Our Essential Lessons are a sequence of lessons that form the backbone of the Writing Program curriculum, illustrating what we want all students to learn across our program’s diverse course topics.

WR 120 introduces students to academic writing and highlights some similarities and differences between academic arguments and arguments in other genres. This first lesson for the WR 15x courses builds on this knowledge by introducing students to the generic conventions for written arguments in a particular academic discipline and offering students a framework for understanding how these conventions are tied to disciplinary context.


This lesson aims to demystify the conventions of disciplinary communication and equip all students to see themselves as prospective members of any discipline.


Students will demonstrate an awareness of the rhetorical situation of academic writing and be able to locate academic conversations in a disciplinary context.

Key Terms

rhetorical situation (genre, audience, purpose, context), academic discipline


This lesson takes place early in the semester (Module 1: Course Foundations), after an initial introduction to the course topic.


Genre Awareness

This lesson helps students connect genre to academic disciplines.


This lesson prompts students to reflect on prior knowledge and their revised understanding of concepts. As the class transitions to independent research in Module 2, students should reflect on how the prior assignments can guide their thinking about beginning to take part in the course topic’s discipline.

  1. Define and identify key elements of the rhetorical situation in class, or ask students to help you do so:
    • Genre–form of the communication
    • Audience–intended consumer of the communication
    • Purpose–reason for the communication
    • Context–context for the creation of the communication
  2. Ask students to produce a communication about the same everyday topic (for example, the first week of the semester) to familiar but different audiences (their best friend, their grandmother) in familiar but different ways or genres (a text message, a phone call, a tweet) for familiar but different purposes (to rave, to complain), etc. The purpose of this quick exercise is to illustrate to students how they are already engaging with all elements of the rhetorical situation in how they communicate–even informally.
  1. Lead a discussion that links academic discipline and rhetorical situation. Some questions to consider:
    • What is an academic discipline?
    • What are some examples of academic disciplines?
    • What similarities and differences do they have?
    • How are students training to become members of an academic discipline?
    • What is the relationship between academic disciplines and the rhetorical situation?
    • How does one discover the rhetorical situation of a specific discipline?
  2. Prompt students to respond in writing to such questions before the discussion and then reflect on how the discussion revised their understanding.
  3. Ask students to investigate the different elements of a discipline relevant to the course topic–from how members of that discipline cite their writing to where those members may communicate in person.
  4. Have students complete (individually or in pairs) this disciplinary orientation exercise, which offers an orientation to a discipline relevant to the content of your course–for example, art history, or chemistry. As the instructor, you should compile a list of resources, including library resource guides for that discipline, links to academic departments, and links to professional organizations in that discipline. Students typically need a fair amount of help understanding what professional organizations and professional conferences are, so be prepared to discuss those in detail for whichever discipline you have chosen.

As a class, analyze an example of disciplinary communication that you assign as a course reading. This will work better if you have already discussed the content of the text in a different class meeting, so that now you can focus on its genre and discipline.

  1. Pick an example that is accessible and that “enacts disciplinarity” in a relatively clear way.
  2. Draw on what students learned in the previous exercises.
  3. Ask what they notice about the genre features of the text. How does what they learned about the discipline help them understand the text’s audience, purpose, and/or context?
  4. Draw on what students learned about academic argument in WR 120.
  5. Ask students where the writer summarizes a disciplinary conversation and where the writer intervenes in that conversation.
  6. Look for the rhetorical moves of introduction and examples of acknowledgment and response.
  7. Consider how the writer takes a disciplinary reader’s knowledge and values into account.

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