Chapter 4: Writing a Personal Essay


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  • Consider assigning one of the pre-reading activities in the Instructor’s Manual that help students think about academic versus personal writing, and use students’ responses as a way to generate discussion.
  • As you introduce students to the personal essay assignment, this slide can remind them what the key goals and outcomes are.
  • A visual representation of what is in the textbook.
  • This slide can provide an overview of the course and illustrate the connections between types of inquiry questions and types of genres that are connected to them.
  • Key strategies for students to learn.Emphasize that you will expect them to write with everything they read in this class, and they should use several of the strategies from this chapter.
  • Figure 3.1: A process for discovering a personal essay topic.
  • This slide introduces the methods of generating ideas and emphasizes the key questions students need to ask themselves as they are generating ideas.
  • Refer to the sidebar “Clustering or Mapping” (page 91) to illustrate how to generate ideas with this strategy.
  • Now that students have a lot of material, they need guidance for narrowing down to a manageable topic. If you are having students write during class (the journal prompts, for example, or clustering), then you can use this slide to guide them as they narrow down to a promising subject. This point in the process is important to emphasize in class so that students choose subjects that are not only manageable, but ones about which they have not made up their mind or know much about.
  • Emphasize that it’s important for writers to keep in mind how theirsubject speaks to a larger issue that others can understand, but also not to squelch their writing by worrying about audience and purpose too soon.
  • These reflective questions can be done during class or discussed as homework. Students might do well to be in small groups when they share their responses because doing so will help them generate a sketch (next slide).
  • If you have permission from former students to use their sketches as examples, this is a good time to show them.
  • As noted in the textbook, these are some general guidelines for writing a sketch. Review these before students write one.
  • A way to recap what the process has been so far. This can help students see visually that there is a method to what might seem messy.
  • Refer to the sidebar “More Than One Way to Tell a Story” (page 101) when discussing options for structuring personal essays.
  • Revision is about shaping: arranging the draft to reveal what the essay is about.
  • Students might respond to these questions during class, after they have workshopped their essay.
  • Emphasize that these are the most common problems in personal essays, so students should address these issues as they workshop each other’s drafts and revise their own.
  • Chapter 4: Writing a Personal Essay

    1. 1. Part 2: Inquiry ProjectsChapter ThreeWriting a Personal EssayPowerPoint by Michelle Payne, PhDBoise State UniversityThe Curious WriterFourth Editionby Bruce BallengerCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    2. 2. Chapter ThreeWriting a Personal EssayIn this chapter, you will learn how toCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    3. 3. The best topics ask to be written aboutbecause they make you wonder Why didI do that? What does that mean? Whydid that happen? How did I really feel?What do I really think?Image from Microsoft Clip ArtCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    4. 4. MOTIVES FOR WRITING APERSONAL ESSAY“The personal essay tradition inspired by Montaigne is probably unlike whatyou are familiar with from school. The school essay is often formulaic—a five-paragraph theme or thesis-example paper—while the personal essay is anopen-ended form that allows for uncertainty and inconclusiveness. It is moreabout the process of coming to know than presenting what you know.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    5. 5. Use personal experiences andobservations to drive inquiry.Goal 1The personal essay attempts to find out ratherthan to prove.• Ideal if– You want to explore ideas– You wonder about relationships between yoursubject and yourself• Pitfalls:– Can be too subjective, become narcissistic– Doesn’t answer so what? for the readerCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    6. 6. THE PERSONAL ESSAY ANDACADEMIC WRITING“What we choose to write about, the questions that interest us, and ourparticular ways of seeing are always at work, even in academic pros …Whenever anyone—scientist or humanist—uses language to communicatediscoveries, they enter a social marketplace where words have meanings thatare negotiated with others. For writers—any kind of writers—language is asocial currency.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    7. 7. Apply the exploratory thinking ofpersonal essays to academic writing.How does writing a personal essay relate towriting an academic one?• Emphasizes exploration as a method ofinquiry:– Suspending judgment– Tolerating ambiguity– Using questions to challenge easy assumptions• Emphasizes the process of coming tounderstand somethingGoal 2Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    8. 8. • Movementbetween criticaland creativethinking.• Much like inductivereasoning typical ofscientific thinking.Emphasizes the kind of thinking typical ofacademic discourse.Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    9. 9. THE WRITING PROCESSCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    10. 10. Inquiry Project: Writing a Personal EssayCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    11. 11. Identify the characteristics of personalessays in different forms.Goal 3Inquiry QuestionsWhat does it mean to me?What do I understandabout this now that I didn’tthen?MotivesSelf discoveryUses first-person (“I)—thewriter’s relationship tohis/her subject is centraland shapes meaning.Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    12. 12. Features of the Form• Memory• Observation•Specific, sensory details•Narrative, not necessarilychronological•Reflection / Exposition•Implied thesis• Ordinary things• Everyday life• Writer making sense ofher world• What does this meanto me?• What do I understandnow that I didn’t then?• Self-discoveryPurpose SubjectSourcesFormCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    13. 13. Type Questions GenreQuestion of Fact orDefinitionWhat is it? What is knownabout it?Beginning of inquiryQuestion of Value Which is better/worse? Isit good/badReview, Argument,Research EssayHypothesis Question Might this be true? Research Essay, PersonalEssayPolicy Question What should be done? Argument, ProposalInterpretation Question What does it mean? Literary Essay, PersonalEssay, Ethnography, ProfileRelationship Question Does ___ cause ___? Is___similar or dissimilarto ____?Research Essay, LiteraryEssay, EthnographyTypes of Questions Types of GenresCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    14. 