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Maps Worth Reading - Visualizing Controversies

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Image credit: Cole Wehrle

Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students often struggle with narrative when writing research papers. This lesson plan helps students visualize controversies in order to help them develop structure and argumentation in their own work.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This assignment is intended to get students thinking about structure and organization as well the narrative in their earlier papers.

Required Materials: 

In addition to a standard computer display, a “doc-cam” or other photographic projector is recommended.

You should also queue up this video:

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Students often struggle with narrative when writing research papers.  This assignment invites them to think about their organization in a way that encourages good storytelling and a logical, coherent narrative within the genre of the research paper.  Students will first view the RSAnimate video “Changing  Education Paradigms” and then discuss the things about the video which made the outline compelling (or that failed to attract their interest) in small groups.  The instructor should then allow 5 minutes for students to choose a “sample” controversy, which they will research in their groups.  Teachers could supply examples, but I have found that the students find controversial topics pretty easily.  Some groups may be inclined towards less substantial controversies, but, for the purposes of this lesson, any controversy will be sufficient.  After each group selects their controversy, students should search for opinions and sources related to their chosen controversy.  After allotting sufficient time for this research (5-10 minutes) the instructor should reconvene class and discuss methods for visually representing their research.  If teaching in a computer classroom with the program OmniGraffle, this portion of the class could include a tutorial on the program and the construction of diagrams.  However, students can also just map their research on a sheet of paper.  At this point the instructor should discuss different visual techniques and symbols that will help make the presentation clearer and work through an example either with either the instructor station or manually on a classroom board.  The instructor can use this time to suggest a variety of tactics.  For instance, students may wish to use the left side of their canvas for proponents and the right side for sources who are against whatever they are investigating.  Likewise, written sources could be placed in a box, triangles could enclose video sources, while contributing context could be placed in the white space around the paper.

At this point give the students about twenty minutes to create their visual representations. While students are working, the instructor should help them with any computer problems as well as create their own example on the projector, which the students can reference as you work on it.    After they are complete (and if they are using computer software) have each group print off a few copies of their image.  If done manually you may want to make copies while the students are in groups.

After all of the students have completed their chart, reconvene class.  Then, start up the “Doc-Cam” and show the students your visual map of the controversy.  Explain any symbols you might have used to outline it.  After this explanation, using a highlighter or pen, begin drawing circles for every paragraph so as to enclose your resource.  Circles should overlap (you can tell your students that these are points for transition) and be large enough to contain several sources, bits of context, or other relevant material.  You may also wish to leave problems in your controversy map such as gaps.  You can explain that if students find their paragraph circles stretching long distances across their map they may want to either do more research or else find a way to explain these visual gulfs.  Have the groups work through at least a couple of different narratives. 

At the end of class, each group should present their controversy.  They may use the “doc-cam” to display their map while they guide the class through the narrative that they have constructed.  This should take about 20 minutes and run until the end of class. 

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

If incorporating a tutorial on a program like OmniGraffle, the instructor should become very familiar with the program.  

Instructions For Students: 

The above, longer descripiton contains student instructions.  

In brief:

1.     Form groups

2.     Choose controversy

3.     Find sources

4.     Build map

5.     Plot narrative

6.     Share narrative/"journey"

Evaluation Suggestions: 

Students could be asked to apply this method to their own work and produce a visual represenation of their own paper.  

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

1.   I have done this exercise twice now and both times it has worked very well.  The students enjoy the break from their standard topics and generally have a good time picking either ultra-serious or silly controversies.  This  exercise also allows students to better understand how gaps form in their argumentation and research and I have found that their papers, post exercise have significant structural improvements. The lesson can also be adapted to 2.1 and micro (rather than macro) analysis.  Instead of the sources constituting the different map elements and students could instead map the rhetorical moves of an individual source.


Course Description: 

This excercise was originally designed for use in Rhetoric 306 for in preperation for the first major research paper.  It  can be adapted to be used in a variaty of rhetoric courses which emphaize research.  

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