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English 121: Composition II

Section E402, Spring 2017

3 Credits / 3 Hours

Tues. and Thurs., 2:00-3:40pm

Welcome to English 121: Composition II. The course description is as follows:

Focus on all aspects of reading and writing, with particular attention to summary, critical responses to short texts, argumentative development in paragraphs and essays, and the rewriting process.  Emphasis on organization, language, accuracy, grammar, and mechanics.  Classroom instruction supplemented by individual conferences on drafts with instructor, library resources sessions, and appropriate use of available technology.

We will be reading a variety of articles, short stories, and comics in this course.  It is essential that you read, annotate, and bring the assigned reading material to class.  I will put most course materials (syllabus, readings, etc.) on Blackboard.

This course will be run as an ongoing discussion and workshop—that means that the most important features of the class are your presence and your effort in responding to your own thinking and that of your peers.  Reading and writing are processes of discovery and experimentation.  You simply cannot do this on your own.  When you are present each week, you will improve as a student, scholar, thinker, and writer.

Course Goals and Objectives

  • Express ideas in writing styles required both inside and outside of the academy
  • Use a range of writing, reading, and research strategies applicable to multiple disciplines
  • Critically evaluate written arguments for their logic, composition and use of evidence
  • Write well-reasoned essays based on research, critical analysis, and the principles of rhetoric
  • Reference and assimilate the ideas of others while presenting original theses of your own
  • Write confidently in standard formal English at a level suitable for college work
  • Correctly quote, paraphrase, and cite primary and secondary sources in your writing as well as construct a bibliography according to MLA conventions

Required Materials

  • Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad.  ISBN-13: 978-0385542364
  • Ellen Forney, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.  ISBN-13: 978-1592407323
  • You will also be required to print out and annotate all other assigned readings, which will be posted on Blackboard

Recommended Materials and Resources

  • Purdue University Online Writing Lab (MLA Style Guide): <>
  • Google Scholar: <>
  • William Strunk and E.B. White, The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition).  ISBN-13: 978-0205309023


You may bring laptops in order to take notes but no cell phones, headphones, or portable music players.

Attendance and Punctuality

Attendance is mandatory.  Only three absences and three times arriving late (more than ten minutes) will be excused.  Each additional unexcused absence will result in half a letter grade dropped. (Two lates equal one unexcused absence).  Six unexcused absences will result in a failing grade.  If you know you will be late or absent, please email me.

Policy on Plagiarism

You must do your own work and be sure to cite sources for any ideas, words and phrases, or thought that are not your own and not common knowledge.  Plagiarism often occurs because students do not allow enough time to complete their assignments or because they feel their work will not be good enough.  If you are having trouble finishing an assignment by the due date, please speak with me instead of cheating.  And in this class, if you challenge yourself and make a solid effort, you will be fine: your own work is good enough.  If you turn in work that is not your own, you will fail the assignment and possibly the entire course.  All instances of plagiarism will be reported to the English Department Chair and Office of Student Affairs.  Note that college penalties for this can be as severe as expulsion from the college.  Please use common sense and if you are ever in doubt, ask me first and before your assignment is due.

CUNY defines plagiarism as follows:

Plagiarism is the act of presenting another person’s ideas, research or writings as your own.  The following are some examples of plagiarism, but by no means is it an exhaustive list:

  • Copying another person’s actual words without the use of quotation marks and footnotes attributing the words to their source
  • Presenting another person’s ideas or theories in your own words without acknowledging the source
  • Using information that is not common knowledge without acknowledging the source
  • Failing to acknowledge collaborators on homework and laboratory assignments

Internet plagiarism includes submitting downloaded term papers or parts of term papers, paraphrasing or copying information from the internet without citing the source, and “cutting & pasting” from various sources without proper attribution.


Assignments must be emailed to by 11:59pm on the day on which they are due.  Assignments not handed in at all will be given failing grades.  Talk to me if you are having a serious problem completing the work, and we will work out a plan that is agreeable to us both.  Incomplete or late assignments will lose half a letter grade per day.  This means that if you submit an A paper that is due on Monday on Wednesday, you will receive a B.

Current Events: 10 points

In-Class Writing: 15 points

Counterargument Essay: 20 points

Final Essay: 25 points

Participation: 30 points

Total: 100 points

Grading Scale: 94-100 = A; 90-93 = A-; 87-89 = B+; 83-86 = B; 80-82 = B-; 77-79 = C+; 73-76 = C

Classroom Participation

This is a discussion-based course, not a lecture-based one.  Participation is very important and includes completing the assigned readings, turning your papers in on time, and being prepared to speak thoughtfully on whatever reading(s) we are discussing for the day.  There will also be no toleration of deliberately racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist language.  I use the word deliberately because we all have gaps in knowledge and experience and part of the purpose of a college education is assisting each other in filling in those gaps.  Therefore, I encourage respectful debate when your peers or I have said something that is hurtful, insensitive, or ignorant.


