Close Reading & Writing Workshop

Teacher: Ben Gross
Extra Help: Mondays, Room 303 by appointment.

Course Overview:

Why do writers make the decisions they do, make choices about things as large as what to name a character and where to set a story, to the smaller decisions like their word choice and their punctuation? Often the reasons can seem either mysterious or meaningless, but usually there is a reason, a pattern to what writers do.

In this writing workshop, we will figure out that pattern, reading and analyzing short stories and poetry to search for meaning (theme) and for how the decisions writers make work to create that meaning. We will then use that understanding to create meaning in our own writing.

In the workshop, we will craft analytical essays based on close-readings of literature, write emulations of works that we read to try to take on the voice of different writers and see from an internal perspective how they created meaning, and complete other written responses to try to strengthen our close-reading and close-writing skills.

Skills & Objectives:

  1. Advance close-reading skills to analyze poetry and prose for theme and meaning.
  2. Write thesis-based literary analysis essays that utilize textual evidence to support a claim.
  3. Understand how writers unfold meaning through rhetorical strategies and the elements of language.
  4.  Utilize brainstorming process to generate more dynamic ideas & more apt textual evidence.
  5. Employ revision process to improve writing.

 The main type of essay we will be working on is the literary analysis essay using the close reading skills we will be working on in conjunction with your writing. Just about anything can be analyzed: a cartoon, an advertisement, a painting, a poem, a novel, and a car. Much of the work of your English classes has involved looking at the written word¾in the form of poetry and prose¾to analyze its meaning, though you do the same thing in Art class, looking at white space, shape, color, and shading instead of text. We are going to look at words, obviously, analyze not merely the arguments of others, but how they use language and linguistic devices to add weight and meaning, often unconscious weight and meaning, to their own arguments. This type essay will offer you the chance to further hone your timed writing skills, something that will come in very handy in college and in life, and will help you in English class in general as many of the techniques we will focus on apply to both poetry and prose, Shakespeare and Toni Morrison. The analytical writing we will work on throughout the semester, concentrating on how theme is created through the artistic choices writers make will be equally helpful on the MCAS.


In addition to analytical essays, after reading a number of texts and closely examining the language writer’s use, you will select stories and poems that resonate with you to craft emulations of them, using the literary elements the writers use to craft your own narratives, creating your own thematic meaning through your artistic choices.


Class Structures:


All the writing workshops at IACS will feature common structures, based on college writing workshops that greatly help the writing process.


· 80 minutes of weekly writing. Of the 240 minutes of class we have a week, a full third of our time will be spent writing. Writing is a workout for your brain and hands, and just as with working out, you often hit walls and have to push through them; this sustained writing time will help you to develop your ideas and try out different ways to write your responses. Sometimes the 80 minutes will be used for in-class timed writes while other times it will be used to write and revise your own work. In college, you will regularly be asked to take multi-hour finals, not to mention the hours and hours you will have to spend up late writing, so 80 minutes of writing is a good starting point.


· Bi-Weekly formal conferences. The English department has worked very hard to keep the writing workshop classes smaller to give us time to both assess your work more closely and to conference with you as you are making your way through the writing process. It has been shown in study after study, not to mention in almost all teachers empirical experience, that giving feedback while a student is still writing is far far more effective than giving it after words (feedback after words would be the comments you get on turned in papers), so as a department, we are going to be following both our collective guts and the studies to have formal, 10-15 minute conferences that take place while you are working on your essays. You, as writers, will be required to have questions and areas of concern for me to look at so the conferences have both a focus and a goal.


· Mini-Lessons. Writing is the center of the workshops; direct instruction will take a back seat, and will be driven by the needs of the class. To that end, short (20-40 minute) mini- lessons will take the place of more formal direct instruction. If the class, as a whole, is struggling with fluidly embedding sources, we will spend time workshopping embedding, if an area of growth is closing sentences, then that will be an area of focus. The lessons will be as long and frequent as necessary, but will never monopolize a class, the writing always will.


· Peer Conferences. As much as writing is a personal activity, it is just as much about conferencing, both with your teachers and with your peers. Peer editing and revision is a skill as much as writing is, and in the workshops, we will rely heavily on peer conferences to improve your writing and your ability to improve the writing of your peers. Conferences will be done both individually (you and a single other peer working together) as well as in a groups with a few of your peers examining your writing. As with the formal teacher conferences, you will have to have questions and areas of concern for your peers to examine and address.


