Writing in Space and Place

English 100: Freshman Composition, Spring 2008


Believe it or not, all of you have been learning about writing your entire life. And you will keep learning long after this class. What we will do in here, though, is try to heighten your awareness about your writing practices and skills, so that you can write better, and more consciously, as you continue on in college, work and life. This class, English 100: Freshman Composition, is a 3-credit course in and about writing for first-year students at UW-Madison. Writing and what makes writing “good” vary widely across time, place, language, technology, genre, and process. No 15-week course can teach all you need to know for every writing situation, but this course will give you practice in meeting some of the demands of writing in college.

Everyone can become a better writer, but you’ll need to work hard, take risks, spend significant amounts of time on your drafts and revisions, share your writing with others, and be a good reader for them. In both small and large groups, you’ll discuss essays and articles, research and responses, and work through drafts, drafts and more drafts. Real learning is not a passive activity, not something you “receive,” but something you claim, something you make yours. The payoff for your active learning will be considerable, not only for this and other courses, but in your future personal, professional, and civic lives as well.

Objectives of English 100

In this class, you can expect to learn and practice how to:

  • Develop the ability to work through intellectual problems
  • Develop your abilities as an engaged, critical, but sympathetic reader—of your own work, of the work of your peers, and of published writers
  • Produce several substantial writing assignments that you can be proud of, pieces that are clear, organized, sophisticated, well researched, and polished
  • Plan, draft, revise, and edit multiple writing drafts over time; see how your writing changes with practice
  • Develop your public speaking abilities through class participation and presentations
  • Meet the demands of academic research at UW-Madison
  • Increase your consciousness about the power and plasticity of language, and observe how writing varies across individuals, communities, and situations


This semester you will write frequently, turning something in for response from either your peers or instructor nearly every week. The goal is for you to write constantly, in a variety of genres, in response to different assignments with different kinds of challenges, and for multiple readers. Three sequences of assignments will provide a structure for your learning experiences. Each will include short writing assignments, leading up to a longer writing project:

Short Writing Assignments. You will complete several 2-3 page assignments: descriptive narratives, response papers, summaries and analyses of research, and proposals. Complete these assignments with the same care and attention as your longer projects, but feel free to take more risks or try something new. The short assignments will receive + , , or – for you to gauge your writing progress.

Writing Projects. You will also complete three longer writing projects that expand on the writing completed in the short assignments. The projects will show that you understand an idea, and can use your understanding to complicate, expand on, and critically analyze an idea. You will receive substantial written feedback from your peers and from me on the projects in order to gage your writing progress and continue to improve your writing skills.

Sound a little confusing? Try to think of it this way:

  • Sequence I – Conceptualizing Space and Place

This sequence will introduce the course theme, connect the theme to your personal experience, and establish the rhythm of sequenced writing assignments for the semester. Through a series of short and longer writing assignments, you will investigate how space constructs identity and shapes a place and its people. The central purpose of the major writing project for the sequence will be to identify, develop, describe, and discuss your own concept (or concepts) of space and/or place.

  • Sequence II – Exploring Space and Place through Other Perspectives

The middle sequence of assignments will guide you through a process of learning to locate and use relevant texts related to your concept. Much of the writing students do in college is connected to texts produced by other people. Working with course readings, you will practice thinking about the rhetorical elements of writing and investigate how rhetoric works to shape readers’ understandings of a place and its people. You will also practice evaluating and interpreting texts, learn to use textual citation, and practice putting your own ideas into conversation with ideas from other disciplines, cultures, or social groups.

  • Sequence III – Thinking Critically about Space and Place

Finally, you will engage in research and develop a critical approach to space and place. You will investigate a space and/or place of your choice—one that is relatively new to you and that you would like to learn more about. It can be a physical, geographic or built space/place, a virtual one (e.g., a website or wiki), or an imagined one. Your writing will make an argument about your researched place, supporting your views with well-documented reasons and evidence. This sequence builds on your ability to analyze and use effective arguments, consider audience and purpose, and incorporate others’ ideas into your own texts.

Writer’s Memos. For each writing project you will include a Writer’s Memo as a coversheet. In this memo you should describe your purpose and strategy in approaching this writing assignment, and ask any questions about the writing that you may have yourself. This is your opportunity to provide some context for the writing but also a chance to ask your reader directly about the effectiveness and effect of the piece.

Public Speaking Component. The university’s Communication A requirements dictate that English 100 include a speaking and presentation component. In this class you will fulfill that requirement not only by participating in class discussion, group work, and peer review, but also with two presentations: 1) you and a partner will present and lead a brief class discussion on a reading at the beginning of one class and 2) you will present your final writing project to the class at the end of the semester. I’ll go into detail on both of these presentations when we get to them.