Hello! This is Becca – I’m a grad student at Michigan Tech, studying Rhetoric and Technical Communications and teaching a course that’s currently called Revisions. It’s the required university-wide second-year communication course, and as a graduate teaching instructor I get to design my own projects. I’m teaching Track A this summer, and I just got the rough drafts on a new project – they turned out so well, I wanted to share.
The intro: Knowing about the other side of a situation can help you strengthen your own opinion and can lend credence to your own argument. In this project you will research an opposing viewpoint and write an essay from that point of view before constructing an essay from your own point of view and presenting this to the class.
Topics of debate could include, but are not limited to: the death penalty; book burning; censorship; saying the Pledge of Allegiance at school; prayer in schools; privileging sports over music and art in high schools; racism; abortion; gay marriage; needing a passport to enter Canada; “going green”; and so on. You will use research in this project, so make sure to choose a subject that has ample information.
The proposal: I ask my students to submit a proposal the day after receiving the assignment sheet, detailing their chosen topic and the rhetorical tools of ethos, logos, and pathos, which we cover in the class.
The rough draft: Start writing your essay from the opposing point of view. Have at least two pages of text ready for peer review – the revised version of this essay will be five pages, so the more you have now, the better. Find at least three sources to use in support of your argument and list them in a works cited page. In the next draft you must cite them.
It may be difficult to put yourself on the other side of something in which you believe, so we will spend two days on peer review after the student presentations. Others will read what you have so far and offer suggestions on where to go from there to complete your essay, as well as offer input on how convincing the argument is and what might help it along. Again, this is from the opposing point of view.
The in-class peer review has been the most help for students. I drew up a sheet for each reviewer to fill out, noting places where the author used the rhetorical tools; a strength of the draft; and something that might improve the draft. The next step will be for them to complete their five-page essay, and the last step is a reflection on their beliefs and how the project has influenced them.
The pros: The topics they chose were amazing and varied, and their approach was at times astounding. A foreign student submitted an essay that very convincingly argues on the side of racism, while another compared Hitler’s eugenics to the Pill. They made comments about how hard it was to come up with opposing arguments, but during the first project the majority of the students found the peer review helpful.
The cons: There’s always a student or two who tries to make a joke out of a project, or doesn’t go to the same depth as everyone else. These students have been known to come to me sheepishly after reading others’ essays, and I was hoping that one student would be able to tone it down after the last project, he resisted. I have yet to receive written feedback about the project, but no one commented negatively to me today.