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Assignments and Rubrics

Formal assignment requirements with sample prompts and sample rubrics


English 126 is a composition course that engages with literary texts. This course continues and expands the work of English 125, moving students forward in the areas of critical thinking, critical reading, and critical writing.

In order to facilitate proficiency in these areas, major writing assignments call on students to draw connections between texts; to understand how texts are closely related to other texts, both literary and non-literary; and to set literary texts within larger frames for further investigation and analysis.

Major Assignments

English 126 requires three (3) formal writing assignments:

  • Two (2) formal papers of 3-5 pages each;
  • A research paper of 5-6 pages that draws on 2-4 secondary sources.

English 126 also requires a department-wide final exam, administered during exam week. This exam is reflective; the prompt will be provided to you before the end of the semester. 

Formal Paper Guidelines

At York, English 126 is the second course in a two-part composition sequence. While it takes literature as its subject matter, the emphasis in the course is meant to be on composition. Attention to the writing process, essential in English 125, is just as important in English 126.

All formal assignments in this course should be written under "revision" conditions: drafts should be submitted for feedback on content and organization by peers and instructor. Students should then engage in revising and editing their work. Do note that this process often requires an extended period of time (at least 1 to 2 weeks) between the initial assignment and handing in of the final copy.

Assignment Suggestions

Paper 1

This first paper often highlights close reading and analysis. Many instructors will ask students to draw connections between two texts, but narrow the focus by asking that a specific theme or literary/rhetorical device or technique be examined.

It is also important to view this paper as an opportunity to revisit skills worked on in English 125: plan to explicitly revisit quotation integration, topic sentences, etc.

Paper 2

For this paper, students should be working with at least two sources. We strongly suggest having students practice relating a secondary source to a primary source in this paper as they will need to draw more heavily on this skill for the final paper in the course, the research paper. In other words, in planning this second paper, carefully consider the kind of task you are going to ask students to do in the final paper and how you might use this paper to help prepare them.

Second papers might use a primary literary source drawn from the readings done in the class as well as a secondary source—a critical, historical, or contemporary text that helps the student examine the text itself, or that allows them to use that primary text to weigh in on a larger argument. For example, this paper might take one of these approaches:

  • Make a claim about how to read a story/poem/play through the lens of one historical or critical text;
  • Take a stance on an argument drawn from a critical text using one story/poem/play;
  • Explore a philosophical question or thesis using a literary text and a critical text.

Paper 3: Research paper

In this paper, students draw on secondary sources to analyze/make a claim about a primary literary text. Another approach is to use the literary text as a jumping off point to discuss a larger, contemporary issue. The key here is that in formulating their arguments, students should be bringing the literary text together with multiple secondary sources.

Typically a student is asked to focus on one primary text and draw on 2-4 secondary sources. We do not recommend asking students to work with any more than 2-4 secondary sources as the research paper is a fairly short one (5-6 pages).

We also strongly encourage instructors to consider curating the research sources for this paper. As the goal in this course is to provide practice for students with research writing, it is perfectly acceptable to provide students with a bank of research sources that they can choose from—this will help them practice selecting sources for relevance and will allow them to spend more of their energy on the already complex process of research writing itself.

If you do choose to have students do independent research, be sure to begin the process early in the semester and to provide ample support and scaffolding throughout the location and evaluation process.

Sample Prompts

These sample prompts are offered as models for the formal assignments in the course. The first set of prompts were suggested by faculty members as part of the series of English composition workshops conducted in the spring of 2013; the second and third sets offer complete sequences of assignments designed by Professor Doug DiToro and Professor Jonathan Hall for their English 126 courses.

Prompts suggested by English 126 workshop participants:

Doug DiToro's English 126 assignments:

Jonathan Hall's English 126 assignments:

Writing Assignment Prompts: Suggestions

These suggestions came from a productive session we had with tutors from the CLC who revealed another side of the process: what happens when students meet with a tutor to discuss a paper.

  • For formal papers, provide students with a written prompt. Oral instructions are important, but they do not substitute for the student having a written prompt to review and to take to a tutor for help. In fact, the first thing a tutor will ask the student for when they meet to discuss a paper is the prompt.
  • Identify the task, the structure, and the genre of the essay explicitly on the prompt.
  • Use the structure of the prompt to prioritize what is most important: keep in mind that whatever is discussed first is going to strike the student as the most significant. Privilege higher order concerns.
  • When discussing a prompt, aim to hone in on key words such as “analyze” or “examine”. Be redundant about your expectations.
  • Make sure to specify how students should handle citations and bibliographies. Typically in English 126, we ask students to work with MLA style. Using ethical attribution and citation is one of the Learning Objectives for the course, so requiring citations for all assignments and clearly spelling out these expectations will help those objectives be met.
  • Overly detailed prompts or prompts that are too complex can be difficult to decode, so aim to strike a balance. In particular, John Bean, in his classic, Engaging Ideas, recommends that when setting a prompt question, it is better to ask a single, focused question instead of a series of questions.


While rubric design is left to the discretion of instructors, these sample rubrics may be used (and adapted as needed) for the formal papers in English 126: