game, everything from kindergarten to high school to college athletics to unfair distribution of scholarships. Secondly, like Roskelly, you must use sources. For this essay, we are requiring that you use two of the three education readings (Roskelly, Rodriguez or Rose) in addition to two outside sources on your own. Your sources must be integrated organically into the paper like in Roskelly’s, and you must provide a works cited. Search out people who agree with your argument. Search out people who disagree with your argument and “beat” them at their own game just like you “beat” Peter Singer. Like anything, the debate concerning education is an ongoing conversation. Your paper is not an island, but a mere dialogue in an endless series of conversations.



In addition to Essay #4, you also must turn in Revision #1, and Revision #2. For Revision #2, you will revise Essay #3 just like you did for either Essay #1 or Essay #2. All the same rules apply. You must cut out either 50%, 25%, or 10% of your work depending on your grade. Then you must extend the paper to five FULL pages.