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The Collage

Assignment Summary

1. Topic search: I tell students to find an interest, hobby, etc. that they know more about than the average person, and freewrite about it.

2. Focused freewriting ("loop writing") on that topic. Writers refer to
a) person
b) place
c) an anecdote
d) dialogue
all relating to that same topic.

3. Revision: In class, I show an example of this (usually my own--I do the assignment along with the students). The class and I revise two of my own freewritings.

4. Assembling the collage: Together with the class, I assemble an example collage so that they have a definition of it. I give them examples (click to see some examples).

5. Optional follow-up: To turn the collage into a regular traditional essay, students cut up the teacher's or their own collage and cut and paste it into what they agree is a more conventional format (add transitions, etc.). If they do this to their own, I tell them to expand on one of the elements (such as they can turn the anecdote into a personal narrative).

Instructor's Comments

Collage can be used as a transitional genre between freewriting and constructing traditional forms of the essay. The collage is an attempt to provide a doable writing assignment that merges elements of serious play with a high degree of success: many students refer to this assignment as a breakthrough in relieving anxiety about writing. I tell them that when they are doing this, it's easier to write because they don't use the brake and the accelerator at the same time. In other words, since it doesn't have to have a thesis, they can concentrate on fluency at the sentence and paragraph level rather than organization. I must stress that it seems to work best when the instructor writes along with the students.

The assignment works well in WRT 101, but I'm reluctant to use it withWRT 102, because it is time-consuming (can take up to a month for all steps and revisions if done properly), and tends to work against the portfolio scheduling.

It is best to show them examples of good collages, both written and visual. Make copies of good ones to use as examples later. If you are doing the exercise for the first time, you can ask me (Ron Overton) for examples. You can also check out A Community of Writers (by Belanoff/Elbow) for examples of collages about writing. In this exercise I am indebted to Peter Elbow (see also his Writing With Power)--the concept of "loop writing" comes from his work.

genre narrative
course WRT 101
activity type class discussion, individual writing assignment, small group discussion, freewriting ,group revision exercise
skills close observation, dialogue writing, transitions, voice, description, holistic revision
duration up to several weeks
handouts: examples (coming soon)
contributor: Ron Overton