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 15x asks students to communicate about the same research project in two different genres, offering them the opportunity to explore how “good writing” can vary across contexts. This lesson prompts students to analyze and imitate language choices in relation to the different rhetorical situations of the genres they are studying, giving them practice in adjusting their style to different audiences and situations.


This lesson emphasizes that there is more than one kind of “good writing.” It illustrates that the kinds of rules of correctness that lead many students to regard themselves as weak writers are highly contextual and aims to help students decode and deploy novel genre conventions with confidence.


Students will be able to make language choices appropriate to a rhetorical situation and to adjust their choices when the rhetorical situation changes.

Key Terms

rhetorical situation (audience, purpose, context, genre)


This lesson is useful when students are preparing to create a new genre and/or address a new audience. In WR 15x, we recommend incorporating this lesson when students are preparing to transform their research projects into a new genre for a new audience.


Genre Awareness

This lesson focuses on genre awareness and can be used to help students analyze whichever genre or genres is most appropriate for your course.


The lesson sequence begins with a comparison that draws on students’ prior knowledge, invites them to think critically about the larger motives and conditions of texts, and provides an opportunity to reflect on their peers’ work. In the final step, students reflect on their own prose through the subjectivity of their target audience.

  1. Present students with at least two models of the target genre.
  2. Have students review them at home or in class.
  3. Elicit student observations about the prose style.
    • What looks familiar?
    • What looks different?
    • You may want to draw students’ attention to paragraph length, sentence structure, point of view, etc.
  4. Lead a discussion in which students together describe the target genre’s audience in specific, concrete terms that take the rhetorical situation in account.
    • Who are they?
    • Why is the intended audience reading this?
    • What do they see as the purpose of this piece of writing?
    • What does the model assume its audience knows and does not know?
    • In what context will they encounter it?
    • What will they do with the knowledge gleaned from reading, viewing, or listening to it?
  5. Look as a class at the “About” page and/or media kit of a target publication to help students think more about these questions
  1. Juxtapose a new genre with a familiar one to deepen students’ responses.
  2. Discuss the linguistic features of each text, in comparison with each other.
  3. Consider introducing two different genres by the same author for an even more revealing point of comparison, choosing sets that complement your particular course.
One example: Scholarly and public articles by Anthony Abraham Jack on the same topic
  1. Ask students to scan the genre models for a few sentences that make characteristic stylistic choices.
  2. Create templates from these model sentences and have students insert content from their own arguments.
  3. Analyze a model sentence together as a class to discuss its purpose, stylistic features, and effect.
  4. Create and then project each template (or write it on the board).
  5. Give students a couple of minutes to play around with the template in their notebooks or on their laptops.
  6. Have students share their sentence with a peer or with the class.
  7. Repeat with the next model sentence.
  8. Prompt students to share their ideas and reflect on other students’ creations.
Another example

Imitation templates from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk: “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009):

  • “It is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.” (9:29)
    It is impossible to talk about ___________ without talking about ___________. 
  • “Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” (17:37)
    ___________can ______________, but __________can also _________________.
  • “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” (13:00)
    ___________ creates ___________, and the problem with _____________ is not they are __________, but that they are ___________.
  • “The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” (13:45)
    The consequence of ________is this: It ________. It __________. It ___________.
  1. Ask students to locate their own genre models and the sentences or passages that they would like to imitate in their own pieces.
  2. Have students perform the same sort of linguistic analysis and imitation for their own models.
  3. Discuss (in small groups or as an entire class) what students’ observations have revealed to them about their target genre.
  4. Ask students to “simulate a reader’s response to their own writing” (Flower 70).
  5. Discuss together how students’ target audience would respond to what they’ve created, and why.

See all Writing Program Essential Lessons
Remote Implementation of Essential Lesson Activities