The Expert Project: Inquiry, Research, Synthesis

UPDATE: As you can see in the title, I’ve settled on a name for this “big” essay endeavor (after years not really knowing what to call this behemoth of a task). From here on out, we’ll call it the Expert Project—a term I am borrowing from fellow English teacher and author Jim Burke.

I’ve also reorganized all the materials about this Expert Project to make it easier to navigate. To find information, use the drop-down menus above under “AP Lang & Comp.”

Let’s Get Blogging!

Another Snow Day!

UPDATE: We will have some time in class to review the information below, but for those of you curious, feel free to get a head start. What else are you doing on this beautiful snow day?! 🙂

For the rest of the year, we’ll be taking some of our writing into the online world through blogging! Blogging will be your opportunity to share your thoughts and ideas with each other outside of class. As an added benefit, blogging will also give you the opportunity to improve your writing (and thinking) skills. Even though you’ve heard the word blog before, here’s a great 3-minute overview from Common Craft videos:

Before you can begin blogging, you’ll need to sign up for our blogsite, which will be housed on WordPress at You can also find the link to your blogsite anytime by using the dropdown menu above.

FIRST, you will need a WordPress username. To get a WordPress username, click here to sign up. Once you have done that, you will receive a confirmation email. Be sure to activate your account.

SECOND, send me your username by filling out this form. I will invite you to our blogsite using the information you provide.

THIRD, check your email for your invitation to our blogsite. Accept the invitation. When you click “accept,” you may receive another invitation that says something to the effect of “You’ve been added!” with a “view blog” link.

IMPORTANT: You can’t get started until you receive an e-mail invitation from me. If you do not get an e-mail invitation, let me know.

FOURTH, now that you’ve been added to the site, learn how to log in and take a quick tour with the video below. Just note that I made this video for last year’s students, so some things may be slightly different, but essentially it’s all the same. 🙂

IMPORTANT: Some students have reported that the drop-down menu in the tutorials is not working/appearing. To get to the “Dashboard” found in the tutorials, add /wp-admin to the end of the web address, as such:

Once you’ve watched the intro, continue by heading over to our blog site, reading the overview, and following the tutorials there!

On Writing an “On” Essay

UPDATE 12/19:

Bring in at least one paper copy of your rough draft. Please double or 1.5-space this draft in order to give you room to write in-between and around your words. You’ll use need this paper copy in order to read your essay to your peer response group and to take your own revision notes.

However, you may want to also print out 3 single-spaced, double-sided copies of your essay so that your group members will each have a copy to reference as you read your essay (the visual can help, but it is not necessary).

Choose a topic you know well and write a personal essay that reflects, explores,  and explains this topic.

What makes an effective “On” Essay?

Writing in a variety of modes, the essays we read succeed because they explore complex topics in a very relatable way. They explain, define, and describe; they use anecdotes and allusions. They feature both insight and curiosity. They zoom in and zoom out.

Consider the “on” essays that we read in class together; these serve as our mentor texts. For your convenience, below is a list. Review them carefully, reflect on our conversations, and revisit your annotations.

  • “On Keeping a Notebook” (Didion)
  • On Compassion” (Asher)
  • “On Running After One’s Hat” (Chesterton)
  • On Being a Cripple” (Mairs) <–READ FOR MONDAY, 12/14
  • On Dumpster Diving” (Eighner) <–READ FOR WEDNESDAY, 12/16
  • The Jacket” (Soto) and other short pieces read earlier this year
  • Individual stories/chapters from TTTC

Below is a handful of exemplar essays from former students. As you read their writing, consider the strengths of each one. (If it matters, scores ranged from 7 to 9 on these essays.)

Writing Your Own “On” Essay

Review your notebook as you narrow down to your topic. Ask yourself: What do you need to explain to your reader? What descriptions would be interesting and valuable? What ideas or terms need definition? What comparisons or references could you make to connect with your reader? Where could you slow time? Where should you speed it up?

Yes, it’s a lot to think about–which is why we will do at least 2 drafts for each essay. You will have the opportunity to meet in small reading groups that will act as a writers’ workshop. Keep this in mind when you compose your essay. You will be reading them to a group of 2-3 students for immediate feedback.

The requirements
  • 750-1200 words
  • A narrow focus indicated by your title (“On…)
  • Evidence of different modes of writing (red rhetorical modes quarter sheet in your notebook)
  • Clear organization
  • Sentence variety
  • Strong diction (verbs especially)
  • Awareness of audience

First draft due MONDAY, 12/21, paper copy to class.

I will use a modified 9-point AP rubric, available here. See updated rubric in newer post above. They will be worth 60 points. Questions or concerns, come talk to me.

View my own “On” essay in progress here. UPDATE: I’ve changed my topic. Feel free to view here. And feel free to comment (just don’t change any text).

IN SUMMARY, SOME GENERAL CLASS UPDATES (especially for 2nd period, whom I haven’t seen in two days!

  • Monday, 12/14: WAR #8 due (remember to use a Graff Template, typed or filled in), read “On Being a Cripple” (link above)
  • Tuesday, 12/15: Vocab Quiz (they will be on Tuesdays from now on)
  • Wednesday, 12/16: read “On Dumpster Diving” (link above, handout will be given in class)
  • Monday, 12/21: First draft of On Essay

Reading The Things They Carried

Yay! A novel! 🙂

You’ll need a few things for your reading of Tim O’Brien’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Things They Carried. Be sure you have the following supplies each day in class:

  • A copy of the novel
  • A minimum of six post-it notes (large 4 x 6 size, available in class)
  • Pen or pencil
  • Your time & attention
  • A sense of curiosity

As you read* The Things They Carried, note O’Brien’s thoughtful and precise use of language. I am always—always—amazed each time I read this novel. Many of his sentences are breathtaking. Revel in this reading experience. Immerse yourself in the prose. Pay attention to when a particular passage strikes you.

