The well crafted assignment

I have finally discovered a way to make the language students write coherent compositions without using translation programs, and without saying they do not know what to do: give very, very specific instructions, mostly in English. Here, the actual exercise is basically lifted from one of our books (¿Qué te parece esta lectura?) and the idea for the written instructions is someone else’s, too (although they are what I would say if asked). So this is not original with me, but it is new to me to go into this much detail, in writing, on how to write. Even though it is cobbled together from other peoples’ ideas (so it is a plagiarized assignment!) it took effort and time to construct.

I favor this, though, because it does seem to show students how to compose and write, which makes grading much easier. What my assistant said: you have to do their work for them these days, it is amazing that you had to write this much to ensure that they will be able to write something coherent.



Sobre “Kentucky” de Ernesto Cardenal

a) Citando ejemplos específicos del poema, comenta cómo el poeta crea imágenes del presente y del pasado para enfatizar los contrastes del presente y del pasado con base a los sentidos (el olfato, la vista, el oído). ¿Qué comparaciones exactas hace? ¿Qué admira, y qué critica el poema? ¿Hay ironía en el poema?

b) Después, expande tu comentario al considerar una de las preguntas siguientes:

¿Nosotros, en nuestras vidas modernas, también tenemos actividades que son imitaciones o re-creaciones de actividades que corresponden a otras épocas?

¿Sería mejor vivir en épocas de Daniel Boone o ahora, en tu opinión?

¿Qué hemos ganado, y qué hemos perdido con la industrialización?

c) Finalmente, escribe una conclusión breve, conectando tus ideas con las expresadas por Cardenal.

The poem uses the senses, or sensorial impressions, to contrast the Kentucky of the past and the one of the present. Note that there are very close comparisons between activities undertaken in the Kentucky of Boone’s time and Cardenal’s, and strong contrasts are drawn between the natural landscape as experienced in both eras.

I. Complete each of the following steps, legibly, on another sheet of paper. Number each item to correspond to the questions and instructions. Notes must be turned in to get full credit.

1. This assignment is designed to encourage you to:
(a) Look at the use of language in this text, understood in terms of grammar and vocabulary. What past tenses and other verb forms are being used, to what effect? How are the connector words like “y” and “que” used to structure this poem which is actually composed of a single, long sentence? How is vocabulary chosen to create a set of images? How does the juxtaposition of these images, and the order in which they are presented, work to tell a story, to elaborate on a theme, and to create an argument or a meaning (or set of meanings)?
(b) Use some of the grammatical structures we have studied this semester to consider the ideas, impressions and experiences presented in the poem in light of related views or experiences of your own.

2. In SPANISH, make three lists of experiences related in the poem: those associated with sight, those associated with hearing, and those associated with smell. Then underline the verb forms used in the poem to narrate these experiences: are they in present or past tenses (or others)?

3. In SPANISH, make a list of phrases you can use, using the simple vocabulary we already know, to discuss in simple terms the associations and comparisons that are made. What has positive, and what has negative connotations?

4. In SPANISH, make a list of words and phrases you can use, again using the vocabulary we already know, to discuss one of the questions in part (b), above, and to form a conclusion of one or two sentences (part c, above).

II. Use your notes to write your composition. It must be at least 20 sentences long.

> As you put your composition together, check your verbs: do you have the correct forms?

> Double-check that all the verbs agree with their subjects, that articles go with the nouns, and that adjectives and nouns (e.g. un convertible rojo) agree in gender and number.

>Proofread for coherence: is the discussion of the poem clear? Is the transition from this discussion to your discussion of your own experience smooth? Are direct connections or interesting parallels drawn between your own thoughts and the ideas expressed in the poem? Does your concluding sentence draw these together and take them one step further (or suggest the next step), as good conclusions do?

> Hand-write your composition neatly on loose-leaf paper, skipping lines, or if you write it on a computer, skip lines. Be sure to write in accent marks if these do not print.

> Use vocabulary from our textbook and reader, not from online dictionaries or any translation software! Using a translation program will result in a grade of ZERO and will be reported as academic dishonesty.

> Turn in both your notes and your composition at the beginning of the final examination.

3 thoughts on “The well crafted assignment

  1. Students need so much help with writing because they don’t write much before they get to us. I keep having the same problems teaching in English. I may borrow from your assignment, because it seems very good to me! It is too bad that we have to do this in college, but if it hasn’t already happened, then we have to do it.

  2. DEH — I am in office grading and I am tempted to dig out my PhD exam from files. There was this question on Ulysses where I blew the committee away, the essay was so good. They had had no idea I was so strong in English, they said. I wasn’t — it was that the question was constructed so well. I should find it and post it, I know it is in the files somewhere.

    JM — yes, I bear an uncanny resemblance to DA in some ways!

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