The Personal Narrative

English 111: The Personal Narrative

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English 111 is based on several important premises about writing:
1.    We learn effective expository writing only as we develop strong critical thinking skills;
2.    We begin to think critically when we question and evaluate the world around us through the lens of our own experiences; and
3.    We hone our critical thinking skills when we learn to read critically—to analyze and evaluate what we read.
With these fundamentals in mind, this course provides students with the opportunity to engage with the written word in many and diverse ways.  We will read and think and write—and then read and think and write again.  We will read and analyze good and bad (but mostly good) examples of each pattern of development assigned and learn from what we read.  In the process, we will look both inside and outside ourselves and write about what we discover there.

Critical Thinking
In preparation for the assignment and for the rest of the course, we will grapple with several important readings about the importance of thinking critically and writing with clarity. However, critical thinking is not only a skill to be developed in the classroom. In fact, using those thinking skills to achieve what some call “critical literacy” will enable us to use words to understand and change the world.

The Personal Narrative
We have all heard and read stories since we were small children, from the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm to the fables of Aesop—to the adventures of Harry Potter and Bilbo Baggins and Captain Ahab. These stories tell about something that happened, one event after another, with details that make the listener or reader care about the characters and what happens to them. Nor only do we care about the stories, but we also learn from them. These are the criteria by which you will write your first essay in English 111.  You will write a story from your life: First this happened, and then that happened, and finally something else happened. You may use the first person (I, me, my, we, us, our) because you are telling about your own life. (However, do not use the second person—you—in this or any of your other writings in English 111.) Remember that your story must reveal something significant so that the reader can learn from your experience. In short, you will tell a story with meaning.

The Assignment
Write a narrative essay of 1,000 to 1,200 words in which you tell a story that reveals something about your own experience with critical thinking.  The essay should be at least five paragraphs:
·    An introduction with thesis statement (your main idea: what your story reveals about the use of critical thinking in your life);
·    Three or more body paragraphs in which you tell your story with vivid, concrete, specific details (events as they occurred, one after the other, with a clear beginning, and a middle, and end); and
·    A conclusion that provides closure for the reader, explaining what lesson you learned—or your audience should learn—about your experience.
Your essay should respond to one of the following scenarios:

Tell about an experience in your life in which

·    you used critical thinking;
·    you were prevented from using critical thinking;
·    you witnessed someone else using critical thinking; or
·    you witnessed a situation in which someone else should have used critical thinking but did not.

Notes on creative versus critical thinking: Creative thinking and critical thinking and not the same. Although they are both ways of understanding the world and coming up with solutions to problems, they are not the same. Creative thinking involves novel and unexpected ways of looking at a topic; some people call it “thinking outside the box”—a phrase what has become such a cliché that it is, frankly, useless as a metaphor for encouraging creativity. Thus, please do not use the phrase “thinking outside the box” in your essay; it will be marked as a cliché—and it will denote a clear misunderstanding of the assignment.

Clearly, your essay is not about creative thinking; it is about critical thinking, which requires clear understanding, careful and methodical reasoning, the ability to question assumptions, and logical evaluation of all sides of multifaceted questions.

You might find the following helpful:

A well-cultivated critical thinker . . .
•    Raises vital questions and problems, formulating them clearly and precisely.
•    Gathers and assesses relevant information, using abstract ideas to interpret it effectively.
•    Comes to well-reasoned conclusions and solutions, testing them against relevant criteria and standards.
•    Thinks openmindedly within alternative systems of thought, recognizing and assessing, as needs be, their assumptions, implications, and practical consequences.
•    Communicates effectively with others in figuring out solutions to complex problems.
(“Defining Critical Thinking.” The Critical Thinking Community. Foundation for Critical Thinking, 2011. Web. 2 Oct. 2012.)   

As with each of the essays in English 111, you will use the writing process to produce your narrative:
1.    Choose your topic: Think about the materials you have read, in which various authors discuss the importance of critical thinking and some of the methods of developing it.  From those reflections, choose a topic that enables you to tell a story about a time in your own life when critical thinking made a difference—or could have.  The story should focus on a single event that took place in a relatively brief period of time. 
2.    Generate ideas: List the sequence of events in the story.  Then, at each step, brainstorm about the details that will make the story come alive for your reader. 
3.    Outline: Produce a formal outline of the essay.  For the last sentence of your introduction, draft a thesis statement that reveals the meaning or significance of the story you have chosen to tell.  Think about how the experience changed you, what effect it has on you today, why the story matters to you.
4.    Draft: Once you have generated your ideas and outlined the essay, you should be able to write a rough draft in one sitting.  Find a comfortable spot free of distractions and write your story.
5.    Revise, edit, proofread: Set the draft aside (for an hour or a day) and then go back to it with fresh eyes.  You should be your own harshest critic.  I will also provide thorough critique of your rough draft, and you may use a SmarThinking critic or another third party to provide an alternative viewpoint.
6.    Produce a final draft in MLA format.

English 111
Personal Narrative Rubric


Rhetorical Elements (40 points)
/10 Does the introduction catch the reader’s attention in a powerful way? Does the conclusion end the essay in a satisfying manner, or does it just stop? 

/10 Does the essay have a clear thesis that reveals an important idea about the writer’s experience with critical thinking?

/10 Is the essay a narrative?  That is, does it tell a story from the author’s own life?

/10 Is the essay unified?  That is, dis everything in the essay relate to the thesis and help the author demonstrate his or her main idea?

Content (20 points)
/10 Is the essay interesting and unique? Does it enable the reader to understand something significant about the author’s experience? Does it enable the reader to better understand the importance of critical thinking? That is, is the essay a story with meaning?

/10 Has the author avoided the abstract and the general in favor of the concrete and the specific?  Does the author write about details that can be seen and heard and felt and smelled and tasted—with concrete nouns and action verbs?

Mechanics (10 points)
/4 Does the author demonstrate good understanding of the principles of grammar and punctuation?

/3 Is the author’s word choice appropriate for the topic, the audience, and the assignment?

/3 Are the sentences clear, concise, and readable?

Process (30 points)
/10 Did the author prepare an outline for the essay that included a clear thesis statement and details about the content of the body paragraphs? 

/10 Did the author prepare a thorough rough draft as assigned? Did the author demonstrate care in revision of the essay from the comments on the rough draft?

/10 Is the essay typed in MLA format?


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