Sample Syllabus for Non-Fiction

We will be reading texts that are considered “classics.” The purpose of this class is to engage in the writing process through the study of key questions about what makes us human.  What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to know yourself? What is freedom? While we will be reading texts from another time, the real world purpose of this class is to enhance your capacity to be free individuals with self-governance in society. Through exploration and discussion of these texts this class will give you the intellectual and practical tools to be empowered social agents and to participate in social, civic, and political life. Our class is part of a larger community of ENG 110 students at the college studying these same texts and questions. The materials and texts on the syllabus have been selected to make this a meaningful, engaging and intellectually stimulating learning experience for you and your classmates.


Columbia Core Schedule
Monday | Wednesday

Week 1

Monday 8/29  Introductions to the course; review syllabus; Discussion of key terms for the semester- What is knowledge? What does it mean to know yourself? Why might it be important to know yourself? Diagnostic writing assignment.

Wed 8/31  Visit to Gilder Lehrman exhibit in the Atrium of the A building. Refer to Educator Guide. Have students take notes on what they see, what is the exhibit about? Tell them to focus on one panel or one document—cite, summarize. What did you learn from it that you did not know before? What questions did it raise for you? What was most interesting about it?

Week 2

Monday 9/5  no class- Labor Day

Wednesday 9/7  Open class with a discussion of the Gilder Lehrman exhibit. Go over their notes and reactions. Tell them that we might use these notes mid-semester, so they should hold on to them.

Segue into Plato. Possible Opening discussion questions:

  1. Have you heard the names Plato and Socrates before? What comes to mind when you hear these names?
  2. This text is entitled, The Trial and Death of Socrates; based on this, what do you expect to find when you read this text?
  3. They are called “dialogues”—what does that mean?
  4. What is piety? Generate some synonyms and write them on board.
    Alternatively, have students identify any type of quality, honesty, friendliness, shyness, and have them define it. This will lead to a discussion of how difficult it is to measure these qualities.

Assign Apology as homework

Week 3

Monday 9/12  Plato; Assignment for in class text discussion:  Ask students to select a passage from this text that confuses you, a passage that is interesting to you, and a passage that you feel you completely understand. Be prepared to share and discuss your selections with a partner and with the class. Use their comments to guide class discussion.

Wednesday 9/14  Plato; Assign group project on Apology

Week 4

Monday 9/19  In-class writing on Plato- outline

Wednesday 9/21  Plato-the first draft of Plato essay due- peer review

Week 5

Monday 9/26  Plato-Plato wrap up question- why do you think we are still reading this? What themes or ideas from this text are relevant to you today?

Remind students that they much pick up / purchase the required binder of semester readings.

Wednesday 9/28  Essay 1 on Plato due – assign excerpts from Chapters 1-3 of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Assign terminology worksheet as homework. Ask students to reflect on what they were able to get out of the text and what questions they have about it. Perhaps ask them to write about what might make this text difficult to read; perhaps use class time to read a few paragraphs together to establish context and purpose.

Week 6

Monday 10/3  No classes scheduled

Wednesday 10/5  Continue with Wollstonecraft- do paraphrasing worksheet in class

Thursday 10/6  Monday schedule- Continue with Wollstonecraft; have students work on critical response questions in groups

Week 7

Monday 10/10 College is closed- no classes scheduled

Wednesday 10/12 No classes scheduled

Week 8

Monday 10/17  Wollstonecraft review; in-class discussion of why this text is relevant today and also how it is related or connected to Plato. What is Socrates’ response to seeming injustice? What does Wollstonecraft see as her response? Is it possible to receive perfect justice from the state (the polis in Athens’ case, the monarchy in Wollstonecraft’s)?

Wednesday 10/19 In-class essay on Wollstonecraft; assign the Declaration of Independence for Homework as well as a background research assignment.

Week 9

Monday 10/24  Powerpoint for The Declaration of Independence; Questions for discussion/writing done in class.  Perhaps a good point in the class to refer back to GL exhibit? Possible documents to refer to there include:

Wednesday 10/26 Discuss further questions for research and writing- Questions 5 and 6 make connections to Wollstonecraft and Plato. This can be done as an in-class group project, discussion, or first step to a larger assignment. Assign Federalist 10 as a homework assignment along with preliminary research questions.

