Discourse and Language

In our everyday lives, we adapt our writing or speech based on the discourse community or language community we are participating in. In other words, we subconsciously understand the vocabulary we should use, the style of writing that is appropriate, and the correct formatting for the text for each of the scenarios we find ourselves in. We had to learn these “rules”, or expectations, for each of the communities we belong to. Sometimes we find ourselves in unfamiliar discourse or language communities, and it can be tricky to understand the customs of that community.

This assignment asks you to examine a language or discourse community you belong to and are interested in and write an autobiographical essay that discusses some aspect of your relationship with language: speaking, listening, writing, and/or reading. To spur your creativity—and to help develop your critical reading skills—we’ll look at several example literacy narratives. As you complete this project, you will be given the opportunity to practice common writing strategies such as narration, analysis, and reflection – strategies that you will continue to use in this class and in future classes here at FIU.

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Task: You will write a 1000-word narrative that shares one or more specific experiences you’ve had with language. Not only should your narrative describe language-specific experience(s), but it should also present a central theme(an idea or lesson) based on these experiences. You might think of this theme as your thesis, but it does not necessarily need to appear at the start of your narrative. You might find it is more effective to present this central theme towards the end of your narrative, after you’ve described the particular experiences you’ve decided to write about.

In addition to your written narrative, you need to include at least one visual component to your narrative. Visuals you might use include personal photographs, photocopies of your first story, fliers, examples of texts from your discourse community, screenshots, etc. There are limitless options. The key is to include 1-2 visuals that help build on your written story and allow your readers to visualize one or more of the things you describe.

To help you think about the types of experiences with language you could include in your narrative, you can brainstorm the answers to one of these two options:

Think about a discourse community you belong to. Think about how you learned to become part of that community. How were you introduced to it? Who taught you the ropes? Who were some of the most meaningful people in your journey? Did you ever have any embarrassing missteps as you learned to be part of that community? How are the values of that community reflected in the things you write, read, and communicate about in that community? How has your participation in that community affected other areas in your life? Notably, if you pick this option, you need to remember to still discuss language and texts and the kinds of things that make this a discourse community. In other words, if you talk about how you participate in a hobby without discussing language, vocabulary, communication, texts, etc., then you haven’t completed the assignment. One way to do ensure successful completion of this assignment is to focus on a community where writing, communication, and vocabulary are an essential part of your experience with that community.
Think about the languages (including “multiple Englishes,” if you want) that you use in your daily life. How has your relationship to these languages shaped who you are as a person? What are some of the most meaningful memories you have related to navigating these languages? How do these languages affect you sense of belonging? What associations do you have with each of these languages—for example, are either of those languages tied to specific memories, locations, people, etc.? Were you ever embarrassed when you said or did something wrong? Do you ever feel that you more yourself when you communicate in one language, or one dialect?
After you decide which of the above prompts you will respond to, you will write a narrative (a story) that helps your reader understand the particular focus you’ve chosen. Some people may write a story that focuses on one specific event, or one specific day, while others might have a few connected shorter stories.

A few points to remember:

Be specific. Specific examples and details are always better than generalizations. (For example, instead of “I’ve always spoken Spanish; everyone around me speaks Spanish always,” consider “My parents are from El Salvador, so I have spoken Spanish since I could speak. My parents and my two brothers, all my aunts and uncles, only speak Spanish to me. I only speak English at school”). If you need to generalize, follow it up with a specific example (For example, “I only have good memories of {x discourse community}. For example, the first time I showed up to a meeting ….”.) When you write, make sure your reader can picture the scene or image you are describing—give them enough details to keep it interesting. You’ll also need to be clear with your audience about when and where the story is taking place.
Be selective. Your reader doesn’t need to drown in details, especially ones they don’t need in order to understand your story or theme. You only have 1000 words (about 4 double-spaced pages), so you need to think critically about what to include to build on your theme. That’s why it’s important to have a clear theme in mind. Editing will be key here. You can write a draft, then edit out the details that don’t really add to the story. You can expand on important scenes. However, make sure that the elements in the story build on your theme or main idea you want your audience to understand.
Be creative. Since you are required to have other forms of media in your story, this is an opportunity to be creative with your narrative. The key is to include 1-2 visuals that help build on your story and help your reader visualize one or more of the things you describe.


Does the project offer a clear and specific theme related to the student’s personal experiences with language? (10%)
Does the project include detailed description of at least one experience related to the theme, using the experience(s) to support and build upon the theme? (20%)
Does the student effectively use narrative strategies to communicate their experiences and ideas? (Consider the list of “characteristic features” in your textbook.) (20%)
Does the student use specific, vivid, and engaging language to help their readers visualize the experience(s) they are describing? (20%)
Does the student include at least one appropriate and effective visual? (10%)
Does the project meet the word requirements (1000 words)? (10%)
Does the project show evidence of thorough proofreading and editing? (10%)

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