CSULA Department of English | Composition Resources

Overview of Instructional Practices

Preparing a Syllabus

Selecting Textbooks

Student Attendance Policy

The University Writing Center

Assessing Students' Writing Skills Early

The University Library and Information Literacy

Scheduling Office Hours

Managing Student Enrollment

Recommended Policies on Student Papers

Duplicating Instructional Materials

Using Other Departmental Resources

Canceling Classes

Avoiding Plagiarism

Students' Evaluation of Teaching


Faculty Meetings

Overview of Instructional Practices

All courses in the writing program ask students to develop thinking and reasoning abilities and to learn rhetorical strategies for communicating effectively in writing. The curriculum offers a developmental sequence that initially emphasizes reflection but which moves quickly to analysis and interpretation. The focus of reflection and interpretation often begins with personal experience or observation and moves quickly to ideas and issues drawn from texts and a world outside students' immediate experience.

Classes are based on the premise that writing is a craft that can be taught and are structured around the principle that the best writing evolves over time, developing through careful consideration of a topic, formal or informal collaboration during the writing process, and multiple drafts which are revised in response to various types of feedback. In all courses, the program's instructional practices are highly interactive, with both students and instructors actively engaged throughout the entire writing process: discovering a thesis; critically reading and discussing texts; and drafting, revising, and editing essays. Frequent use of small groups for prewriting activities and peer evaluation helps engage students actively in the learning process.


Research indicates that students who read extensively have a more extensive vocabulary, use more varied sentence structures, and have a better grasp of the conventions and genres of written language than students who have read very little. Since most contemporary students have not read widely or regularly, whatever we do to encourage them to read regularly will assist them in their academic and intellectual development. In addition, college-level writing almost always requires that students respond critically to texts, so composition instruction needs to help students learn strategies for reading and responding to texts.

In English 095, texts are used to help students generate ideas for writing and to help them find events in their personal experience or observations that they can relate to and reflect on. While the focus in English 095 is not on textual analysis, most instructors ask students to write reflectively and critically about the ideas found in texts. For example, students in English 095 might be asked to read an excerpt from Richard Rodriquez' Hunger of Memory or Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary and write about their own literacy education. Alternatively, they might be asked to write about the institutional obstacles faced by some or all language learners. Some English 095 instructors also require students to read one full-length book as a way of encouraging more extensive reading.

In English 096, the emphasis on critical reading is increased, and students' reliance on personal experience is decreased. While students might begin the term by specifically relating texts to their personal experience and analyzing their experience with reference to a text, by the end of the term students should be developing a more critical and analytical relationship with the words and ideas of others. For example, students in English 096 might be asked at the beginning of the term to read Maya Angelou's description of her high school graduation and compare their own experience with anticipation and disappointment with Angelou's experience. By the end of the term, they might be asked to read Marie Winn's essay "Television: The Plug-In Drug" and argue for or against Winn's claims. As in English 095, instructors in English 096 often require students to read one full-length book as a way of encouraging more extensive reading.

In both English 101 and 102, students "read to write," and assignments ask them to interpret and analyze texts. In English 101, students are asked to read critically, analyzing a writer's implicit and explicit assumptions and in their writing extend ideas found in texts through original analysis, evaluation and elaboration. Often students must decide between divergent even contradictory views found in multiple texts by careful attention to the quality and effectiveness of a writer's argument. For example, students might read a series of essays offering conflicting views on how to solve key problems in public education and be asked to write an essay in which they present their view on the issue and use the texts to argue against or to support their claims.

English 102 students read more challenging texts than 101 students, write analytic essays using several texts related to a topic or theme, and engage in individual research to find their own sources on a topic. They also learn how to determine the validity of the information they find, developing their own "information literacy" through critical attention to sources. In English 102 students continue developing as critical readers, taking into account historical, social and political context as a key element of a text's rhetorical situation. Through their research project, students also learn to not merely distinguish between different positions, but to recognize the possibility of higher order syntheses. The research process also helps students recognize the importance of maintaining the autonomy and integrity of source material--that the words and ideas of others are not simply objects to be used to confirm or deny a claim, but ideas worthy of their own attention.

Invention and revision are key elements of the writing process, and students need extensive help and guidance during these phases of writing. They benefit from prewriting activities and discussions that help them read critically, identify issues, discuss alternative points of view, and establish or formulate a thesis. They also need to learn to revise at the global level (content, development, and organization) as well as at the sentence level in response to feedback from instructors and peers. Given the time constraints of the quarter system, students are usually completing final revisions on one paper while engaged in prewriting/invention activities for the next essay.

