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Dear Dr. Louis,

Would you please take a look at the following prompt and give me some suggestions for revision?

In the Greek Tragedy by Sophocles, “Oedipus Rex,” the protagonist, Oedipus lives a life both cursed and blessed by the gods. Read Oedipus Rex by Edith Hamilton looking closely at the author’s use of ethical appeal. Develop a well thought out two-chunk paragraph (2+:1) where you defend whether Oedipus is a victim of his circumstances or in control of his destiny. Use examples of ethos to support your claim. Consider the gods as you develop your paragraph.

Thank you,


Dear John,

Of course, I am delighted to look at your prompt!

I firmly believe that teaching writing to students begins with the teacher knowing how to write effective prompts, prompts that allow student insight and creativity while also providing guidance and expectations. Students are often blind-sided by the vagueness of their teachers' prompts. And, unless we are trained in writing effective prompts, we write prompts that might make a lot of sense to us but confuses and even shuts down our students. Consequently, we receive from some of our students either nothing or a product completely different from what we anticipated. For that reason, I always appreciate when a master teacher, such as yourself, calls upon a colleague to provide feedback on a prompt before the former gives that prompt to 150-200 students. That's a smart teacher!

Let's look at your prompt!

  • Your ratio: I understand why you are suggesting 2+:1; you are working with ethos, a rhetorical device used in argumentation, and you are asking them to defend a position. But you are asking the students to interpret literature. Any time we ask students to provide a literary analysis, even when argumentation is part of that assignment, the best papers will have more commentary. So, I think you'll be happier with a 1:2+ ratio.
  • Your request: This topic could easily become a beautiful essay. That you're asking your students to write a paragraph concerns me, but if a paragraph is what you want, let's help your students by being more succinct in your instructions. Oedipus, the king of Thebes, lives a life both cursed and blessed by the gods. Read carefully Edith Hamilton’s translation of Sophocles’ famous tragedy, Oedipus Rex, paying special attention to Sophocles’ use of ethical appeal to characterize Oedipus and those who surround him, including the gods. Then, develop a well thought out two-chunk paragraph (1:2+) where you defend whether Oedipus is a victim of his circumstances or in control of his destiny (TS). Support your decision by embedding evidence  (CDs) from the text of ethos to support your claim. Your commentary (CMs) and concluding sentence (CS) might include how the evidence you choose contributes to the tone(s) of the piece, the meaning/theme/universal truth you derive, and/or the author's purpose.

I look forward to hearing about how they perform on this assignment. Send me samples to share!

Keep reading and writing!

Best regards,

Dr. Louis

P.S. I sure would like to see you teach those kids Oedipus at Colonus! It goes brilliantly with your teaching free will and destiny and how they relate to blame and guilt. And teaching this piece also allows us to discuss the idea of acceptance and being able to work with letting go of those issues in our lives that do not provide any answers or answer and riddles. I have written an essay on why teachers should teach this text. Let me know if you'd like to read it. DL

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