21W.036 | Spring 2022 | Undergraduate

Science Writing and New Media: Writing and the Environment


Dates indicate when an assignment is due.

Introductory Exercise

Session #2

One of our key goals for this semester is to understand how to adapt our writing to the needs of a particular audience. For this exercise and for your first essay, you should write for your fellow students—all of them.

Take some time to reflect on the physical places that have been important to you as you were growing up—places outside of your own home. Pay particular attention to outdoor settings. Choose one of these places and describe it as fully and precisely as you can. If all of the places that come to mind are interiors (e.g. schools, old barns, grandparents’ homes), go ahead and write about one of them. Initially, just devote yourself to the task of bringing this place to life for your readers. Focus on the particular features that matter to you, but hold off on describing your feelings and explaining your perspective. Use precise nouns and concrete adjectives; steer clear of emphatic adverbs (e.g. “extremely”) and abstract nouns (e.g. “nature”).

If all goes well, your readers will visualize this setting as it appears in your memories. Keep in mind that your classmates do not know you well and may know nothing about the environment in which you grew up. Provide revealing details.

  • The description should be roughly 350 words long (one double-spaced page), but the length will vary depending on the nature of the setting.
  • When you feel that your description is complete, start a new page and write a paragraph in which you explain why this place is important to you.

Narrative Commentary #1

Session #3

All of the autobiographical narratives assigned for today explore the relationship between place and identity. Some look for the source of identity in the landscapes of childhood; others seek new identities in new settings. Choose one of the three longer autobiographical narratives assigned for February 8th, and write up a brief commentary (c. 300 words) in which you explain the relationship between place and identity as you see it in this narrative. What aspects of the setting matter to the author? How does the setting shape them? How does the author relate to the other inhabitants (past or present) of this distinctive setting?

Keep in mind that you will be sharing this commentary with your classmates. Make sure that you provide them with supporting evidence and that you spell out the guiding logic.

Narrative Commentary #2

Session #4

I have assigned two pairs of narratives for this class. Each of the narratives explores an author’s deep feelings about a particular environment. As you read each narrative (three essays and one excerpt from a longer work), try to figure out the writer’s motive. Then, choose one of the pairs and explore the relationship between the two narrative works. What do you see as the central idea of each work? Do the two works written by one author express the same basic values? How can you tell? Why do you imagine that the author chose to explore his or her ideas in narrative form?

Choose one pair of narratives assigned for today and write up a coherent response to the above series of questions (c. 300 words). Do not summarize the two works; delve into the deeper logic that shapes each one. Be sure to include evidence from the two narratives.

Narrative Essay: Kernel and Motive

See narrative essay assignment details.

Due dates:

  • Preparation for Narrative Essay - Session #4
  • First Version - Session #5
  • Peer Review - Session #6
  • Final Version - Session #7

Critical Review

See critical review assignment details.

Due dates:

  • Pre-Draft Exercise 1 - Session #8
  • Pre-Draft Exercise 2 - Session #9
  • Pre-Draft Exercise 3 - Session #10
  • First Version - Session #11
  • Peer Review - Session #12
  • Final Versio - Session #13

Scientific American Update

See Scientific American update assignment details.

Due dates:

  • Select Two Older Articles - Session #14
  • Two-Paragraph Summary - Session #15
  • Preliminary Research - Session #16
  • Proposal - Session #17
  • First Version - Session #18
  • Peer Review - Session #20
  • Final Version - Session #21

TED Talk Commentary

Session #22

Watch three of the following talks. You might prefer to look at ones that do not cover your own topic.

Search talks at TED Talks or YouTube.

  • James Hansen: “Why I Must Speak Out About Climate Change” (2012)
  • James Balog: “Time-Lapse Proof of Extreme Ice Loss” (2009)
    • (Director of Chasing Ice)
  • Sylvia Earle: “My Wish: Protect Our Oceans” (2009)
  • Marla Spivak: “Why Bees are Disappearing” (2013)
  • Cesar Harada: “A Novel Idea for Cleaning Up Oil Spills” (2012)
    • (Response to Gulf Oil spill—MIT affiliate)
  • Topher White: “What Can Save the Rainforest? Your Used Cell Phone” (2014)
  • John Englander: “Sea Level Rise - Fact & Fiction” (2014)
    • TEDxBocaRaton (search via Youtube)

Issues to consider in your brief responses to three TED talks:

  1. Comment on the speaking style and body language of the speaker.
    • Explain your reasoning
  2. Describe in detail at least one slide that you found particularly effective.
    • Explain your reasoning.
  3. Comment on the overall impact of slides used by this speaker.
    • Explain your reasoning.
  4. Comment on number of slides shown during the TED talk—too many, too few, just right?
    • Explain your reasoning.
  5. What would you do differently if you were presenting this material?

Second Revision

A second revision of one major writing assignment: the narrative essay, the critical review, or the Scientific American Update.

Objectives for Revision

Session #24

Write out at least three objectives to pursue as you revise your selected assignment a second time.

Passage for Revision

Session #25

Post a segment (2–3 full paragraphs) of the essay that you have chosen to revise for the final assignment. In class, you will continue revising in collaboration with one or more partners.

Final Revision

Session #26

Post your second revision of an earlier paper.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2022