Course Meeting Times

Seminars: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course has no prerequisites and is open to all MIT students.

Course Description

Sports, not religion, is the opiate of the people. — David Remnick

Clear eyes, full heart: can't lose. — Coach Taylor, Friday Night Lights

In this Writing and Rhetoric class we examine the role of sports in our individual lives and American culture at large. From football, basketball and baseball through tennis, boxing and distance running, the great variety of sports has produced a vast body of wonderfully sharp writing and thrilling movies. Sports can be one of the most important formative elements in our lives, teaching us team spirit, discipline and how to excel. Or they can make us supreme couch potatoes, cheering on our teams as we consume endless quantities of snack foods and beer. They creates heroes at the same time that they raise ethical conundrums—from gender equality and the proper role of sports in college life to "juicing" and gambling. Sports are big business, media darlings, and their own branch of medicine. As part of our exploration of the role of sports in American culture, we will read essays and articles by writers such as Malcolm Gladwell, John Updike, David Foster Wallace, Lewis Lapham and others. We will also watch at least one movie as a class.

Writers will craft essays that reflect on their own experience as participants or viewers of a sport that reflect on issues related to sports, and that research and explore a sports-related topic in depth. Revision and workshopping are both an important part of the class's work.

You'll write and revise three essays in addition to several short non-revised homework assignments. Each student will also make one oral presentation. Readings will serve to get you thinking and provide models of good writing; they'll provide inspiration and discussion points for your essays.


The primary work of this class is to:

  • Develop your skills in writing and speaking clearly and effectively;
  • Help you become aware of your own purposes as writers; and
  • Help you become aware of the audience(s) you are writing for.

More particularly, the goals of this subject are to teach students to:

  • Create and shape their texts in relation to different purposes, audiences, and rhetorical situations, and a related point, to understand the concept of genre;
  • Develop strategies for reading analytically, managing and structuring information, drafting, and revising;
  • Evaluate sources of information, integrate sources effectively for specific rhetorical purposes, and understand reasons for and systems of source citation in academic writing;
  • Understand how to critique others' texts constructively and to use the peer review process to develop their own texts;
  • Develop the flexibility in word-choice and sentence construction necessary for conveying complex ideas coherently.

Major Assignments

Here's a quick sketch of our major assignments.

Essay 1 (3–4 pages) is a narrative essay that will grow out of your own memories connected with sports. Essay 1 gives you practice in developing ideas based on your own experience and heightening your awareness of the audience(s) you write for.

  • This essay will be revised once and may be polished for the Portfolio.

Essay 2 (4–5 pages) is an analytical essay that gives you practice working with other writers' ideas while developing your own argument. You'll compare and contrast ideas from 2 or more of our readings, or supplemental readings, on an issue that interests you.

  • This essay will be revised once and may be polished for the Portfolio.

Essay 3 (8–10 pages), the investigative essay, is a researched essay focusing on a topic of your choice. It gives you the opportunity to develop your investigative and critical skills and your ability to organize a longer essay, along with practice using sources responsibly.

  • You may choose a topic from a wide-ranging list I will provide.
  • Alternatively, you may choose to work in the MIT Library archives for this assignment, investigating the origins and history of a sport on our campus.
    • This essay will be revised twice, the second time for the Portfolio.

Oral Presentation

Oral presentations are a required part of all CI courses. In this class everyone will give a 10-minute presentation—5 minute talk, & 4–5 minutes of Q & A—reviewing a book you'll read. You'll select your book from a list I'll provide. You'll also be quizzed on your book before the presentation is due.

Other Writing

Homework will include some short (≈ 1 page) writing assignments, such as:

  • A letter describing your experiences with writing.
  • A few reflections on your own experience with sports.
  • Responses to readings, based on prompts I'll provide.

We'll also do some writing in class to prepare for essays and to check reading comprehension.

NOTE: To pass this class you must hand in ≥ 5,000 words of revised writing, distributed across your three essays.


In order to better judge your achievement and progress over the semester, I'll collect a portfolio of all written work for our class at our last class meeting—so don't throw any of your drafts or homework away!

Class Participation

Class participation includes attendance, class discussions and workshopping. Discussion is part of the oral work of a communications-intensive class: all students are expected to participate in class discussions.

  • Discussion should demonstrate not just familiarity with assigned readings, but also critical thinking and articulate expression of ideas. In discussions, students should build on each others' points, not just jump in with random points.
  • All students are also expected to respond to classmates' drafts thoughtfully. I will collect written workshop comments and grade them check, plus, or minus. Class participation will make up 10% of your grade.

