Unpacking the Elements of Writing Prompts

Talking together about writing 

Having a stable vocabulary for the common features of writing assignments makes it possible for prompts, activities, and written feedback to be part of a shared experience, where instructors can present learning goals, students can learn and practice new ideas and skills, and the whole process can result in students getting feedback about their work in relation to those goals. In first-year writing seminars at Harvard—primarily Expos—the vocabulary used by instructors and learned by students is called The Elements of Academic Argument

A shared language for metacognition 

The goal of the Elements is to allow teachers and students to communicate with one another about writing, since communicating about communicating is a big part of what Expos is trying to teach students to do. The terms aren't jargony (thesis, evidence, analysis, style, etc.), and with them you can ask yourself, your teaching team, and your students (most of whom have taken Expos!) questions about writing assignments and give/receive feedback with students that's in a language they're conversant in. By February or so of each year, nearly every undergraduate at Harvard—even if they're a little rusty—can speak the language of the Elements. In that sense it's the lingua franca for academic writing by students in the College, and for that reason it's an organizing principle for this site, as well as many of the tools and resources here, including all of the decoders and templates for assignment prompts