Current Events: Each student will be required to give one current event presentation.  I will pass out of a sign-up sheet at the beginning of the semester.  The night before your presentation, you will be required to email me a summary of your event.  The following day, you will speak for five to ten minutes and then pose questions to the class about your event.

In-Class Writing: About once every other week, we will begin class with a short writing assignment about our reading for the day.  The standing prompt will be, “What is the author’s thesis?  Do you agree or disagree?  Why or not why?”  Alternately, you may be asked to outline a theme that seems particularly important to the work.

Counterargument Essay: Take a topic that is important to you and write a 1000-word essay that argues the opposite of what you believe.  If you support abortion rights, make the case for a pro-life position.  If you hate Donald Trump, convince your reader that he will be a great president.  This will allow you to practice the tools of the argumentative essay without relying on the assumptions we often bring to the table when we care passionately about an issue.

Research Essay: Take one or more texts (novels, short stories, newspaper articles, etc.) either assigned in class or not and write a 1200-word essay in which you make an argument about the text(s).  If it is a work of fiction, you can use this essay to illuminate a theme you find particularly important.  If it is a work of nonfiction, you can agree or disagree with the author’s thesis, incorporating new evidence to make your point.  For this essay, you must use at least three secondary sources not assigned in class.

You may submit revised versions of your essays for a higher grade as many times as you would like before the semester is over.

Accommodating Disabilities

Lehman College is committed to providing access to all programs and curricula to all students.  Students with disabilities who may need classroom accommodations are encouraged to register with the Office of Student Disability Services.  For more information, please contact the Office of Student Disability Services, Shuster Hall, Room 238, phone number (718) 960-8441.

Title IX

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 protects individuals from discrimination based on sex in any educational program receiving federal financial assistance.  Sexual harassment, which includes acts of sexual violence, is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title IX, and is considered a Civil Rights offense.  Lehman College encourages anyone experiencing harassment, discrimination or sexual misconduct to talk to a faculty member, counselor, or staff; confidential resources are available through the Lehman Counseling Center at (718) 960-8761.

 Travel and Immigration Bans

If you or your loved ones have a passport from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, CUNY Clear is offering legal help in Arabic, Bangla, English, French, Spanish, Urdu, and many other languages—helpful for our older family members.  They can do workshops at your local masjid, too.  Contact them at or (718) 340-4558.

Classmate Contacts


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Reading and Assignment Schedule

In the first half of the semester, we will read argumentative essays on a variety of subjects to hone our rhetorical skills.  These subjects will include the nature of language, race, gender and sexuality, class difference, animal rights, and our relationship to technology.  In the second half of the semester, we will see how some of these issues play out in a variety of literary forms: short stories, a novel, and a comic book.

Thursday, 2/2: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “The Danger of a Single Story” (2009)

Tuesday, 2/7: George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language” (1946); June Jordan, “Nobody Mean More to Me than You and the Future Life of Willie Jordan” (1988)

Thursday, 2/9: Alleen Pace Nilsen, “Sexism and Language” (1977)

Tuesday, 2/14: Ta-Nehisi Coates, “My President Was Black” (2016)

Thursday, 2/16: Coates, “My President Was Black” (cont’d)

Tuesday, 2/21: Peer Review

Thursday, 2/23: Nicholas Carr, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (2008); Carl Zimmer, “How Google Is Making Us Smarter” (2009)

Sunday, 2/26: Counterargument Essay Due

Tuesday, 2/28: Betty Friedan, “The Problem That Has No Name” (1963)

Thursday, 3/2: Roxane Gay, “Bad Feminist: Take Two” (2014)

Tuesday, 3/7: Adrienne Rich, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and the Lesbian Experience” (1980)

Thursday, 3/9: E.J. Graff, “The M/F Boxes” (2001)

Sunday, 3/12: Subject of Research Essay Due

Tuesday, 3/14: Library Session

Thursday, 3/16: David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster” (2004)

Sunday, 3/19: Annotated Bibliography Due

Tuesday, 3/21: Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (2016)

Thursday, 3/23: Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (cont’d)

Tuesday, 3/28: Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (cont’d)

Thursday, 3/30: Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (cont’d)

Sunday, 4/2: First Paragraph of Research Essay Due

Tuesday, 4/4: Peer Review

Thursday, 4/6: Whitehead, The Underground Railroad (cont’d)

Tuesday, 4/25: Ursula K. LeGuin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (1973)

Thursday, 4/27: Alice Walker, “Everyday Use” (1973)

Sunday, 4/30: First Draft of Research Essay Due

Tuesday, 5/2: Katherine Mansfield, “The Garden Party” (1922)

Thursday, 5/4: Jhumpa Lahiri, “Interpreter of Maladies” (1999)

Tuesday, 5/9: Ellen Forney, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me (2012)

Thursday, 5/11: Forney, Marbles (cont’d)

Tuesday, 5/16: Forney, Marbles (cont’d)

Thursday, 5/18: Forney, Marbles (cont’d)

Sunday, 5/21: Final Draft of Research Essay and All Revisions Due