Take notes on a minimum of six passages that stand out to you for their descriptions of people, places, or things. Remember that “things” can be concrete (the soil or land) as well as abstract (shame or love). Make sure you choose passages that span the breadth of the novel (i.e. do not choose six passages from the same chapters). You may choose any combination of descriptions―3 places, 2 people, 1 thing or 4 things, 1 place, 1 person―as long as you have one of each. You may find yourself wanting to note more than six descriptions (that’s how good O’Brien’s writing is). Feel free; six is only a minimum.

Choose six meaningful passages. Think about that word―meaningful. The passage should be full of meaning.

Note the passage by marking it in the book with the post-it note. On the post-it, answer / reflect on  the following for each passage:

  1. WHAT is being described—a person, place, or thing? Identify. For example, Jimmy’s love for Martha is an abstract thing. Or it could be about Jimmy, a person, depending on the passage.
  2. WHY is this description here? What is its purpose? What is O’Brien trying to convey in this description? Why is this in the novel? 
  3. HOW is the purpose achieved? What strategies—think diction, syntax, imagery, juxtaposition, imagery, repetition, etc.—does O’Brien use to achieve this purpose? What makes this description effective, both in the immediate context as well as in the novel as a whole?

Finish reading and come to class with your completed notes by MONDAY, 11/2 (a.k.a. the day Mrs. Ebarvia returns!).

Be prepared to discuss “fishbowl” style or in Socratic circles. Your notes will be extremely helpful.

In addition, you will be given a multiple choice quiz to verify you’ve read the novel. If you read diligently and carefully, you should be fine.

* You may find it helpful to mark the passages first and then write responses later. That way, you can just enjoy the novel and then go back to write on the post-its now that you have a “bigger picture” view of the novel upon finishing.

NOTE: There is no Weekly Annotated Reading due on 10/26 but there is a WAR due on 11/2 (the day Mrs. Ebarvia returns). If you need a break from reading TTTC for a day or finish early, you may use the time in class to grab a laptop and work on your WAR for 11/2.

People Pointers

For your reference, here’s a copy of the 8 mini-lessons on descriptive writing we reviewed in class today. Use these to reflect and rewrite your own sentences. Final copy is due Friday, 10/23. 

UPDATE: I know there was some confusion about the note about not using names on the board. Ignore that. Use whatever names you want for your final copy. I meant to erase that from the board – apologies for any confusion! 

Happy Writing!

Place Paragraph

Using “At the Subway Station” as your inspiration, write a precise and succinct one-paragraph description of a place (about 300-350 words).

When choosing a subject (your place)…

  • Choose a place that you know well enough to write well—a place that you can visualize and describe with sensory detail (see, touch, hear smell, feel).
  • Choose a place that is especially meaningful—either in a positive or negative way—where some important event or moment—small or large—has happened. Or choose a place that simply bears some significance to your daily life.
  • Choose a “small” place. Not Pennsylvania, not Paoli, but the Paoli train station waiting area. Not Conestoga HS, not the music hallway, but the chorus room. Consider your “ladders of abstraction” and zoom in on a smaller space to describe in great detail (for example, I might choose to write about sitting in the driver’s seat of my mini-van). 🙂

Decide on what tone you would like to convey about your place. What is it about this space that made it worth noticing for you—made it worth writing about?  What does this place mean to you? Choose details and use diction that convey this tone.

Look at the images of subway stations below. Notice how the photographer’s choices determine the tone or message conveyed in each image (click to enlarge).

What is your attitude toward your place, your message?

When writing…

Review what we discussed about the paragraph.

Think of your paragraph as a “compact essay.”

Consider UNITY—What is your main idea and how do all the sentences in the paragraph contribute to this idea? Consider COHERENCE—In what order are the sentences arranged that make the most logical sense? Consider DEVELOPMENT—What types of examples, details, facts, explanations do you include? Are they enough to fully develop your main idea?

For more inspiration, consider this excerpt for Alfred Kazin’s essay about his Brookville home or this excerpt from Sara Tohamy (CHS Class of 2016 and former AP Lang’er) about her grandparents’ backyard. We will look at both of these excerpts tomorrow in class as well.

Rough draft due Thursday, 10/15.

Object One-Pager Pointers

As you write your draft on your meaningful object, consider the following:

  • What is the impression you want to give your reader?
  • What do you want to convey about your object? Why is it meaningful to you? (Think Purpose.)

All of your decisions and choices as a writer—the words you choose (diction) and the way you arrange them (syntax)—should be informed by the answers to the questions above.

Remember that when we read Soto’s “The Jacket” and Dillard’s Excerpt from An American Childhood that each writer conveyed both the concrete and abstract. Soto’s essay wasn’t just about the jacket (concrete), but also about the struggle to fit in (abstract). Dillard’s essay wasn’t just about the microscope (concrete), but also about becoming independent and finding one’s passion (abstract).

Though it will be difficult, find a way to express both the concrete and abstract about your object. Use figurative language, make allusions, tell a brief story (anecdote).

Your final essay is limited to one page (approx 400-450 words). For your rough draft, you may go over the limit and then cut down as we revise/edit in class. Bring a typed copy of your rough draft (without MLA heading) to class with you on Thursday.

PS – We’ll be writing about a place next. Get ready!