How to: Design a summer composition course Part 1

I have a problem. Well many, but let’s just focus on the one. In a week I’ll be standing up in front of students and need to have prepared a syllabus that squeezes a semester into 18 weeks. HELP!

I’m not sure exactly how to squeeze four 6- 7 page papers into 6 weeks without wanting to hang myself. Designing this class has been something I’ve put on the back burner and now I’m wondering what to do. I have been debating if I should do three short papers during the semester then have them hand in  one bigger paper in the end.

Any advice on this would be really welcomed. Maybe if I tell you the requirements for the class we can all brainstorm together and create a great summer writing course.

The students are required to:

1) Write four papers

2) The papers must be around 6-7 pages in their final draft

3) The papers are centered around readings and prompts. All of the readings are connected by some ethical, political, controversial issue ( I know this sounds lame, I didn’t design it).

4) They have the option (if I so choose) to write a research paper. I am thinking I will definitely add this because I have noticed how many students are uncomfortable with this and frankly being able to research is so important in college. I would hate for a professor in a core class ask students about previous research assignments and see glazed over looks in the eyes of my former students. I have also taught high school and know that students don’t do research papers there. In fact, my students that have graduated and gone on to college have thanked me for showing them how to reasearch. So if they are not doing  in high school and not in college , when? I would hate for students to be doing their first research paper in grad school, like so of my classmates.

5) The prompt usually ask the students to come up with some outside situation that applies to the issue in the reading. For instance, the theft of intellectual property.

The class meets twice a week for three hours at a time. I had a professor of mine suggest working on their papers in class. The students will mostly be students who failed the class in the spring, or students who are eager to get a head start for the fall. They are mostly first or second year college students. I’m not sure how important the demographic of students is but I think the eager beaver vs the lazy panda is important when getting the students excited.

This class is a basic composition class that requires students to understand the basics of writing a paper. I’m not sure how to do this. I would love to do a workshop style class, where the students hand in their papers a day before to their classmates and then we spend some time discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the paper. I think this would be an excellent way to get the peer reviewing element of the papers in. I’m not sure how to do this with 20 students.

I have been toying with the idea of having them do five three-four page papers, but then I’d have to grade five papers. I am also working at a camp, and taking a class.


All ideas are welcome.

I will post my syllabus when I’ve designed it so that you guys can give me feedback on it.  Also, it might be such a kick ass syllabus you’ll want to use it yourselves!


  1. Why not reduce the number of papers (down to 3 as you said) but have them turn in two drafts. The first draft you can mark up and bring common issues/problems into the class lecture with some exercises to break bad habits. The final paper would address the errors and also include additional concepts and practices they learn in the course. Maybe have a paper due each week – draft 1/week 1, draft 2/week 2, draft 2/week 3 -> final 1/week 4 and so on. Hopefully by their third final draft due in the final week they will have learned how to write and revise a paper to make it a great piece of writing.

    1. Thanks for the comment eduguy, I like this idea a lot! This will force them to working on writing all summer. Thanks!

  2. Only workshop one paper per student. They can turn two or three papers in to you only, but they must turn in one to workshop. It will also help them understand the impact of writing on an audience.

    1. Yes. I’ve been trying to teach “knowing your audience” for a year. I think workshop is the best way to do this.

  3. I took the idea of three essays and went with it for my summer course. They still have a term paper to deal with, but 4 essays + term paper would be a nightmare.

    1. Agreed. I think I’m going to make the fourth paper the research paper. This way I have some time to teach them how to research. God knows they need it.

      Do you ever teach something and think to yourself, “man I wish someone would have taught me what I’m teaching my kids.” That is not to say that you’re this great teacher, although myabe you are. It’s just that no one ever forced me to do a research paper until really late in my undergrad career and by then I was afraid to death of library and had no idea what the hell I was doing. I wish I had learned about it sooner.

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