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Expressive Essay


Submitted By nyofficer
Words 1855
Pages 8
Expressive Essay (Observation, Ethnography or Memoir)
First Draft
ENC 1101 – CR Junkins

Purpose: What do I want the student to do?

In this course, we will explore the two most commonly used forms of writing for college students: expressive writing and academic writing. Expressive writing captures what is important to the writer. In order to succeed, writers must understand themselves. Such writing is deeply personal.

Expressive writing is designed to prepare students for writing outside academics—communicating feelings and observations, beliefs and opinions, community and individuality—all skill sets that will enable students to succeed in any discipline or career path.

From a learning perspective, expressive writing is often an easier form of writing than academic. It allows students to begin working with such concepts as language, reasoning and mechanics while working with material they find worth discussing.

In this assignment, I want students to carefully examine both themselves and their community. What makes their community unique? What is their place within the community? How did their unique, individual personality take shape?

Project Overview: How do I want the student to do the assignment?

Component One: Personal

Students will choose to write on one of the following three topics: • One’s sense of place (observation) • One’s place within a community (ethnography) • One’s relationship to an event from the past (memoir)

Students will write a “detailed description” of a local place that they know well (meaning: this place must be located in Polk County). By visiting, researching and thinking critically about this place, students are encouraged to evaluate such concepts as culture, heritage, history, recreation, aesthetics and landscape, architecture, politics, economics, and diversity. Topics of this nature include (but certainly aren’t limited to) particular local buildings; businesses or restaurants; individual lakes, parks or historic districts; Spook Hill; citrus processing, cattle ranches or phosphate mining; public art works or well known pieces of architecture, etc.

Students may also choose to write about the nature and environment of Polk County. Topics include citrus groves; hunting or fishing camps; the Green Swamp; cypress trees and other timbers; or any type of native wildlife or plant.

Students may choose to focus on cultural festivals, food, traditions, religion or music in order to capture the character of Polk County. Examples include downtown Winter Haven Bike Night, mud races, water skiing, golf courses, particular churches, and the local music scene.

This topic is a detailed description of a place with which the writer is deeply familiar. No, you may not write about a place located outside Polk County, regardless of how intimately familiar with that “other location” you may be. The heart of this assignment is to fully understand what makes Polk County so unique. Polk County is often unfairly mocked for being “Polk County”: now I am asking you to explain why that is.

With an observation, often the narrowest topics provide the most startling insights. I have read incredibly well-written essays detailing a single tree in a backyard; chasing a black rat snake from inside a house; buying tomatoes at a roadside produce market; playing a single song at a local club; fighting off mosquitoes at a backyard party.
The secret to a well-written observation is to focus on the sensory details (sight, sound, taste, touch and smell).

Students could consider ethnography—the individual’s place within an ethnic group. How do you fit into Central Florida’s white cracker culture? How do you fit into Central Florida’s African-American culture? How do you fit into Central Florida’s Cuban, Mexican, Puerto-Rican or other Latin cultures? How do you fit into Central Florida’s First Nations/Native-American culture, or Central Florida’s Asian-American culture?

Consider also that ethnography does not necessarily have to involve an ethnic group but could discuss socially-constructed groups as well. Examples include emo, hipster, punk, skinhead, cos-play or LARP-ing, jock or redneck subcultures; the gay/lesbian/transgendered community; or non-mainstream religious or political groups.

Remember that in doing so, students will need to first define and describe that culture in detail. Also, students who choose ethnography will have to use first person to some extent but will need to use it carefully. One focus for this topic will be to describe the culture in detail, then describe oneself and how one does or does not fit into one’s own culture.

Do not be sidetracked by stereotypes! Simply listing stereotypes is not an ethnography. Instead, examine critically why such stereotypes exist, where such stereotypes began and why such stereotypes are incorrect.

Recall a moment or event from your past or an aspect or detail about yourself which you consider significant. To help identify a focus/topic, consider the following prompts:

• A specific memory/scene from your past: What event in your life, however small, made you the person you are? Carefully examine your own character—your fears, your strengths, your weaknesses, your goals. What event in your past shaped these characteristics?

• An aspect of cultural heritage or ancestry: What background that you inherited from your parents made you the person you are? This prompt is similar to the ethnography topic, but here you examine some aspect of your past involving your culture that made you the individual you are.

• Personal, spiritual and/or ideological turning point: What single event caused you to change religion, political affiliation or personal outlook on life?

