Undergraduate (Face-to-Face or Online)
Students will be introduced to a contemporary essay genre to see how people argue in multimodal environments.
Students will reinforce their understanding of various ideas from composition studies discussed throughout the semester, including Aristotle’s Triangle, Toulmin’s Model, and paragraph structure.1
Students will demonstrate their understanding of expository writing and argumentative approaches.
Students will compose a short video essay based on a previous assignment to learn the basics of video essay composition.
Background and Context
I provide these exercises near the middle of the semester as a way to show the relevancy of what students are learning in the composition class. I teach this genre in both Composition 1 and 2. The exercises demonstrate how people use the same structure and argumentative techniques in video essays that the students are using in their written work. Given the increasing popularity of video essays, this assignment allows students to see what contemporary expository writing is like in the digital age.
Total Estimated Class Time
A single class period (approx. 50 mins.)
Videos Used for This Session and Assignment
Jack Saint’s “The Truth about 90s Cartoons and ‘LGBT Brainwashing’”
Jack Saint’s “Sky High: Disney’s Fascist Eugenics Movie”
Sequence of Activities
- Viewing and Analysis (30 mins.)
As students watch the videos, they take notes, guided by the questions in the Video Essay Analysis exercise.
- Class Discussion (20 mins.)
As a class, we share everyone’s answers, referring to specific sections of the videos. This discussion creates a lot of interaction: some students are unsure about what the thesis is, while others find it easily—more easily than they found the thesis in any written essay previously provided.
Then we discuss whether students would rather write traditional essays or compose video essays. Many students prefer watching the essay video to reading an essay, yet most would rather compose a written essay, since they recognize that it would take more time to complete and edit a well-paced video essay.
These discussions always reinforce compositional elements and allow students to think about how genre and structure affect the creation of an argument.
For homework, students create one-minute recorded versions of traditional essays they wrote earlier in the course, then share the recordings in discussion boards. This activity offers them a chance to experiment with speaking while using a scripted argument and helps them think about how they can adapt, retool, and revise their claims.
One way to strengthen the discussion is to assign the students to watch the video for homework and complete the exercise sheet before they come to the next session. The main reason my students watch the video in class is that they have limited access to the Internet outside the school because they live in a rural area. If students lived in an area where they could access the Internet asynchronously, I would assign watching the video before they came to class so that we could spend more time on analysis and discussion.
I have used these exercises for online composition classes and made only minor adjustments. For online classes, we simply divide each stage into individual assignments and discussion boards. The students answer the questions about the video essay on their own and then share the responses in a discussion board. The larger discussion occurs in the same discussion board. The video essays are posted in another forum, an activity that creates further dialogue about this genre.
You can use these assignments in secondary education courses as well. If time and curricular requirements allow, you can easily use more essays with a similar theme to help show how people respond to topics and each other’s interpretations.
Although Jack Saint’s videos are fun to use, especially since I teach film as well, I would recommend finding video essays that coincide with a course’s theme or that focus on current events. The topics of video essays on the web are as varied as the approaches used to create them. Certain ones use a simple webcam, while others use more sophisticated editing. In any case, introducing video essays in a composition course allows students to see and hear arguments—a valuable experience.
1 Aristotle’s Triangle, also known as the rhetorical triangle, includes the foundational ways in which speakers or writers can appeal to their audiences. The three components include pathos (appeals to an audience’s emotion), logos (appeals to an audience’s sense of logic and reasoning), and ethos (appeals that establish an author’s credibility for an audience). Stephen Toulmin created his model to show the fundamental elements of argumentation in writing. The basic elements include claim, data, and warrant or synthesis. He argues that these three components are needed for any argument to be successful, and this structure is the basis for most paragraphs for expository writing. The traditional formula for structuring a paragraph involves starting with a topic sentence argument, followed by examples, and ending with synthesis sentences.