Selecting Textbooks

The Composition Committee maintains a list of recommended texts. (The list of recommended texts is included on the resources page for each composition course.) Copies of books on the recommended list are usually available for examination in the department office. If not, it is possible to review a book's table of contents on publishers' websites. 

The list is not intended to be all-inclusive, but instead suggests titles that have an appropriate content and approach for the curriculum of each course. Faculty are asked to choose their texts from the list of recommended texts. Faculty who would like to use a text that is not listed are asked to submit with their book orders a description of the text(s) they would like to use along with a brief rationale for their choices. 

Those who wish to create course readers can do so through the CSULA Book Store or one of the commercial publishers who offer such services. In addition, it is now possible to put articles on electronic reserve in the library. Students can access, download, and print electronic reserve articles using campus or their home computers: this method is usually the most economical for students since they can avoid having to pay copyright fees and copying fees associated with course readers.


Textbook order forms are available from Yolanda Galvan, the department secretary. Instructors should select texts as early as possible to ensure their arrival in the bookstore. In cases where instructors are hired too late to order texts, the Composition Coordinator in consultation with the Composition Committee may select texts for those sections.

As textbook costs can be a considerable burden for students, instructors are encouraged to choose texts that are reasonably priced. Many popular readers, rhetorics, and grammar guides are also available in lower-cost concise or compact editions that may be just as useful to students. Instructors are also encouraged to consider using the library's electronic reserve system as an alternative to course packets.

Desk Copies

Instructors can obtain desk copies by contacting the publisher's representative. Generally, instructors will be asked to mail or fax a request on department letterhead with appropriate course information and have the text sent to the school. Telephone numbers of major publishers are available in the department office. Instructors who do not receive their desk copies before classes begin can buy a copy of their text at the Cal State LA book store and return it for full credit once the desk copy arrives. Be sure to keep your receipt and ask the cashier to write "desk copy" on the receipt at the time you purchase the book.

Preparing a Syllabus

University policy requires all faculty to provide students with either an electronic or hardcopy syllabus that contains all of the information listed below and to turn in a file copy of the syllabus to the department office. Students must receive this syllabus no later than the second class meeting. However, we strongly encourage all composition instructors to have their syllabus ready for the first class meeting.

The university policy on syllabi is shown below:

“An instructor must provide his or her syllabus in an accessible format in keeping with the CSU Accessible Technology Initiative with proper notification from the Office of Students with Disabilities. The syllabus shall include but not be limited to the following:

(1)  Contact information for the instructor:  campus office hours and location, campus telephone extension, and campus e-mail address.

(2)  General course description including course prerequisites, if any.

(3)  Student learning outcomes for the course.

(4)  For all general education courses, the area of the general education program that the course fulfills.

(5) Topical outline of the course.

(6) Requirements - policies and procedures (for example, attendance, assignments, readings) and basis for evaluation (written work, examinations or quizzes, term papers, portfolios, projects, laboratory or field work assignments, and other items as appropriate).

(7) Grading system and its relation to achievement of the requirements stated above.

(8) Date and time of final examination.

(9) The following ADA statement verbatim:   "Reasonable accommodation will be provided to any student who is registered with the Office of Students with Disabilities and requests needed accommodation."

(10)  An academic honesty statement that includes reference to the University policy.

Click on the links below to view sample syllabi for composition courses.

ENGL 095 Sample Syllabus

ENGL 096 Sample Syllabus

ENGL 101 Sample Syllabus

ENGL 102 Sample Syllabus

Student Attendance Policy

The English Department's attendance policy states that any student who misses 20% of the scheduled class sessions can be assigned a failing grade by the instructor regardless of other work completed. In a 10-week quarter, there are 20 class sessions; this means that students are in danger of failing once they have missed four classes. This attendance requirement should be stated clearly in your syllabus. It demonstrates the importance of regular attendance and gives you the option of giving students a grade of No Credit if they miss a significant number of classes.

Individual instructors can choose whether to enforce this attendance requirement rigorously, especially in cases where there are extenuating circumstances. Instructors, however, should make every attempt to apply this requirement fairly.

University Writing Center

Cal State LA provides tutorial help for students free of charge at the University Writing Center, First Floor, Palmer Wing, University Library. The center is open Monday-Thursday from 9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., Friday from 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m., and Saturday from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m. with mid-week evening hours added after the middle of the quarter. Any Cal State LA student can use this valuable resource, but composition students are particularly encouraged to take advantage of the assistance available.

The Writing Center is particularly helpful for students who would benefit from greater individualized assistance than can be offered in a classroom setting. Instructors should try to identify such students early in the quarter and encourage them to work regularly with a tutor throughout the quarter.