14. WHAT ARE YOU GOING TOWRITE ABOUT?“Whatever you write about, what matters most is that you’ve chosen thetopic because you aren’t quite sure what you want to think about it. Writeabout what confuses you, what puzzles you, or what raises itchyquestions.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    15. 15. Use invention strategies to discover anddevelop a personal essay topic.Opening up (generating):• What do I remember or see that I’d like to thinkabout?Narrowing down (judging):• Which of these raise the most interestingquestions to explore?Trying out (generating, then judging):• What do I understand now about this topic thatI didn’t before?Goal 4Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    16. 16. Opening Up: Generating Ideas• Journal prompts– Listing– Fastwriting– Visual prompts– Research promptsAm I uncertainabout what thismight mean?Might I understand these eventsdifferently now than I did then?Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    17. 17. Example:ClusteringCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    18. 18. What’s Promising Material and What Isn’t?• Abundance. What subject generated the mostwriting? Do you sense that there is muchmore to write about?• Surprise. Did you see or say something youdidn’t expect about a topic?• Confusion. What subject raises questionsyou’re not sure you can answer easily?Narrowing Down: JudgingCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    19. 19. Questions about Purposeand Audience• Key point:– Audience and purpose areimportant, but not if they keep youfrom writing.• Connecting purpose andaudience:– What have you discovered aboutyour inquiry question, yourexperiences and observations, thatspeak to others—a theme that youcould express in a “we statement”?“Being too vigilantabout whatreaders think candiscourage youfrom welcomingthe messyaccidents that canmake for helpfuldiscoveries.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    20. 20. Trying Out: Generating, Then JudgingThen-Narrator andNow-Narrator• What do you understandnow about this topic thatyou didn’t fully understandwhen you began writingabout it? Start some writingwith this phrase:“As I look back on thisnow, I realize that . . . ”• What seems to be the mostimportant thing you’retrying to say so far?• How has your thinkingchanged about your topic?Finish this seed sentence asmany times as you can inyour notebook:“Once I thought_______, and now I think_______.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    21. 21. Sketch: What Is It?Choose your most promising material, andtell the story.• If drawn from memories:– Incorporate both what happened then andwhat you make of it now.• If drawn from observations:– Make sure they are detailed, anchored toparticular times and places, and in someway significant.• You may or may not answer the “Sowhat?” question—see what happens.Let thewritinghelp youfigure outwhat youthink.Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    22. 22. Sketch: What Should You Try to Do?• Have a tentative title.• Keep it relatively short.• Write it fast.• Don’t muscle it to conform to a preconceivedidea.• Write to be read, with an audience in mind.• Make it specific instead of general.Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    23. 23. The ProcessSo Far…Narrowing Trying OutAbundanceSurpriseConfusionBrain-stormingClusteringPromptsSketchGenerating• What questions does this materialraise for you?• What might it mean?• Why would readers care about this?Now what?Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    24. 24. DRAFTING“The key to developing your draft is to arrive at a fullerunderstanding of what your purpose is in telling your own storiesand then rebuild your essay around that insight from thebeginning.”Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    25. 25. From Sketch to DraftConsider purpose andaudience again:• What might this essaybe saying, not onlyabout me, but moregenerally about peoplewho find themselves insimilar situations?• What questions does itraise that might beinteresting, not only tome, but also to otherswho may not knowme?Keep in mind what you’ve learnedfrom your writing so far:• What is the most importantquestion behind your explorationof the topic?• What do you understand nowthat you didn’t understand fullywhen you started writing aboutit?• How can you show and explainhow you came to thisunderstanding?• Have you already written a strongfirst line for the draft? Can youfind it somewhere in all yourjournal writing?Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    26. 26. Apply revision strategies that are effectivefor shaping narratives.Goal 5Group workshop on drafts:PurposeWhat would you say this essay is about?Do you have a clear sense of why I’mwriting about this topic?Meaning(What’s the S.O.F.T.?)What would you say is the point of thisdraft?What is the main thing I seem to be sayingabout this topic?Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    27. 27. Purpose of Revision: ShapingShapingWhat theessay is aboutHow the draftreveals• Purpose• Meaning• Inquiry question• Theme• Organization• InformationCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    28. 28. Strategies for RevisionWhat tocut/add• What info is nolonger relevant?• What info ismissing?Questionof time• Info from pastor present?• How does timeorganize essay?Research• Background• Facts• Other writersCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.Image from Microsoft Clip Art
    29. 29. Revision: Typical Problems• The reader isn’t sure from the beginningwhere the essay is going.• There’s too much telling/explaining. Focus onthe narrative backbone of the essay.• The larger significance isn’t clear. Have yousaid what you need to say about how, thoughit’s your experience, the meaning you discovermight apply to others as well?Copyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.
    30. 30. Unclear Purpose•Not sure what the essayis about? Fails to answerthe So what question?Unclear thesis, theme ormain idea•Not sure what you’retrying to say?Lack of information ordevelopment•Needs more details?More showing, lesstelling?Disorganized•Doesn’t move logicallyor smoothly fromparagraph to paragraph?Unclear or awkward atthe level of sentencesand paragraphs•Seems choppy or hard tofollow at the level ofsentences orparagraphs?Chapter 13:RevisionStrategies1 to 4Chapter 13:RevisionStrategies5 to 10Chapter 13:RevisionStrategies11 to 14Chapter 13:RevisionStrategies15 to 18Chapter 13:RevisionStrategies20 to 26Guide to Revision StrategiesCopyright © 2014 by Pearson Education, Inc. All rights reserved.