Online Exercises

Being in a blended class means doing some things in the classroom, and other things online. Here I will describe the online exercises for this class.

1. Online Class Discussion. Every Thursday we will be using the discussion board at our ELMS course site to discuss the film of the week. A group of you, different each week, will supply discussion thread starter comments/questions for the discussion board. You will do this twice during the semester.

You can find out what group you are in by going to ELMS, clicking on “People” in the left-side menu, then “View User Groups” on the upper right side of the page. To see when you are scheduled to provide discussion board thread starters, consult the course syllabus.

2. Blog Response Post. Each week you will be writing a short response to the film of the week. Your response will have three parts: a film analysis paragraph, a topic focus paragraph, and a critical argument paragraph.

In your film analysis paragraph, describe the significant themes and formal elements of the film of the week. You might also consider what the film says about the time and place in which it was made. Your film analysis will mostly involve descriptive writing (as opposed to evaluative or interpretative writing), as described in your textbook (chapter 3). Your film analysis paragraph should be 4-8 sentences long.

In your main topic focus paragraph, compose a paragraph that addresses the main topic of the week (for instance, in Week 2 the topic would be “Film Narrative/Writing About Film,” in Week 3 “Acting,” etc.). What ideas and examples about the topic found in weekly assigned reading (including the textbook and posts on the course blog) are the most significant and worth thinking about? How does the film of the week relate to the topic of the week? Your main topic focus paragraph will involve some descriptive and mostly interpretative writing, as described in your textbook (chapter 3). It will also involve some research, in the form of assigned readings and blog posts on the course blog. Your main topic focus paragraph should be 4-8 sentences long.

In your critical argument paragraph, make an argument that relates to the film and topic of the week. You will need to come up with a critical perspective, and defend it. Your critical argument paragraph should consist of a thesis statement, followed by a few sentences that develop the thesis statement into a short argument. A good critical paragraph will cite examples from the film; a very good critical paragraph will incorporate ideas from weekly assigned reading. Your critical argument paragraph will involve mostly interpretative writing, as described in your textbook (chapter 3) and little or no description. Your critical argument paragraph should be 4-8 sentences long.

I will be posting critical argument prompts for each film. You can use one of these prompts to generate a thesis statement for your critical argument paragraph. But make sure your paragraph is not just an answer to a critical argument prompt.

Please note that in this course you will do very little evaluative writing, such as you would find in a popular review (described in the textbook in chapter 3 in the section entitled “The Popular Review”).

Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis, the authors of your textbook, offer advice on coming up with a good thesis statement:

Many writers assume that drafting a thesis is a daunting task. Often students do know what constitutes a strong thesis, or what a particular instructor looks for in a thesis. While a plot summary is appropriate in newspaper blurbs announcing the movies playing at the local theater, thesis statements go beyond superficial descriptive claims. A strong thesis . . . does more than simply stating what would be obvious to anyone who watched the film; it organizes and interprets the information gleaned from analysis. A strong thesis proposes a debatable argument about a film and reveals the writer’s understanding of themes and appreciation of the way cinematic techniques coalesce into a coherent artistic expression. (Film: A Critical Introduction, 39)

For examples of thesis statements, consult the table on page 40 of your textbook. Note that the thesis statements in the textbook are for papers, and are typically more than one sentence. They begin with an observation or two, leading to the point the author wishes to argue. Since, for this assignment, you are writing a paragraph rather than a paper, it would be better if you avoided too much description and got it all done in a single sentence. There is an example below.

Make sure you read “Common Problems with the Blog Response Post assignment,” before doing your first Blog Response Post assignment.

Here is a model critical argument paragraph, using a critical argument prompt.

Critical argument prompt:

What formal film elements (acting, mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, sound design, etc.) are used to represent Native Americans in Stagecoach? Does the film demonize Native Americans, turning them into soul-less savages bent on destruction? Or does the film subtly protest the treatment of Native Americans?

Thesis Statement:

Stagecoach uses close-ups to humanize the Native Americans in the film, which makes it uncomfortable for the audience when the Native Americans get shot down at the end.

Critical Argument Paragraph:

Stagecoach uses close-ups to humanize the Native Americans in the film, which makes it uncomfortable for the audience when the Native Americans get shot down at the end. All throughout the film, the people on the stagecoach are afraid of being attacked by the Native Americans, but before they attack, we get a close up them on a bluff. We see Geronimo, who is an old man, and doesn’t seem threatening at all. We see many of his men, who are solemn and quiet, not whooping and shouting. This goes against what Pramaggiore and Wallis say is “the threat of hostile Indians—a stereotype and staple of the classical Western” (75). Because of this unconventional depiction of Native Americans in the film, it’s no fun for the audience when John Wayne blows them all away at the climax, when they’re chasing the stagecoach. The audience has seen that the Native Americans are real people, not just soul-less savages.

Note that the thesis statement is just one sentence, and contains just a little bit of description. The claim it makes is that as a result of the use of the close-up (or, the formal film element of cinematography), the audience sympathizes with the Native Americans in the film. This is followed by details from the film that support the thesis statement, along with the citation of a critical authority (Pramaggiore and Wallis), which provides further support.

You’re encouraged to insert film stills or other images related to the film into your blog entries (but it is not required).

3. Student Blog Comments. Twelve times during the semester you will be visiting the blog of one of your classmates and leaving a comment (ideally you will comment on the entry of a different classmate each week).

Links to your classmates’ blogs are listed under “student blogs” on the right-side menu of this blog.

In your comment, concentrate on the critical argument paragraph in the entry. Engage the ideas presented by your classmate and, if possible, continue the conversation. Instead of just agreeing or disagreeing, consider the argument your classmate is making and compare it to your own interpretation, or the interpretation of other critics (including me, in the film essays I post on the course blog, and the textbook authors).

A good comment should be slightly shorter than a good critical argument paragraph. That is, your comment should be 3-6 sentences long. Be sure to sign your comment with your full name (first and last name) if you want to get credit. (Note: blog comments should NOT be sent to me.)

Here is an example of a student blog comment, which is a comment on the critical argument paragraph on Stagecoach above:

Just because we see the Native Americans up close for a few seconds doesn’t mean we sympathize with them. We see them for a much longer time when they attack and try to kill all the people in the stagecoach. They attack people who haven’t done anything bad to them, and we don’t know why. Just because we see them up close for a second doesn’t mean we know them or like them. John Wayne was just trying to protect the people he was with.