Students whose EPT score is only a few points below the cutoff for English 101 are allowed to enroll in 101 rather than 096 if they enroll concurrently in English 100 (Supplemental Writing Practice), a one-unit adjunct course taught through the Writing Center. In English 100, groups of 5-8 students will meet weekly with a Writing Center tutor for a 75-minute session that provides supplemental instruction.

Assessing Students' Writing Skills Early

Assessing students' writing skills at the beginning of the quarter provides a rough idea of the strengths and weaknesses of individual students as well as of a class as a whole. Some instructors assign a brief diagnostic essay—for example, a 30-minute in-class or take-home essay in response to a prompt--—during the first or second class meeting, while others prefer to use an early essay assignment that is more integrated with the course for the same purpose. Each instructor needs to consider his or her needs in deciding whether to have students write a diagnostic essay. Ultimately, whether one calls it a diagnostic essay or not, what the instructor needs is a sense of where the students are, and what each student needs is early and meaningful feedback. Such early assessment allows instructors to get to know their students, fine-tune their teaching according to the needs of a particular class, and identify students who might benefit from extra assistance in the Writing Center.

The University Library and Information Literacy

The Library offers instructors training sessions for their students in conducting research online, using electronic databases, and evaluating information found on the web; staff are eager to work with composition faculty.

Many 102 instructors schedule a visit to the library and participation in a library research workshop as part of a research paper assignment. These visits can be very effective ways to introduce information literacy skills and help students navigate the wealth of resources available. If you are interested in scheduling such a class visit, you should contact Ying Xu ([email protected]), the library'’s Arts and Letters librarian, to set up a time and date.

To make the most of your class' time in the library, you should consider the following:

  1. Review the materials on information literacy provided by Catherine Haras (of our library) and posted on the Composition Faculty resources page (/academic/english/cinfolit.php).
  2. Ensure that your research assignment will help students develop (and potentially master) the information learning outcomes articulated for ENGL 102. In other words, ensure that the assignment requires some research, encourages critical evaluation of sources, calls for the use of information for a specific purpose, and helps students learn to use information ethically and legally.
  3. Help students develop a focus for their research assignment prior to the library visit. The librarians have told us of classes with very general research assignments; the entire class period is then spent helping students narrow their focus so that they can begin searching, leaving little time for any actual research.

Scheduling Office Hours

According to university policy, faculty must schedule 1 hour and 20 minutes of office hours weekly for each course they teach. Instructors who teach two classes, therefore, would need to schedule 2 hours and 40 minutes of office hours, and instructors who teach three classes would need to schedule 4 hours.

Faculty should schedule office hours at times convenient to themselves, their students, and their department. Faculty should make every attempt to hold office hours in their assigned offices. If use of the assigned office is unacceptable (due to schedule overlaps with other faculty or some other reason), please contact Yolanda Galvan to make alternative arrangements.

Managing Student Enrollment

Drop/Add Procedures

To control the number of students in each composition section, the English Department has developed a set of specific registration procedures for the Drop/Add period. You will receive detailed instructions on these procedures prior to the first day of classes. Please follow them carefully so that we can accommodate as many students as possible while maintaining class sizes appropriate for writing instruction.

The English Department sets pre-enrollment in English 095 and 096 at 16-19 students and at 25-28 students in English 101 and 102. Instructors should refuse to add students above these limits because to do so will compromise the quality of instruction for the students already enrolled.

Instructors need to take an active role in ensuring that students who are added during the Drop/Add period officially enroll through STAR (Student Telephone Assisted Registration) or online through GET (Golden Eagle Territory) after they have given students permission to add the course. Especially in the fall quarter, students are inexperienced in dealing with university procedures and may not understand that they must enroll through STAR or GET to be officially added to your class. You will receive updated class rosters after the first week of classes to assist you in monitoring enrollment. It is essential that you identify non-enrolled students and make sure they are officially enrolled. Please follow instructions included with the registration procedures.

Recommended Policies on Student Papers

Faculty are encouraged to develop their own policies on late papers and their own procedures for returning papers, subject to the considerations listed below.

Late Papers

Students who are absent on the day that assigned papers are due may turn the paper in to your mailbox in the department office. Staff members will not stamp papers to indicate the time or date when papers are turned in. Unless you are ill on a day when a paper is due, do not ask an entire class to turn in a set of papers to your box in the department office. It creates too much traffic, confusion, and work for the staff.

Returning Papers

Return all papers to students during class sessions. Students who are absent must pick their papers up in class after they return or during your office hours. Please do not leave papers for students to pick up outside your office or in the department office.

If English 101 or 102 students want to pick up papers turned in at the end of the quarter, they will need to see their instructors during office hours sometime the next quarter. As an alternative, students can give instructors a self-addressed, stamped manila envelope at the end of the quarter, and their final papers can be mailed.

