A Case for the Singular They as a Genderless Pronoun in Formal Speech and Writing

Quickly fill in the blank: “Look! Someone left ________ bag.”

Most will answer “their” without hesitation, but grammarians object that the plural pronoun does not agree with the singular subject: someone. Although this usage of “their” with indefinite pronouns like “somebody,” “anybody,” and “nobody” is nearly universal in informal speech and writing, those who strive to be grammatically correct reject its usage in formal speech and writing.

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Issues of Language and Identity: Writing Assignment for Composition


In this unit, we are exploring the various forms of English we use in different contexts and the power relationships that these forms of English create, acknowledging that “standard English” is not necessarily better, but is more appropriate in certain settings, especially academic and professional ones. Becoming a scholar and learning to use standard English correctly, however, does not mean people must set aside their other linguistic identities.

 Your Task

In a 6-8 page double-spaced essay in MLA format, make a persuasive argument, advising a specific group of people to make specific policy changes involving language and identity issues, backed up with compelling reasons and substantial support.

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Connecting Word Matching Exercise: Coordinating Conjunctions, Subordinating Conjunctions, and Transitions

Purpose: To get students to think about logical relationships of connecting words.

Preparation: Print out two sets of the sentences below, cutting one up and leaving the other whole as a guide to the sets of sentences. To make them more durable, you could paste them onto index cards cut in half. Find a chart that shows logical relationships of the three types of connecting words that students can refer to during the activity.

Activity: In class, explain that you have sentences that are cut in half and that students will have to find matches. Show one pair that does not work, then another that you have set aside beforehand that does work. Pass the cards out, then have students look for pairs. You will have to end the activity before all pairs are found.

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Writing Assignment: Exploring Complexity in Issues of Economic Inequality

Writing Assignments 3 and 4:

Exploring Complexity in Issues of Economic Inequality


After a unit on “hidden intellectualism” and on staying in college, the class turned to the question posed by the editors of “They Say / I Say”: “What’s up with the American dream?” Is it alive? Is it dead? Is it sick? Is it robust? What should be done about the question of economic inequality and who should do it?

Your Task

This assignment has three stages. First, you will write a short essay arguing one side of the issue related to economic inequality in America, suggesting a specific policy change or change of behavior to a specific group of people. In the next stage, you will write another short paper arguing the opposing side, giving the opposite advice. Then, in the final stage, you will combine the two sides of the argument into a complex, balanced argument.

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Making Vague Words Specific: Activity

Which is Better?

In small groups of two or three students, examine the sets of sentences below and decide which version you like better under each number. Explain why.

1. It is a way of managing them and getting them down on paper. There is nothing unusual about this, and you can learn to do it well and feel good about it if you try.

Writing is a way of capturing elusive, half-formed ideas, dragging them into the light of day, and herding them onto paper. This process is not alchemy, it is a craft which can be learned like any other, such as making a bookshelf. If you invest the time and effort, you can learn to write powerfully.

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Diversity: The Fountain of Life, a Source of Education

Diversity is the fountain of life. Without it, eubacteria would still stain the oceans a uniform rust color. Diversity makes change, experimentation, adaptation and evolution possible. When ecosystems are diverse, life thrives. When human populations are diverse, culture flourishes.

Few places on earth are as diverse as the bay area. Residents brush shoulders with Ethiopians and drag queens, Muslims and hippies, quadriplegics and republicans. The bay area shows the world that diverse peoples can live together peacefully, mixing yet maintaining distinct identities. Of course, tensions arise, and communities do not interact as much as they could. Chinatown, the Mission, the Marina, and the Castro are too often separate worlds.

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Writing Assignment: Research Project

Background: This semester, the class has explored forms of “hidden intellectualism,” which are academic skills demonstrated in non-academic pursuits, then examined issues of language, education and identity. Now it is time to research an issue of your own choosing.

Writing Assignment: Select a hotly contested issue from politics, business, science, medicine, literature, film, sports, music, fashion, popular culture, or another field and frame the issue as a question. For example, your central issue could be one of the following: Should the government strengthen gun control laws? Should the courts change the legal status of corporations, so that they are not treated as persons with the rights of individuals? Should stem-cell research continue? What influence on the Hunger Games did the Japanese book and film Battle Royale have? Can rap music be classified as poetry? Should the government regulate the marketing of the fashion industry, so they cannot manipulate consumers’ tastes?

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Revision Checklist for Research Paper

1. Is your title engaging? Does it suggest the approach you are taking in your paper?

2. Does your first paragraph introduce the main issue, name the writer and the work you are responding to, and end with your thesis statement? Will it get the reader interested in your topic?

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Worksheet for a Research Paper

I. Thesis:

A. State your central issue as a question, for example, “Should smoking in certain bars be legal?”


B. Answer that question; be as specific as possible: “Smoking should be allowed in certain clearly designated smoking bars.”

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The Right Word Activity

The Goal: To learn the importance of exact wording. The team with the longest list of correct names for things in the classroom after five minutes wins.

When the teacher says “Go,” groups of three or four students will right down the names of things in the classroom for five minutes. The groups may organize themselves anyway they wish, but each group must have only one list of words when the timer goes off. Students are encouraged to use computers and other electronic devices to find the right word for an item. The team with the most words at the end of the activity will get 25 points extra credit each.

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