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ENG 121: Aiken: Writing Assignments

Essay 5

Writer’s Choice: Social Commentaries

Option 1: Satire


(Scope: 2-3 pp, 12 pt TNR, DS, MLA)

With this final paper, you’re to target an element of society and make an argument about it; the hitch is that you must do so using satire. Satire is a literary form that pokes fun at social institutions with irony or sarcasm, mostly with the purpose of changing them. As Jonathan Swift shows us, hyperbole and an earnest, serious tone are also strong tools to create satire.


To do this, first be sure you’re familiar with the genre. Some good examples include “A Modest Proposal”* from our reading list and any segment from The Colbert Report; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and South Park often make good use of this genre, as well.

*Because Swift’s text isn’t due until Wed., Nov. 28th, you will need to read and study it in advance before writing your draft.


Next, you must choose the element that you wish to address. Choose something that affects you, something that you have experience in dealing with. Some good topics might include:

  • Technology and teens (texting, IM-ing, Facebook, Tweeting)
  • Sense of entitlement among teens
  • Cliques in high school
  • Peer pressure
  • Dorm life




Option 2: Create your own Case For/Against Torture

 (Scope: 2-3 pp, 12 pt TNR, DS, MLA)

This assignment is inspired by the reading, “The Case For Torture.” If you choose this option, you’ll be responding to the question: “Under what circumstances is torture acceptable?” Here you’re to create an argument either for or against torture, something akin to the writing provided by Michael Levin.


I ask that you if you choose this option, you include consideration of Article 5 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights: Convention Against Torture; in addition, research the United States’ policy on this issue, and include that in your commentary.


Keep in mind that you’re still creating an argument here, so you need a solid thesis that goes beyond merely addressing the issue at hand: this thesis statement needs to land squarely on one side or the other.



Option 3: Make your voice heard

(Scope: 2-3 pp, 12 pt TNR, DS, MLA)

This assignment is inspired by the reading “I Have a Dream.” If you choose this option, you will be studying King’s essay for its use of pathos, which is the rhetorical device used to earn an emotional response from its readers. You will need to understand why he uses repetitive phrases as well as clichés or Biblical verses that his audience would connect with, and mimic those techniques in your own writing.


This essay will address a social issue or institution that you would like to see changed. You may choose from topics like the state of public education, national or international military policies, the elections of 2012, discrimination, prejudice, or other inequities. Once you’ve chosen your topic, focus your energy on identifying your audience and determine methods to reach that audience (for example, pop culture references would reach your peers; literary references would reach your English professors, etc.). Write your essay as if you would be delivering it as a speech.


Essay 4

English 121

WA4: Problem/ Solution


Scope: 12pt TNR, DS, MLA, 500-550 words

Audience: Peers, Instructor

Tone: Academic Casual


With this essay we’re continuing our gradual approach to argument writing. In this essay you’re to articulate an identifiable issue and provide a proposed solution. Consider this a two part essay that necessitates a two part thesis. You may use first person voice, but an effective problem/ solution essay won’t rely heavily on narratives. Any narrative you choose to incorporate must be in support of your thesis.

  • Before writing this essay, complete the following preparation steps:
  1. Determine the problem. It’s essential that you are as concrete and definite as you can be here. Stay away from clichés; be original and specific.
  2. Determine the scope of the problem. You need to limit your argument carefully: for example, if you’re writing about sexism, are you writing about gender-based discrimination world-wide, or about an issue you noticed on campus?
  3. Offer a solid solution. Try to avoid being vague or offering too many potential outcomes here. Use concrete language to propose this solution.
  4. Determine the tone of your essay. Your writing may be serious, hopeful, sarcastic, funny, practical, or whimsical, for example.
  5. Be aware as you’re writing that you are creating an argument; your proposed solution may not be one that everyone will agree with. As such, you need to create a convincing, realistic solution that will win opinions.



Essay 3

Comparison/ Contrast

Essay Assignment 3

English 121

 Your task with this third paper of 500 words is to create a comparison/ contrast essay. You are to carefully choose a pair of topics that are somehow related—whether they are related by category, creation, or usage. 


Your assignment for the rest of class today is to brainstorm a list of three potential items to compare. In the space below, brainstorm a list of similarities and differences:


Pair A:

Similarities:                                                                                   Differences:



Pair B:

Similarities:                                                                                   Differences:



Pair C:

Similarities:                                                                                   Differences:



Once you’ve created three potential topics, narrow to one based on interest, knowledge, and perceived audience reaction. Next, create a full-sentence outline that echoes one of the structures we discussed in class. 

Essay 2

Getting Experience into Words: Descriptive Narratives/ Image and Story


English 121


In your first paper, I asked you to recreate an event from your life in a narrative essay. This next assignment will build on that premise and focus on description. You are to create an essay of no more than two (2) full pages in length (12 pt TNR, DS), (no less than 1.5 pages) that uses sensory detail to describe a specific location.


The catch? You have to write about a place you’ve never been. Stretch your creative faculties and imagine what it would be like to spend a day in that location. This paper is the story of that day.


As such, this is a narrative description in which you’ll use first person. You’re not limited to creative nonfiction, so there are no limits in terms of what you can address or how you do so.



Step One: Brainstorm. Take a few minutes to brainstorm no less than three locations. They can be real or imagined. In doing so, consider what kind of place you’d like to read about.


Once you’ve brainstormed the locations, focus on the details. Here, I’d like you to focus your brainstorm on sensory details and small details.


From there, think about your rough draft and what kind of structure you want to follow. I’ve given you the framework- a day in this spot- but you still have to decide if you’re going to write sequentially, in flashback, in media res… again, get creative.


“The best way to make your words powerful—to make the readers experience the meanings in your words—is to make sure that you actually experience what your words are about. Finding nice words is all very well, but actually experiencing your meanings—seeing, hearing, and feeling what you are writing about—will carry you further. It takes extra energy and concentration…. Don’t worry about words; worry about seeing. When you can finally see, hear, and smell things, just open your mouth or start the pen moving and let the words take care of themselves” (Being a Writer 25, 26).

Essay 1

English 121

Essay 1: Narration


We’re starting our essays with the most primary of functions in writing: narration. We’re all born storytellers, and we each practice this art countless times each day. The stories from our text that we’ve been reading all tell the tale of important events in the lives of the speakers. Consider the similarities that tie them together:


-Many authors use the first person in relating their stories.

-Each story relates a significant, influential moment.

-They all have greater meaning—in other words, there’s a moral to each story.


Your assignment with this first essay is to tell a story that does the same. Choose an event or situation that you experienced that shaped who you are today. It doesn’t have to be a huge event, as long as the effect was substantial. Give your words meaning by offering careful explanation. Use first person here.


Incorporate into your writing some form of dialogue here. Consider how dialogue adds to the stories we’ve read, and what it can contribute to your own writing. This can be a brief aside of two utterances, or your piece can be largely composed of dialogue.


Begin by brainstorming three potential topics here in class, then organize each brainstorm into an outline. Finally, choose one of the three outines to work with.


Next, work on your topic sentence/ thesis idea. Keep your readers in mind: what will grab their attention? What will hold it? Draft rough thesis below your brainstorms.


From here, begin your own writing process. You may decide to draft your narrative then add dialogue, or to work dialogue into your process. Whichever you choose, be aware of how you’re using the dialogue and what it tells readers about the speakers. Be sure to save all drafts separately, and save as you go.


Scope: 500 words, DS, 12 pt TNR

Dates to remember:


28 September: WA1 assigned

5 October: WA1 peer reviews (bring complete, typed, hard copy to class with you)

8 October: WA1 due to