Week 10

Monday 10/31  In-class cover Vocab exercise on Fed. 10, structure questions, and begin questions for discussion/writing

Wednesday 11/2  Center class discussion on prompts for responding to Madison’s claims; select questions from “making connections” to assign for Homework

Week 11

Monday 11/7  Review “Making Connections” responses; pull from these questions for final essay on this unit. Assign the Constitution and pre-reading “before you read The Constitution”

Wednesday 11/9  Discuss 4 “making connections” on the Constitution in class. Assign Frederick Douglass.

Week 12

Monday 11/14  Draft of Essay 3 due; Select questions from FD to cover in class as discussion and in-class writing.

Wednesday 11/16  Unit Wrap-up on Amer. Rev docs

Week 13

Monday 11/21  Return drafts of Essay 3: perhaps have students review some sample papers; Assign Du Bois for homework

Wednesday 11/23  Du Bois

Week 14

Monday 11/28  Essay 3 due; Du Bois

Wednesday 11/30  Class devoted to Essay 4 (research project ) on Du Bois

Week 15

Monday 12/5  Research Essay 4 on Du Bois drafted in class

Wednesday 12/7  Peer review of Du Bois essay; distribute final exam reading.

Week 16

Monday 12/12  Last Day of class: Final Essay on Du Bois due. Student-led final exam review session.

Dec 14-21  finals week

Research Project: Annotated Bibliography

For this research project, you will compile a 3-5 page annotated bibliography, exploring Du Bois’ relevance to a contemporary issue, and bringing your exploration into dialogue with one additional author we’ve read this semester. An annotated bibliography is a list of your research sources, with a paragraph describing each source. Scholars use annotated bibliographies to keep track of their research and present findings to other researchers. This annotated bibliography will challenge you to concisely summarize others’ views, and provide succinct analyses of your own.

For this assignment, you will research an issue that resonates with a quote from Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk. First, pick one issue and quote from the choices below. The quote should speak to the issue in some way, but it can be indirect—Du Bois is writing about African Americans, but you can use his concepts to describe other groups and experiences.

issue (pick 1)
Quote (pick 1)

Then collect 4 sources that deal with your issue, and which also resonate with the Du Bois quote. Your entries will be listed in alphabetical order, and each will contain the following:

  • Bibliographic entry in correct MLA format;
  • 4-5 sentence summary of the source in your own words (topic and argument, as it is relevant to your paper);
  • 4-5 sentence commentary on how this source resonates with, reinterprets, or challenges the Du Bois quote.

Finally, write a concluding section (2 pages) in which you synthesize the perspectives compiled in your annotations and bring them into dialogue with another author we’ve read in class. How do the ideas of Plato, Wollstonecraft, Jefferson, Madison or Douglass help you to understand this issue? Do their notions of self-governance, education, or one’s duty to rebel frame the issue in a useful way? Your annotated bibliography will be worth ##% of your grade, and is due on DATE.

What are appropriate sources for a college-level annotated bibliography?

The following types of sources are appropriate for this annotated bibliography:

  • Sources found using the library database Opposing Views in Context
  • Sources found using the library database LexisNexis Academic
  • Webpages with a .gov address
  • Articles from reliable news sources such as the New York Times, National Public Radio, The New Yorker, PBS, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Nation, The Washington Post, or CNN.

You may NOT use the following types of sources:

  • .com websites
  • Blogs
  • Wikipedia
  • Personal anecdotes

Sample Annotated Bibliography Entry

Brews, Dominic J., Eric R. Eide, and Ronald G. Ehrenberg. “Does it Pay to Attend an Elite Private College? Cross Cohort Effects of College Type on Earnings.” Journal of Human Resources 34.1 (Winter 1999): 104-123.

Colleges and universities in the U.S. are ranked yearly by the magazine U.S. News and World Report. The authors of this article ask whether attending an elite private university rather than a lower ranked private university pays off in future job earnings. Based on their research, they conclude that graduates of higher-ranked private universities earn more competitive salaries than graduates of middle-ranked private institutions. From 1972 to the 1980s, they show, the earnings increased dramatically. At the same time, they acknowledge, tuition rates have climbed sharply. The article also suggests that schools use their ranking to justify higher tuition costs.

This article suggests that individuals may gain access to different levels of wealth based not on the quality of their education, but on the reputation of the college they attend as determined by the ranking system. In Du Bois’ terms, there is a “veil” separating students who can afford to pay extra for high-ranking schools and those who cannot. While alike “in heart and life and longing,” these two types of students are prevented from pursuing the same educational path due to their preexisting family income. Because this is something largely beyond their control, students unable to afford higher-ranked institutions may experience their inability to pay for access as being “shut out from their world.”