Prompts and Assignments

The following is a selection of courses, assignments, and prompts that I have designed or been responsible for creating/refining. Feel free to adapt them for your own use.  If you do, I’d be grateful if you could let me what worked, what didn’t, what would.  Contact me at

Literature and the Environment

Literary and artistic expressions of the American landscape reveal panoramas of breathtaking natural beauty, but they also help illuminate panoplies of political and aesthetic ideologies that have shifted dramatically over time.  Literary and artistic representations of the environment, in other words, have much to teach us about our selves, our individual and collective beliefs, our history as a nation, and, perhaps most importantly, our possibilities for a global future.


Mapping Literary Ecologies

Example of a visualization of Moby Dick

Mapping Literary Ecologies For this three-fold assignment it is your task 1) to select one of the assigned readings on our syllabus and prepare a short, written ecocritical analysis of it (500-750 words); 2) to make use of free online resources, such as google maps, google “Lit Trip,” or, and create a map, timeline, or other visualization of your argument; and 3) share your findings to the class in a short (5-7 minutes) presentation.

Continue reading “Mapping Literary Ecologies”

Elegy for a Dead World

As soon as I saw this beautiful game I wanted to play it in my classes. Fortunately,  Steam was generous to give us enough keys to try.   I was personally more interested in getting lost in the visuals than I was in writing, but my students loved it and produced excellent work.  This game is gorgeous, but I recommend it for a more practical reason as well: versatility.  We played in in my Creative Writing SF class, but I now want to try it with Literature and the Environment, Literary Theory, and—if I ever get to teach it—a class on Experimental Narratives. It could work for any course that emphasizes composition, rhetoric, and creative expression.  A big thumb’s up.

Continue reading Elegy for a Dead World

Evaluating Literary Criticism

1. Write the author, title, and publisher of your article, formatted according to the MLA’s guidelines for the Works Cited. Consult the OWL at Purdue for sample entries and correct formatting guidelines. If there is a link to the article, list it here.

2. In one brief paragraph, summarize the article’s argument and main points.

3. Locate one passage of the article that you want to challenge, support, or complicate. Put this passage in quotation marks and type it up here. Include the page number.

4. Which logical fallacy does the author employ? Write this down. Hasty generalizing is a big problem in literary criticism, as is falling prey to the “Post Hoc” fallacy (also known as correlation is not causation). There are, however, many other possibilities to choose from.

5. In one or two sentences, explain how the fallacy could be corrected.

“The Goblin Market”


Objective: To use data visualization as a tool for literary analysis.

General instructions: Use to make a word cloud from one of our recent texts, listed below. In the reply box at the bottom of this page, share the link to your cloud and write a paragraph about how it clarifies one aspect (thematic, subtextual, associative) of the work.

Sample: Christina Rossetti’s most famous work is “The Goblin Market,” a poem about two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, who must confront temptation.   Continue reading ““The Goblin Market””

Writing “in-world”

Writing “in-world” Exercise
Pick one of the works of fiction from this week’s reading (below) that you found effective in terms of world-building.  Write a one-page (500 words, approx.) episode within that world.  There are no other constraints.

Tuesday: Amelia Reynold’s Long, “The Thought Monster”; E.M. Forster, “The Machine Stops”; Judith Merrill, “That Only a Mother”; Diane Cook, “Bounty”

Writing Non-human Characters


Character exercise: In Cordwainer Smith’s “Game of Rat and Dragon,” “Captain Wow” is a lusty reprobate of the feline persuasion: deadly, raunchy, and fun.  Part of the success of this character is the shameless anthropomorphism with which Smith writes him, but the technology of “pinlighting” also gives his personality strange credence.  For this assignment of approx 500 words, do one of the following: 1) write one episode in a day in the life of Captain Wow or the Lady May; 2) alternatively, create another “partner” and do the same; or 3) choose a different, non-human character from this week’s readings and do the same.


Readings: Gene Wolfe, “Useful Phrases”; Ursula K. LeGuin, “Therolinguistics”

In linguistics, code-switching is switching between two or more languages, or language varieties, in the context of a single conversation.
More generally, code-switching is switching between two or more semiotic systems, in the context of a single conversation, text, or event.

Code-switching is also an excellent creative writing technique that can foster complicity, alienation, authority, and/or alterity, as the short stories by Wolfe and LeGuin demonstrate (Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” is another fantastic example).  For this assignment, it is your task to use code switching to communicate a message.  You can make up your own prompt or you can use or adapt one of the following scenarios: Continue reading “Code-Switching”

Roll a D20

Generating Stochastic Narratives

According to Ronald Tobias there are twenty “master plots” that structure all stories. According to Georges Polti there are thirty-six, and according to William Foster Harris there are three (IPL2). In spite of these discrepancies, each of these authors is onto something when he claims that 1) plots have patterns, 2) these patterns show up in various guises, and that 3) a knowledge of these patterns can enhance one’s appreciation of literary texts. But a command over different narrative structures can also enhance one’s writing of literary texts, as you shall now demonstrate. For this short assignment is your task to use the first story that you workshopped and think about its narrative structure by doing the following: Continue reading “Roll a D20”

Electronic Literature

Emily Short’s “Galatea”


Assignment–spend 5-10 minutes with each of the following examples of “electronic literature” (time permitting).  As you explore, consider how you would classify these works. How do they fit into your understanding of literature and art? Are they literary? Are they artistic? Are they cinematic? Do you enjoy them? Do you find them frustrating? What about them makes them so? Comment briefly about one or more of them in the space below. Continue reading “Electronic Literature”