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Dr. Davis

I ask the students to write about something they thought was worth bringing from home, when I was at a residential college.

I also asked for a personal artifact, something they own that is important to them. I got some great essays out of that. One was all about the family purse. Grama bought herself an expensive purse. Then when Aunt went to college, Grama gave it to her. When Niece went to college, Aunt passed it on.


I like the collection idea, which sounds similar to the personal artifact assignment Dr. Davis mentions above. Generally, when I assign a personal project, I use a similar approach.

In classes centered around the practices of memory, I use this social memory collage assignment:

While not an essay per se, I'm currently incorporating the personal through what I'm calling "Your Life in Media" which asks students to chose five mediums to represent themselves and write about what it means to be represented by those media (based on the idea "You are what you eat"). The project is part of a themed course centered around McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage, and we use McLuhan's broad definition of media as extensions of human mental and physical faculties. Last semester students used everything from cellphones, TV and computers to Facebook, passports, friends, color, and dance. The assignment, with examples from last semester, is at


I recently had my students write about a book or movie that affected them significantly, and explain how and why.

I received many interesting essays on The Lord of the Rings, Eli Wiesel's Night, Good Will Hunting, Howl's Moving Castle, and one student's ongoing fascination with horror films (she wrote about Poltergeist).

Besides all the normal things I tell them to be concerned with (grammar, good word choices, thesis statement, etc.), I tell my students that this essay is psychologically challenging. It is an opportunity for critical thinking as well, to delve a bit deeper into the how and why of a work's affect, rather than just "noticing"--which is a good place to start, but which is superficial if we go no further than noticing.

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