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.

Bringing two texts into conversation with one another is a key aspect of WR 112, and a significant challenge to students, who might be more familiar with surface-level compare/contrast papers. This lesson attempts to complicate what students think they know about comparative analysis, offering multiple ways to bring texts into conversation.


Inclusion

This lesson equips students to make nuanced comparisons; though the focus is primarily on two class texts, students can also apply these insights to making cross-cultural observations that avoid stereotypes or superficial judgments.

Objective

Students will be able to form arguable claims that respond to two texts and evaluate the effectiveness of other claims.

Key Terms

common ground, grounds for comparison, conversation, significance, claim, acknowledgment and response, analysis

Timing

This lesson spans a series of class sessions in the middle of the semester, after the first paper and leading up to the comparative analysis paper.


Lesson

Genre Awareness

While argumentative essays are a logical focal point for text selections in this lesson, students can also establish common ground across other genres of texts. Many narrative and journalistic essays also comment upon themes and issues that are central to the argumentative essays. Likewise, as students move on to the longer work (whether a novel or memoir), they will be synthesizing with previously-read essays based on shared themes as well. The various genres assigned in class can therefore foster important discussions about how the rhetorical situation informs how and why multiple viewpoints are expressed in a text. It is important for students to identify the multiple “voices” in different genres of texts to reinforce when the author is asserting a (subjective) position and/or introducing the views of others, and for what purpose.

Metacognition

Once students have drafted their own claims and critically assessed their classmates’ claims, ask them to consider how their understanding of an effective claim (and, in particular, an effective claim for a comparative analysis paper) has changed throughout this exercise. What obstacles have they faced in moving beyond the grounds for comparison to make an argumentative assertion as a result of placing the two texts in conversation? What greater understanding have they come to as a result of placing these texts in conversation (an understanding that they did not have when considering each text on its own)? What greater insights are they coming to about their own writing? What are their goals and priorities as they move on to the drafting stage?

PART I: MAKING CONNECTIONS
  1. Put two different authors students have read into conversation with each other. You may want to use this exercise as homework; it prompts students to begin placing authors in conversation based on their thematic connections and to establish grounds for comparison. This handout also includes a list of the five comparative relationships and stresses that the students’ establishment of the comparative relationship is not their claim; rather, it is an initial step toward formulating a claim and engaging with and responding to the texts themselves, with the goal of shedding light on a topic, extending an argument or discussion, or potentially resolving a problem.
  2. Discuss students’ ideas, and build on these in class. Interactive mind-mapping tools, such as Mindomo, can be another effective collaborative tool for students to establish common ground among texts/authors; they can create mind maps which they can update throughout the semester.
  3. Brainstorm common ground between two different cultural groups quoted or otherwise featured in class readings and place them in conversation. This exercise can be done for homework, or in pairs in class, and facilitates intercultural competence, dialogue, and exchange as students enter into broader discussions about diversity and global citizenship, the existence of multiple cultural affiliations and identities, and the importance of challenging cultural assumptions and avoiding stereotypes. Students will also develop new ideas for paper topics as a result of this activity.
PART II: MOVING TOWARD CLAIMS
  1. Stress, during a class debriefing session, the conversational nature of academic arguments, especially the importance of acknowledging a problem or question that arises out of the two texts being placed in conversation. This handout offers examples of ineffective and effective questions/problems that could lead to strong comparative claims. When students have appropriate claims, you can move them closer to actually planning comparative analysis essays.
  2. Evaluate sample claims from former students’ papers and rank the claims according to how effective they are, in groups in class. Following this exercise, students will be better equipped to write their own claims for their argument-driven comparative analysis paper.
PART III: THE LANGUAGE OF COMPARISON
  1. Focus students’ attention on particular issues of punctuation and grammar (especially conjunctions) that arise when they are making comparisons. Students will benefit from a workshop on conjunctions and a review of independent vs. dependent clauses and appropriate comma usage. This handout includes sentences from students’ own writing, and each sentence includes errors related to the logic of the selected conjunction based on the textual relationship, the sentence structure, and/or the punctuation placement. Alternatively, or in addition, the exercises below from the Purdue OWL may be of use:
PART IV: CLAIMS AND INTRODUCTIONS
  1. Review the three key elements of introductions with students, and help them decide what to include in their introductions, leading up to their claims. You may want to use this handout for students to fill out (in class or at home) as a planning document, to help them move logically through the three-part introduction form and set up their comparative claim.
  2. Discuss and even peer-review students’ claims and introductions in class.
  3. Share and analyze a sample argument-driven comparative analysis essay, such as this one from the 2019 WR journal, which was written for a WR 112 class and can serve as an effective model for discussing the distinction between the necessary elements of the three-part introduction and the framing of the argument, the comparative claim, and, eventually, the whole paper. The accompanying instructor’s note also offers some helpful suggestions for scaffolding and helping students come up with effective comparative arguments.


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