Reading Materials

There are no required books for this class. However, I strongly urge you to purchase a good college dictionary—not a pocket dictionary—if you do not already own one. If English is not your first language, you will need two good dictionaries.

Some readings will be handouts or available through web links. Print out all readings—preferably before you read them!—and bring them to class so that you can participate actively in class discussions.

The book you'll review for your oral presentation may be in one of the MIT libraries, or you may need to purchase it.

Course Policies


This class is structured more like a workshop or seminar than a lecture class. Therefore, attendance is important: your responsibility in the class is not only to be a writer, but also to read and respond to classmates' work and to participate in discussions.

  • If you miss more than two classes for any reason, you risk getting a lower grade.
  • If you miss class on a workshop day, it will count as two absences.
  • With six absences you will be withdrawn from the class.
  • Sleeping in class will be counted as an absence.
  • It is your responsibility to let me know why you are absent and to keep up with assignments when you do miss class.

Lateness is discourteous to your classmates and to your professor. If you are 10 minutes late three times it will count as an absence.

Electronic Devices in the Classroom

All students in our classroom community have the right to a distraction-free educational environment, which is most conducive to learning. The unnecessary use of electronic devices in the classroom ("multitasking") is distracting and unfair to other students and the instructor. Equally, it prevents you from paying full attention, which means you are jeopardizing your ability to learn.

Within our class, laptop computers and other electronic devices may only be used in to access online readings or assignments, in the event that a student is unable to bring a print copy. Otherwise, laptop computers and other electronic devices should be closed; cell phones should always be completely turned off and stored out of sight.


Because it's often more efficient and effective for us to have a conversation about your writing than to communicate via comments on papers, conferences are an important part of our work together. Bring specific questions about your writing, such as how to make an introduction more vivid or how to connect the ideas in your essay. You are also welcome to use conference time to continue discussions begun in class or try out ideas sparked by your reading.

  • You are required to have one conference with me but may have more.
  • Conferences are held in my office, unless we make a different arrangement.
  • If you have to cancel a conference appointment, please e-mail me or call my office number and let me know.


Using someone else's language and/or ideas without proper attribution is academically dishonest. As members of this class and the larger scholarly community you are expected to abide by the norms of academic honesty. While a good deal of collaboration is encouraged in and out of class, failing to acknowledge sources or willfully misrepresenting the work of others as your own will not be tolerated. Everything you submit must be your own work, written specifically for this class. Plagiarism can result in withdrawal from the course with a grade of F, suspension or expulsion from the Institute.

The booklet Academic Integrity at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: A Handbook for Students (also available online) explains these issues in detail, and you are responsible for understanding its contents. We will work on citing sources in class and discuss ways to paraphrase correctly and acknowledge them properly. When in doubt, consult with me.

For this class and most classes, it is not acceptable to hand in a paper that you wrote for another class, even though it is your own work. If you are ever in doubt, ask your instructor.

Grading Policy

Revision is the heart and soul of this class. On first drafts, you'll receive ample comments from me as well as classmates. Each essay will be revised, and second drafts will receive a letter grade and more concise comments. Note:

  • Essay 3 must be revised twice; you will receive a letter grade on each draft.
  • Essays 1 and 2 may be re-revised for the Portfolio.
  • The grade for the re-revised writing assignment will replace the grade for the 2nd draft.
Essay 1 20%
Essay 2 25%
Investigative Essay 35%
Oral Presentation 10%
Class Participation 10% (including Workshopping)

Late Drafts

  • 1st drafts that are late or incomplete* will be penalized by a half grade.
  • 2nd draft deadlines may be negotiated with me.

*What I mean by incomplete:

  • For essays 1–2, a draft that is short by more than a full page;
  • For essay 3, a draft that is short by more than 2 full pages, and/or a draft that does not include citations both in the text and in a list of References.

What "A" Work Looks Like

A work is excellent: the content goes beyond the simple and commonplace—it may give readers some news, surprise them, or help them see something familiar in a new way. The writing is confident, energetic, essentially free of error, with the sound of an individual writer's voice. It is clear—lucidity, lucidity, lucidity! and, if the topic demands it, well researched. It is well focused and organized, and does not settle for the surface layer of the topic. It cites sources consistently and appropriately. It takes the reader into account throughout.

What "B" Writing Looks Like

B work is solid, competent, on the right track. It may be not quite up to "A" level in most aspects, or it may excel in some aspects but fall short in others.

What "C" Writing Looks Like

"C" work satisfies the assignment but is unclear in several places, is unfocused and/or weakly organized, contains some inaccuracies, cites inconsistently, stays on the surface of the topic, settles for clichés rather than fresh and vivid language, and/or contains a significant number of grammar errors. It does not successfully or consistently take readers into account.