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.

 How to Complete the Task

Identify a central question or issue in one or more of the readings from this unit: Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue,” Chang-Rae Lee’s “Mute in an English-Only World,” Myriam Marquez’s “Why and When We Speak Spanish in Public,” Marjorie Agosín’s “Always Living in Spanish,” Gloria Anzaldúa’s “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Deborah Tannen’s “Gender in the Classroom,” the extra credit readings, and at least three articles from the library or library databases from your own research. Writers may come up with their own question or respond to one of the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between language and identity, and how can this awareness improve our society, educational systems, or business world?

  • Should everyone who lives in America learn “standard” or “academic” English? Why or why not?

  • How do immigrants integrate into a dominant culture while maintaining their original cultural identities?

  • How is language used to oppress people and what should be done about it?

  • How do students succeed academically without compromising their cultural identities?

The thesis should answer the central question and present a specific policy suggestion for a specific group. When writing the thesis, think “Who should do what?” Use words like “should,” “need to,” “have to,” or “must.” For example, a writer could argue, “Immigrants must adapt to the dominant culture, but should also try to maintain their original cultural identities and traditions,“ “All students, regardless of background, need to learn academic English in order to succeed,” and “Teachers in California need to use a variety of teaching methods to accommodate the different learning styles of the diverse student population.”

 Typical Structure

Title: Come up with a title that grabs the readers’ attention and also gives an indication of the topic and main idea of the paper.

Introduction: Open with a catchy hook, introduce the issue, briefly give some background, introduce the primary source material with a one or two line summary, make a bridge to the thesis, and present the thesis.

Body: Be sure to lay out your argument in carefully organized stages, following the argument worksheet for this paper. Give each paragraph a clear topic sentence, announcing a specific topic and a controlling idea (which is what you want to say about the topic) and make sure the paragraph is only about that claim. Support each point with many, many, many (I’m not kidding when I say many) examples, facts, statistics, personal anecdotes, quotes, paraphrases, and summaries from the class readings and individual research. In a concluding sentence, tie your evidence back into the controlling idea of the paragraph and your overall thesis.

Conclusion: Summarize the main points of the argument, explain who should care about the argument and why it matters, explore future implications of the argument, or suggest areas of further research regarding the issue.


Basic Requirements: Students must meet these requirements before I will read the paper:

• Students must have seen a tutor at least once to discuss the paper.

• Students must have completed at least two other hours of English lab (besides the tutoring session).

• The paper must be submitted with prewritings, worksheet, introduction and body paragraph with my feedback, at least four drafts of the paper showing substantial improvement, feedback from two colleagues on the third draft, two peer review checklists, the submission checklist, and a lab report in a folder.

• The paper must have a basic essay structure (although flexibility is allowed and encouraged): introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

• The paper must have a clearly-stated, debatable thesis that gives a specific policy suggestion for a specific group, answering the question “Who should do what?”

• Body paragraphs should include topic sentences, giving reasons to support the thesis or addressing counterarguments.

• Topic sentences must be backed up with substantial support in the form of many, many, many, (I’m not kidding) many examples, facts, statistics, details, anecdotes, summaries, paraphrases, and quotes.

• The writing must be relatively clear and error-free.

A well-developed and well-organized essay will include the following:

• correct MLA formatting.

• a catchy title, which gives readers a hint of the topic and main point.

• an introduction, which grabs the reader’s attention with a hook, gives background to the issue, announces the target audience and importance of the issues, introduces the main sources material (alternately, this could appear in the first body paragraph), and thesis.

• detailed descriptions of chosen hobby or interest and the academic skills that are developed in this non-academic pursuit.

• at least 4 quotations (in quotation sandwiches with introductions, correct punctuation, an in-text citation in MLA format, and an explanation of relevance) from class readings and individual research.

• one quote from a colleague drawn from the reading forums on Insight (if relevant).

• specific wording.

• correct subject-verb agreement.

• strong sentence focus and active verbs.

• a variety of connecting words, including coordinating conjunctions, subordinating conjunctions and transitions, with correct punctuation.

• other techniques to connect the parts of an essay, including pointing words, key terms and phrases, and appropriate repetition.

• reasonable control of sentence boundaries, avoiding fragments, run ons, comma splices.

• adjective clauses and phrases adding details to nouns.

• a conclusion, that reinforces target audience and purpose of the essay, gives a call to action, or suggests areas for further thought and research.

A superior paper will:

• integrate multiple perspectives.

• give a complex, balanced argument, offering concessions to the other side.

• analyze quotes for assumptions and implications.

• demonstrate high levels of critical thinking.

• have a works cited page in MLA format.

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