Professors often expect first year undergraduate students to have mastered basic writing skills (e.g., proper grammar, punctuation, formatting, and citation). Regardless of their academic pedigree, many students lack this crucial life skill. Students need help developing their writing skills in college.
The Quick And Dirty Grammar Lesson
I give a presentation that hits the most important points before students turn in their final assignments, which are more formal in tone, style, and format than their class journals need to be.
I provide the slide deck online so they can revisit it, and the resources I link within it, while they are working on their finals.
A Final Exam in Intro to Soc
For the final exam in my introductory sociology courses, I assign students the following:
Welcome to your final exam experience. You will write two (2) business letters, no more than 1.5 single-spaced pages each, to American* political leaders in order to inform them about a sociological phenomenon (a social problem) and persuade them to take an action about that social problem (this does NOT have to be a complicated policy solution - keep reading). You will write about a timely issue in a persuasive, concise way, using evidence to support your argument and your ask. This is a take-home, open-book, open-note exam.
* International students may write to their leaders at home!
I provide students with detailed assignment instructions on how to decide whom to write to, an annotated sample letter I wrote to use as a model (see below), and a Word template that would help them recreate their own version of a business letter. (Another blog entry will tackle my love of templates.)
Each letter must make two arguments: that the social problem is real and pressing, and that the “ask” is at least one good way to approach that social problem. Since each student turns in two (2) letters, each of those two letters must address a different social problem, and each must properly cite at least three texts from class (i.e., journal articles, books, documentaries, news articles) as evidence.