Literacy and Language Assignment #1: Identifying a “literacy narrative”

Using a text by ONE of the authors we have discussed so far [Frederick Douglass, Richard Rodriguez, or Mike Rose], identify and describe a few specific features of the author’s presentation of his experience that provide the grounds for labeling it a “literacy narrative.” In order to construct your argument, explain how the primary text exhibits at least two plot elements or stylistic choices one might encounter in a literacy narrative, as discussed in one of the secondary readings by Mary Soliday, Beth Daniell, or Janet Eldred and Peter Mortensen.

Audience: Readers who are invested in issues of literacy and language but who are not yet familiar with the genre you are discussing

Format: 4 double-spaced pages; MLA style

Advice: The best essays will include a relevant, accurate, and concise summary of the primary text before analyzing its claims about the text. They will not stop at a summary, however, but will isolate and develop a critic’s mode of defining a “literacy narrative” in order to comment on the overall style, structure, and content of the primary text. Use Gordon Harvey’s “Elements” (especially his advice on defining terms!) as a guide as you outline your argument.


Type: Analyze a single text to support an arguable thesis

Rationale: The purpose of this assignment is to give students practice analyzing a single text while also thinking about some of the foundational themes of the course: the genre of the literacy narrative and the relationship between “personal” and “scholarly” writing. There are many possible readings for this assignment available on the qwriting website.

Pre-Draft Activities:

1. In-class writing: In week 4, just before the peer review of the first essay, ask students to return to “How I Learned to Read and Write” (initially read during week 1) alongside Cornelius’ “We Slipped and Learned to Read.” Use this pairing to model how to enrich discourse of students’ selected literacy narratives by discussing how the autobiographical account reflects a specific historical and cultural context.

2. In preparation for the first assignment, students will focus on one literacy narrative and one theoretical text in the specific context of “Elements of the Academic Essay,” comparing how/if/when the elements arise in each mode of writing. One week prior to the draft workshop, they should hand in a 1-2 page outline of their chosen narrative that utilizes Harvey’s components to identify specific instances of the rhetorical elements employed by the chosen author. They should also be able to discuss thesis and paragraph development and to structure their analysis accordingly.

3. Each student will also maintain a literacy notebook, which will not be shared with peers, but that will be handed in to the instructor each time a narrative reading is completed. Students should note reactions to and thoughts about the writer and his/her personal story, including the  societal framework in which the story was written, and hypothesize about what their response(s) indicate about their own backgrounds and assumptions about literacy and language. This notebook, maintained through the semester, will help them to think early on about how to craft their own literacy narrative (Assignment 4).

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