Generating 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. al.
"Microtheme Strategies for Developing Cognitive Skills"

ne 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.


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 Microtheme
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 author’s perspective.
The Thesis-Support Microtheme
The student must take a stand and defend it. A topic citing Spock’s 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 logical reasoning.
The Data-Provided Microtheme
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 Microtheme
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 Lee’s article "Microthemes Strategies for Developing Cognitive Skills" is included in the article section of Writing Across the Curriculum's Resource Binder.


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 Plutarch’s 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 Plutarch’s purpose in writing this life of Pericles? (Find specific passages and note the page numbers.)

2. Find an example of Plutarch’s upperclass attitude (an attitude which was the curse of the later Greek intellectuals).

3. Which had the most influence in shaping Pericles’ ideas? How did Pericles strengthen the democracy at Athens (make the government more democratic in practice)?

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 Plutarch’s 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 University’s 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.

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