ENGL 380: Love and Death: The Tristan Tradition
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz

Discussion Forum Mini-Essays and Classmate Responses

You will be assigned to a discussion forum group in PolyLearn.  You must SUBSCRIBE to your forum so that you are notified when a classmate in your Discussion Forum has submitted a Mini-Essay.  In this forum, you will post four (graded) Mini-Essays and eight (ungraded) Classmate Responses over the course of the quarter, half before and half after the midterm exam.  Each Mini-Essay ("ME") should consist of 1.5- 2 pp. of literary analysis and discussion (quotations from the text and your interpretation/explanation of their significance).  The weakest ME will be dropped; the three strongest will together count for 15% of your final course grade.

To receive credit for each ME, you must submit TWO ungraded, one-paragraph Classmate Responses to MEs posted by members of your Discussion Group. These ungraded Classmate Responses are online conversations with classmates about their responses to the texts / films you have read or seen.  The ungraded Classmate Responses are included in the "participation" portion of your final grade and they are REQUIRED for you to get credit for your own, graded MEs.

Mini-Essays are due to your assigned Discussion Forum no later than midnight on the Fridays indicated on the course calendar (for specific due dates, see class Calendar of Assignments. Start a new "thread" for each Mini-Essay.  The SUBJECT LINE for a Mini-Essay should begin with ME1, ME2 etc. and should include the title of your essay (which should indicate the work and topic you are writing on).

Classmate Responses are due to your assigned Discussion Forum no later than midnight the following Sunday (dates are indicated on the course Calendar of Assignments).  To submit a Classmate Reponse, hit the "reply" key from within the text of the posting to which you are responding so that your response is directly linked to your classmate's ME.  (Do NOT start a new discussion thread when submitting a Classmate Response, and do not change the subject line.)


A literary analysis Mini-Essay should consist of an introductory paragraph which clearly explains what you will argue in the Mini-Essay; 2-3 well-developed, edited, thoughtful body paragraphs of argumentation consisting of textual citation and analysis to back up each point in your argument; and a conclusion.  These compact Mini-Essays are excellent practice for earning GWR (or simply a high score) on exam essays.  They should be focused, well organized, written in grammatically correct prose (no sentence fragments; no slang; watch punctuation and word choice!), and supported by appropriately detailed textual evidence (i.e. you must CITE THE TEXT or allude to SPECIFIC SCENES, IMAGES and DIALOGUE IN THE FILM to back up your ideas in every support paragraph).  Document your textual support with page numbers (or line numbers, if they are found in the text you are quoting) given in parentheses immediately following the quotation.

A literary analysis mini-essay should engage the primary reading in a way that demonstrates you have read the text (or watched the film) closely and thought about the implications of choices made by the author or director.  Your ME must include citation from the primary text(s) or film (include the page and/or line numbers of the passage you are citing, or indicate scene or DVD "chapter" numbers if you are citing from a film, in parentheses immediately following the quotation).  Do NOT quote background material or secondary sources (e.g. text introductions, footnotes, or online readings).  The information they contain is now "yours," and for the purpose of these assignments, you can mention it as relevant to your argument without specific documentation.

In most MEs, you will describe and analyze the treatment of a character, relationship, object, episode, theme, motif, or event in one primary work assigned the previous week.  Explain how the handling of this specific character, relationship, object, episode, theme, motif, or event from the Tristan story helps us understand something interesting and significant about the work in which it appears or the way in which the author/director understands and/or (re)interprets the legend and its meaning.  As you consider potential topics, be aware that it's not enough simply to note the similarities and differences between the baseline story and the ways in which your chosen topic manifests itself in the author/work you are focussing on.  You also have to have something to say about the specific differences which you note.  Typically, you will briefly acknowledge the similarities between the baseline story and the specific work you are focussing on, before turning your attention to the differences, since it is these differences which will give you a key to help understand the work/author in question.

If there are study questions provided for a given text, they can provide a way to jump-start your thoughts, but you are not required to respond to one of them.  Other possibilities include the following:

IMPORTANT:  Your Opening Statement (intro paragraph) should fully articulate the claims you make in your essay; tell me what you are arguing (not just the topic you will consider).  This opening paragraph should resemble the CONCLUSION you were taught to write to a five-paragraph essay back in high school. Do not begin with a "hook" (you already have my full attention).  Instead, get straight to the point: what work you are writing about and what is interesting about it.


