James Paul Gee, Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics

Think of discourse as an ‘identity kit’ which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act and talk so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize

-James Paul Gee, Literacy, Discourse, and Linguistics

There is a pretty good chance that nobody has ever asked you about who you are as a writer, yet this is one of the most important conversations you need to have with yourself in order to succeed in college. Whatever your major, writing and reading have been and will continue to be important facets of your professional (and personal lives). By the end of the semester, I hope to facilitate a bridge between your two often competing selves: who you are inside and outside of the college environment; in other words, your public and private identity.

In this first writing project, I want you to take the initial steps of reflecting on your earliest experiences with reading and writing. Think of moments in your life that you feel are significant to the reader/writer you are today. You can accomplish this purpose in a variety of ways. You might, for example, tell the story of an important event in your life that profoundly shaped you as the literate person you are today. Or you might describe an important educational or non-educational experience that influenced your literacy learning in some way. Or you might focus on a specific event in which writing or reading played a crucial role. Or you might do some variation of all of these.

Topics and questions like these will help you start thinking deeply about your literacy history.  As you consider what all these memories and experiences suggest, you should be looking for an overall “So What?”–a main theme, central “finding,” an overall conclusion that your consideration leads you to draw. Ultimately, being aware of how you write and read will most definitely help you succeed both within this course and throughout your college career.

Please look on pages (458-460 1st edition) (206-207 2nd edition) of your textbook for more guidance on how to write this literacy narrative.


As you write this, I’d like you to choose an audience who would be interested in hearing your literacy narrative. This might include:

1. Composition teachers/researchers looking to broaden their knowledge about how students acquire literacy skills

2. Other writing students learning about literacy

****Once you have chosen your audience, please tell me who this audience is right below your heading.****

There are three readings in this module that can be considered literacy narratives (Deborah Brandt, Richard Rodriguez, Malcom X, Sherman Alexie). Take a look back at those readings and think about the audience. Who do you think these authors were writing to? Reflecting on their audience might help you focus on the audience for this paper.

Remember, just because we are writing about a personal issue does not mean we don’t think of who would potentially read the paper. For example, let’s say that you decided your audience was a group of high school teachers. Then, in your literacy narrative, you decide to revisit a very negative experience you had with a writing instructor back in high school. Now, since your audience is a group of high school teachers, you have to be careful to not just turn your narrative into a “venting” exercise about the incompetence of high school teachers. As you can imagine, your audience might not be to willing to sit their and listen to you criticize their profession.

On the flip side, a group of composition teachers are not interested in just reading your story. For them, a good narrative means that the narrative is accompanied by some insight that brings to light a new perspective on the teaching of writing. Ultimately, you must be mindful of your audience as you write this narrative.


For this assignment, your purpose is to analyze your own literacy journey and provide your audience with some insight you’ve discovered about literacy that might be helpful to others.


As far as sources, I am aware that most of your evidence will be anecdotal in nature. However, you also need to use and incorporate at least three of the class readings into your paper.


Make sure you include a Works Cited page and that any quotes/references you use in your paper are properly cited according to MLA guidelines. Please visit Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) (Links to an external site.) for everything you need to know about MLA.

Sample Papers: Sample 1and Sample 2

Strategies for writing your literacy narrative (Links to an external site.)

Length: 1000-1200 words

For every 50 words that the paper is short of the word limit, 10% will be taken off the overall grade. Keep in mind that the heading and works cited page do not count towards the word limit.

Saving Format: save your document as .doc or .rtf and use the following naming convention. Your First Initial Last Name_WP1 (if your name was John Smith, you would save your document as JSmith_WP1)