faculty enthusiasm for a writing-across-the-curriculum effort
is not an easy task. As long as content areas instructor think
of writing instruction as doctoring up the grammar of term papers,
there can be little hope of progress. A successful writing-across-the-curriculum
program therefore demands some conceptual blockbusting. One of
the best blockbusters we have discovered is the microtheme--an
essay so short that it can be typed on a single five-by-eight
inch note card (Work, 1979).
John C. Bean, et.
"Microtheme Strategies for Developing Cognitive Skills"
of the best examples that the microtheme, despite its brevity,
can relay a significant amount of information is a microtheme
on the writing of microthemes.
A MICROTHEME ON MICROTHEMES
The MICROTHEME, a brief essay
limited to one side of a 5" x 8" index card, is an
ideal instrument for painlessly increasing the written content
of a course. Brief and thus easily graded it is educationally
sound, for a great deal of thinking must precede the writing.
There are four main formats, each of which challenges and cultivates
writing and cognitive skills in a different way.
- The Summary-Writing
- The student must read a body
of material, discuss its structure (main idea. supportive points,
connections among its parts), condense it while retaining its
hierarchy. and eliminate frill in order to write a summary. This
exercise strengthens reading comprehension and writing ability.
It also targets "egocentrism," that is the tendency
of the "maturing" student thinker to impose personal
opinion on data, veer from the topic, and distort an authors
- The Thesis-Support
- The student must take a stand
and defend it. A topic citing Spocks childhood permissiveness
as the cause for the sixties revolution becomes the thesis "The
student revolutionary movement in the sixties was not causally
related to...." This exercise strengthens the ability to
discover, state, and defend an issue, using clear evidence and
- The Data-Provided
- Data is provided in the form
of tables or factual statements. The student must comment on
its significance. Selecting, arranging, connecting, and generalizing
about data develops inductive reasoning. Students thus progress
from merely listing facts to making assertions.
- The Quandary-Posing
- A practical occurrence or puzzling
situation is presented. The student must explain the underlying
scientific principles in clear terms and pose a solution. This
exercise moves students from rote learning to application, thereby
strengthening concept comprehension and abstract reasoning.
A copy of Bean, Drenk
and Lees article "Microthemes Strategies for Developing
Cognitive Skills" is included in the article section of
Writing Across the Curriculum's Resource Binder.
HIST 101: WORLD CIVILIZATlONS
To prepare for class discussion and to practice writing skills
The micro theme essay is to be typed single-spaced on an index
card 5x8 in size (the largest standard size index card). Make
sour answer five to eight sentences in length.
You will need to read Plutarchs Life of Pericles
in order to complete this assignment.
For the first microtheme answer
one of the following questions; however you should answer all
of the questions in your notes so that you will be prepared for
the class discussion. Be sure to note page references from your
Penguin Classics edition of Plutarch in answering these questions.
1. What was Plutarchs
purpose in writing this life of Pericles? (Find specific passages
and note the page numbers.)
2. Find an example of Plutarchs
upperclass attitude (an attitude which was the curse of the later
3. Which had the most influence
in shaping Pericles ideas? How did Pericles strengthen
the democracy at Athens (make the government more democratic
4. Compare the political-economic
programs of Cimon and Pericles. (Can you make any comparisons
to American politics in 1984?)
5. What was the Delian League?
(To answer this question consult the text Strayer or go to the
Library and consult the Oxford Classical Dictionary.)
6. What was Pericles most
dazzling achievement? Why was it controversial?
7. In the account of Pericles
siege of Samos (pp. 192-195), find evidence that Plutarchs
primary sources were in disagreement.
8. Tell us something about Aspasia.
9. According to Plutarch, what
were the causes of the Peloponnesian Wars?
The Microtheme assignment is part of the Universitys Writing
Across the Curriculum Program. Therefore, proper grammar, coherent
sentence structure, and organization will count just as much
as content in determining your theme grade.
Continue to other writing-to-learn
& Focused Freewriting
to Empower the Student
The Short Summary
Answer the Question!