  1. Create your Mini-Essays essays using your normal word processor (so that you can use  the spell check and grammar check functions), and using standard practices for a short essay: your name, the date, and the class number and section should appear at the top left, and your essay title should be centered immediately below that information.  Save the document under the filename "[yourlastname]ME1.docx" (or ME2, ME3, ME4, as applicable).  You will upload this document as an attachment to your discussion board ME posting so it is easily accessible to your Grader for printing and feedback.
  2. Click on "Add a new discussion topic" to start a new "thread" for each of your four Mini-Essays.  The SUBJECT LINE for each Mini-Essay posting must begin with the ME number (ME1, ME2 etc.) and include the title of your essay (abbreviated if necessary). The subject line should NOT include your name, since the posting will already be listed as yours.
  3. Click on "attachment" and upload the document "[yourlastname]ME1.docx" so it is easily available for your grader to print out and respond to.
  4. In the "Message" field, use the copy and paste function to post the essay itself (but not the header with your name, the date, and the class number and section) for your classmates to read and reply to.  Note that formatting (underlining etc.) may not transfer from your document, so you will need to proofread your posting carefully and use the formatting tabs in the Discussion Forum as necessary to format your response. Please be aware that there is a limited time window in which you can make changes to your posting, so proofread your posting carefully before you submit it to the Discussion Forum!

Each ME will be graded on a 4.0 scale using the usual values (4.3=A+, 4.0 = A, 3.7 = A-, 3.3 = B+, etc.) At the end of the quarter, the lowest ME grade will be dropped, and the average of the other 3 ME grades will count as 15% of your course grade.

While the grader may occasionally comment on Mini-Essays within the discussion forum, letter grades will only be reported privately, on the hardcopy print-out of your ME or via direct personal email.  Please contact your Instructor and/or Teaching Apprentice if you are unsure about the quality of your Mini-Essay responses.  While only your own Mini-Essays (not your classmate responses) factor into the written work component of your final course grade, remember that you will NOT RECEIVE CREDIT FOR YOUR MEs UNLESS YOU HAVE ALSO SUBMITTED THE REQUIRED CLASSMATE RESPONSES by the deadlines on the Calendar of Assignments!


By midnight every Sunday, read through ALL Mini-Essays that have been posted by the other members of your discussion group and post brief classmate responses to two of them. (Be sure to SUBSCRIBE to your Discussion Forum so you are notified when a classmate has submitted a Mini-Essay.)  Your classmate responses should be at least one thoughtful and substantive paragraph (at least 100 words), and should address both your classmate's ideas and the text(s) written on, WHICH YOU SHOULD QUOTE AT LEAST ONCE, using a citation which was NOT included in the ME to which you are responding.  You must post two classmate responses in order to receive credit for each of your MEs.

Prior to posting a Classmate Response, read through ALL the MEs posted by the other members of your Discussion Forum group and choose the two to which you will be able to respond most substantively and fruitfully.  (This will usually be the MEs which you find strongest / most interesting -- but it might also be one with which you disagree, provided that you do so RESPECTFULLY and that you back up your assertions with textual support.)

Remember: the best classmate responses are neither mean-spirited nor lazy ("I agree with everything s/he said").  It's not about criticizing your classmate's thoughts, nor is it about praising them.  The best classmate responses build on your classmate's ideas or offer additional insight into and/or another way of understanding the the issue/work which your classmate wrote about.  Be sure that you address BOTH your classmate's ideas AND your own thoughts about the text (which you should cite at least once, choosing a citation that was NOT quoted by your classmate in the ME to which you are responding).

Note:  Classmate Responses are due by midnight on the Sunday after the Friday when the ME was due; for the specific due dates, see the class Calendar of Assignments.

Your 8 classmate responses will factor into the participation component (rather than the written work component) of your final grade.  Please note however that you will NOT RECEIVE CREDIT FOR YOUR MINI-ESSAYS UNLESS YOU HAVE ALSO SUBMITTED THE REQUIRED CLASSMATE RESPONSES (i.e., for every TWO classmate responses, you will receive credit for ONE of your MEs).  If at the end of the quarter you have not posted eight classmate responses to your Discussion Forum, you will NOT receive credit for all of your MEs.