English 095 and 096 portfolios are not returned to students but are kept on file in the department for one year and stored in file cabinets in the department storage room.

Duplicating Instructional Materials

The department has two copy machines, a Canon copier and a risograph machine, to support instruction. They may be used to copy class handouts, activities, short supplementary readings, etc. They should not be used to create classroom sets of readings that, in effect, constitute a course packet of readings. Not only have recent court decisions ruled that such packets are illegal unless instructors obtain permission from copyright holders, but the department budget will not cover such copying. To encourage balanced usage and keep copying costs to a minimum, the department has established the following copying guidelines:

Canon Copier: Use the Canon copier when you have 10 or fewer pages to copy. Ask one of the office staff if you need help in using it. Each faculty member is assigned an individual copy code and allocated a set number of copies per quarter, depending upon their total enrollment. You must key in your personal code number before copying, and the machine records an ongoing tally of your usage.

Risograph Machine: The risograph is a fast and efficient machine and more cost-effective than the copier. Use it when you need to make 10 copies or more of each page you are copying. Jeanne Gee or the Composition Coordinator will provide instruction in using the risograph.

Drop-Off Copying: Faculty should expect to do most of their own copying. However, at certain times the staff can do copying if they are given several days. There is no drop-off copying service until the end of the Drop/Add period each quarter because of the many other demands on staff time during Drop/Add.

Using Other Departmental Resources

VCR/DVD: Most classrooms are equipped with VCRs and DVD players. In addition, the English Department has two VCR/DVDs, both stored in the department. To use one for your class, sign up in advance with Yolanda Galvan. Instructors are responsible for transporting the VCR to their classroom and for returning it to the appropriate location. However, students are usually willing to assist in this task if you need assistance.

Computer Lab: The English Department Computer Lab is located in KHB 3007. It was upgraded in Spring 2005 and has 30 Dell (IBM compatible) computers. Microsoft Word is available on all machines, and there is access to all library databases and the Internet. Sign up with Yolanda Galvan to reserve the room for use with your class.

Changing Classrooms

Temporary or One-Time Change of Location: If your class is meeting somewhere other than your regularly assigned room for any reason, please notify the departmental office. Some students will not remember where they are supposed to be and will come to the department asking for help. It's also a good idea to post a notice of the temporary location on your classroom door to guide students.

Permanent Change of Classroom: If your class is scheduled in a "problem" classroom and you would like to change to a different room, ask Yolanda Galvan to request another classroom. Sometimes classes are canceled, and rooms become available at the beginning of the quarter. Be aware, however, that there may be no other space available at the time your class meets. In this case, you will have to remain in the room for the remainder of the quarter.

Canceling Classes

If you are ill and cannot attend class, call the department office so that we can notify the students of your absence. If you cancel a class to substitute an alternative activity (i.e., library research, individual conferences for the entire class, etc.), you should also notify the office so they can inform lost or confused students.

Avoiding Plagiarism

Even the best instructor will occasionally find that a student has plagiarized a paper. While student plagiarism cannot be completely avoided, instructors can reduce its occurrence by explaining the university's academic honesty policy, instructing students in the difference between acceptable paraphrasing and plagiarism, and by carefully choosing assignment topics. For further resources, contact Lise Buranen in the University Writing Center, and consult the following:

Click here to view the definition of plagiarism found in the Faculty Handbook.

Click here to view the university's academic honesty policy.

Adobe Acrobat Logo Click here to view a PDF version of the university's academic honesty policy.


Students' Evaluation of Teaching

University policy requires all lecturers to administer Student Opinion Surveys in all their classes every quarter that they teach. These are part of each lecturer's permanent file and must be considered in the yearly evaluation of lecturers. Be sure to set aside 20 minutes during the ninth or tenth week to administer the questionnaires. Follow the directions provided.


Online Grading

All grades are submitted online using the Cal State LA student information system known as GET (Golden Eagle Territory). All continuing instructors have already received an ID number and instructions for grading online. New instructors will receive their ID and instructions during their first quarter of employment. After completing the grade roster and before submitting the grades, instructors must make a copy of their grade roster for the department. Turn copies in to Jeanne Gee.

Notifying Students

It is against university policy to post grades even if students' CIN or some other means of anonymous identification is used. If students want to know their grade before it is available on the university system, they must give instructors a self-addressed post card.

Faculty Meetings

There is one general meeting for all composition faculty each year. This is held during the fall quarter on the first or second Friday after classes begin. It is usually scheduled to meet from 9 a.m. to noon. At the conclusion of the meeting, the chair meets with the composition faculty to review the university's evaluation procedures for part-time lecturers.