· Class critiques. As good as a single editor is, and as better as a small group is, nothing beats a class full of revisers. In many of your English classes you have already edited, revised, and critiqued the writing of your classmates as a class, sometimes anonymously other times knowing who’s writing you are working on, and as a department, we are going to continue this practice, routinizing and formalizing it to make it a more common and more effective practice.



Academic Honesty: Plagiarism is a serious offense in this classroom as it involves theft and dishonesty. Intellectual integrity is central to learning, so I implore you to engage in original thought and cite sources when they are used (including Sparknotes and Schmoop). Work that is plagiarized, either from a fellow student or from an online source, will receive a zero with no chance to make it up, your parent or guardian will be contacted, and the office will be notified. Please see the student handbook for further clarification on the consequences of plagiarism.


Revision: Revision is central to the writing process; no one that writes professionally turns something in they have not revised themselves and had others revise for them. We will follow this same professional behavior towards the written word in class, using class time to revise what we write in order to improve ourselves as writers. Additionally, work turned in will be revisable as my feedback on it is meant to improve your abilities as a writer.


Timeliness: If a student is not able to turn in a major assignment on time, he or she must make arrangements with the teacher within 24 hours of the due date. At the discretion of individual teachers, students may be provided extra time to receive partial credit on major assignments. Make-up assignments must be submitted within 7 calendar days (1 week) from the original due date. Assignments submitted before the 7 day window will receive a lower grade in the Work Habits strand (5 points lost for every day late) but fully assessed in all other strands. Assignments turned in after the 7 day window will be graded as a zero in all strands. Late homework must be turned in by the next class.


Tech: Given the sometimes limited technological resources of the school, if you have access to your own laptop or tablet with keyboard, it cannot hurt to bring it on days when you know you will be using technology. You will know ahead of time when these days will be occurring and will be verbally encouraged beforehand to bring your tech in.


Honors: Honor in English is an opportunity to challenge yourself and enrich your experience of the literature we will read in class. The goal of honors is to challenge you in order to advance your independence, time management, and self-direction, and to strengthen your compositional and analytical skills. It is open to all students, but there is a good deal of independent, supplemental work involved. In order to qualify for honors credit, you must:

       ·      Maintain a grade of 80 or higher in all strand areas.

       ·      Read and respond to one piece of literary criticism for each text.

       ·      Complete an honors version of each project.

       ·      Evidence the characteristics of a classroom leader, socially and academically, including: being regularly prepared for class, speaking respectfully while advancing the tone and terroir of class discussions, assist other students when appropriate, and evidence the characteristics of good scholarship in English.


The honors assessments will supplement the cumulative assessment for each unit, and will provide an opportunity to enhance your understanding of the text. Upon completion of all the honors requirements, your semester grade will be raised by 0.5 points. Should you choose to pursue honors in English and later reconsider, the honors work you do complete will be graded for extra credit, but your semester grade will receive no additional points.


Grading Policy:

Content (30%): Good writing begins with clear thinking. The content strand focuses on the meat of student writing: how clear and logical their ideas are, how well developed their details, and how well suited their words are to their task. The nature of the content strand depends strongly on the kind of writing being assessed: in a short story, content is the development of experiences, events and characters; in a thesis paper, content is the complexity of thinking, the clarity of logic and the strength of research.

Structure (30%): No single formula can help students write for all tasks. Rather, students must learn to organize their ideas according to their purpose and their audience, finding the best way to lead a reader forward. Whether writing a poem or an editorial, students must consider how to engage and orient their reader, how to guide them through the various ideas, images or actions that make up their text, and how best to conclude. Strong organization often requires careful planning or major revision as students think and rethink how best to present their ideas.

Language & Conventions (20%): Students must develop a strong grasp of the fundamental conventions of standard English for capitalization, punctuation and spelling. In addition, students work to improve their command of grammar and a rich vocabulary. Students also should know how to adjust their language, including word choice, tone and grammar, to fit their purpose and audience. The conventions of standard English are taught and assessed not in isolation but throughout the writing, revising and editing process.

Work Habits (20%): Work habits are the study skills necessary to gain mastery over the curriculum and your writing. It might take the form of writing checks, revisions of essays, and self-reflections.


Exhibition Night, Digital Portfolios, POLs, and College Recommendations:

I will only approve work for exhibition night or POLs if you bring me the original version with the original rubric and notes. Do not just save it on the computer. Likewise, if you think you might ask me for a college recommendation letter, please save any work you are especially proud of with my comments. Bringing your work without my notes and rubric is asking me to do my job twice.

Tom Hinkle,
Sep 8, 2014, 9:20 AM
Tom Hinkle,
Sep 8, 2014, 9:17 AM
Tom Hinkle,
Sep 8, 2014, 9:18 AM