This is a writing workshop activity/assignment designed for an ENWR 210 class but suitable for a ENLT class as well. The students read, evaluate and rewrite four introductions on the same topic written by students of their age group. The first benefit is that students get to see what other student writing looks like. Seeing from the perspective of a reader the errors that they might well make as writers often jolts the students into an awareness that they otherwise might never acquire. Students tend to be better talkers, readers and critics than they are writers, and they do not seem to be aware of this gap in skill level. The point of the exercise is to get students to apply their expectations as readers to the kind of writing they currently produce. At a later stage, I teach them ways to apply these same expectations to their own writing. This is the activity I have gotten most praise for on my teaching evaluations.

How to Run the Activity

Ideally, this activity should be done after you have introduced key LRS concepts as common ground and claim and before they begin work on their first papers. On day one, hand out all three pages and tell the students to read the four introductions and follow the instructions on the worksheet. On day two, in groups of three or four, have them fill out one worksheet per introduction. (It is vital that they express the consensus of the group, not individual opinion.) Next, they complete the rewrites at home and hand them in the next day. (You may then want to have the class as a whole compare and evaluate the rewrites.

Before class, rank the four introductions from best to worst, considering the criteria below. Then, in groups during class, work to build a consensus about the relative merits of each introduction. Next, justify the group ranking, specifying exactly where in the essay the author succeeds or comes short. Finally, rewrite (due next class) each paragraph so that all the short-comings the group has identified are corrected. 

  1. Overall appeal. Interesting/intriguing? Would you read it if you did not have to? Explain why or why not.
  2. Does the author present an engaging, trustworthy and informed ethos/character?
  3. Is common ground established as effectively as possible?
  4. Is the claim a solution to a problem that the author identifies in the introduction?
  5. Is the claim specific, contestable, and well placed?
  6. Is the scope narrow enough to be treated in sufficient depth in five to six pages?
  7. Are subjects characters and verbs actions? (Rewrite one sentence of introduction.)
  8. Does the title encapsulate the claim?

A: The Drinking Law: an Indisputable Rule

A law is defined as, “a rule of conduct or procedure established by custom, agreement, or authority” (Law 1). In the United States, laws are created only after a bill is passed by both the House of Representative and the Senate, both of whom work on behalf of our country as a whole (Legislative 1). Laws are intended to prevent chaos and regulate society, and are presented for the interest of protecting the people. Despite this, laws are broken frequently, most often by people who are aware of a law’s existence but choose to break it anyway.  One of example of this is with the U.S. drinking law, which dictates that men and women under the age of twenty-one are not allowed to possess or consume alcohol. Regardless of this, underage drinking is a common occurrence. In one study of university students, forty-four percent of the students engaged in binge drinking. Thus, underage drinking does occur, and not in small numbers. This does not mean, however, that this law-breaking behavior should be tolerated. The current drinking law is America’s best attempt at trying to curb the dangers of alcohol use with a younger, more reckless group of drinkers. Thus, since this law is created for the greater good of society, in an effort to prevent harm towards its members, there is no excuse for violating it.

B: Universities Need More Alcohol Education

            Drinking is part of the culture within colleges. It is prevalent enough so that alcohol and college life are closely associated. Unfortunately, the abuse of alcohol is a common problem at many colleges, from underage drinking to binge drinking. Students are breaking the law and putting themselves in danger. The results of alcohol abuse are not limited to the drinkers. Alcohol abuse affects other students and the university as a result of increased violence, vandalism, and drunk driving. The university, therefore, has an obligation to protect the institution and the student body. One of the difficulties in formulating a solution is the unique environment of a university. The challenge is to address the drinking problem, without compromising the environment of personal growth and experimentation. While there are many options to dealing with the problem of alcohol abuse at universities, more education is the approach colleges should pursue.

C: The Myth of College Drinking

            Every fall, some National Institute of “Insert Governmental Phrase” releases a new study with so-called “startling data” detailing the crisis of college drinking.  The release of this study is of course followed by obligatory press releases from university presidents promising new campaigns to help combat the epidemic.  The cycle ultimately culminates in campus shuttle bus ads reading things like “60 percent of college students don’t drink” (Bauerle) and “If you loved your mom you wouldn’t get hammered.”  Students keep drinking and new studies are conducted to show that current prevention methods are ineffective, thus completing the circle of alarmist reactions to college drinking.  This cycle will continue until the media and Americans finally stop and address the real problem:  the college drinking crisis is a myth.  Drinking on campuses does occur at greater levels than the rest of the population, but that does not necessarily mean this drinking is problematic.  The media and groups such as the NIAAA have manufactured and instilled an inaccurate picture of a college drinking crisis in the minds of the American public.

D: Binge Drinking and Low Self-esteem

Sometimes, in order to have a high opinion of themselves, people will compromise their values in order to feel socially accepted. Adolescents and young adults, who are on the path to self-discovery, are particularly prone to this. Binge drinking is one way students unite and feel socially acceptable. One of the roots of binge drinking, therefore, is low self-esteem. Among other reasons, students choose alcohol to fit in because drinking is viewed as “cool,” because alcohol inhibits reservations that prevent students from expressing themselves, and because the fact that underage drinking is illegal makes alcohol seem like a right of passage. When students consume alcohol because of these three reasons, chances are that they suffer from low self-esteem. A solution to this problem would be difficult because low self-esteem is so prevalent in today’s youth, as it has been in generations past. Only widespread changes in social practices, such as different teaching methods or changes in parenting, could improve self-esteem. Still, the transition to college is a stressful one that leaves many students searching for a new identity because of compromised self-esteem.