Because the memoir focuses on memory rather than place, the memoir topic can deal with places outside Polk County.

Component Two: Community

Personal writing is empty and self-centered unless it can be connected to the outside world. In addition to an examination of self or place, students will need to incorporate a second, outside text into their essay. By incorporate, I mean that students will take the following steps:

1. Locate a book (either one personally owned or borrowed from a library) or academic journal article from one of the PSC Library’s databases that deals with the same topic on which a student is writing.

2. Introduce the outside source at some point during the essay, mentioning the author and the title, and quoting short passages directly from the source (with appropriate internal citation).

A key learning objective in this assignment is to measure how well you can address this challenge. In order to succeed, students will need to think critically and creatively.


Combining the observation topic with an outside text can prove to be a challenge to students. By far most information relating specifically on Polk County will be found in printed books in both the PSC Library and public libraries that cannot be accessed online. Students may actually have to physically enter a library and physically check out a book.

Students may also locate texts that discuss how the object in Polk County compares to similar objects in other places. Consider some of the examples below:

• An essay on chasing a black rat snake from inside a house combined zoological information on the life of the black rat snake.

• An essay on buying tomatoes at a roadside produce market combined research on the rise of local produce markets and the “eating local” movement.

• An essay on hunting in the Green Swamp combined research with the role of hunters in keeping a healthy game population


Locating an outside source for the ethnography topic is perhaps the easiest. Many books and essays have been written detailing both ethnic and social groups. With the ethnography, students should locate credible research that has studied the group in question. What have experts discovered about these groups? What are their findings?


While the memoir may seem personal because it is an event from your individual past, students will be surprised to see that many other people have experienced very similar, if not exactly the same, events and outcomes. Locate one of those memoirs.

Or, students can connect their memoir to a larger cultural or historical trend. Consider some of the examples below:

• A memoir on a vacation spent with parents combined research on how men communicate differently than women.

• A memoir on a grandmother’s trunk she brought from Poland combined research on Polish immigration to America.

• A memoir on a scar caused by playing football combined research on the role of injuries in proving one’s manhood.

• A memoir on learning to cook a particular recipe combined research on the ethnicity of that recipe and on the role of cooking in drawing families together.

The memoir is designed to introduce you to informed, reflective writing. This includes paying close attention to how your memory, experience or realization connects to a larger historical, cultural, social, and/or economic context.

Students must include at least one research source into their essays, regardless of their topic. The research is designed to 1.) make you aware of the culture, heritage and history of either your place, your ethnic group or the significance of your memory, and 2.) familiarize you with the skill of locating appropriate evidence through research and incorporating those sources smoothly into your writing.

Research Requirements

No .com websites are allowed. Most .com websites are designed as advertising brochures whose intent is to sell something. Using a .com website as your source will result in me handing your essay back to you ungraded. More research has been done on Polk County than students realize, but such research requires digging and creative thinking, two skill sets students must develop in order to succeed in both college and in professional life.

Students are required to locate their research in one of the following sources.

• Books, either printed or electronic • Academic research articles found on JSTOR, Academic One File or Academic Search Complete (for all three topics).

Audience: For whom is the student writing?

Expressive writing is a delicate balance of personal writing (using first person or “I”) and objective, informative writing (third person). Use first person when discussing your relation to the place, your relation to the group or your memory, and use third person when informing the reader about the place, the ethnic or social group, or historical or cultural trend related to the memory, or when incorporating the outside text.

Avoid second person (“you”) always. Using “you” rather than stating exactly the person one means is sloppy essay writing.

First Draft Assignment Requirements

• 1,000 - 1,500 word essay (3-5 pages) in MLA format • Works Cited page in MLA format with at least one credible academic source

In this first draft, students will concentrate on capturing vivid, visceral details that describe the subject. Be sure to consider the following: • Sight • Sound • Taste • Touch • Smell

Students are also strongly encouraged to consider narrative (and anecdote), illustrations, examples and definition (particularly for ethnography).

Using Cypress Gardens and Bok Tower as a Topic for Observation

I have now banned students from writing about Cypress Gardens (from memory, of course), Legoland, Chalet Suzanne or Bok Tower—NO EXCEPTIONS! Too many have been caught simply plagiarizing websites.

i am giving the credit to the school of cypress gardens.. site was place from over the internet as a learning tool and all go to the school site.

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