U100: Enhancing Our Curriculum – Some Ideas and Suggestions 1


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Ronit Sarig

U100: Enhancing Our Curriculum – Some Ideas and Suggestions
1. A three week unit on news, using The New York Times as the main text. This will be an integration of world news and politics, local news, and science news, with quick peeks into business, technology and entertainment. At the end of every week there will be a quiz which can be a fun event, like the “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” news game on NPR, or a quiz that simply tests knowledge: what happened this week in Bangladesh?
(The “Wait, Wait” game can be demonstrated once or twice by the teacher, and for the rest of the semester students can work in groups to prepare weekly quizzes.)
This unit will culminate in a paper comparing and contrasting the same news story in three different newspapers. (Other assignment options are available).
2. Spend 2-3 weeks on an autobiography or a collection of stories of people who were first-generation college graduates and whose success is a direct result of their education. One option could be the book How I Learned English: 55 Accomplished Latinos Recall Lessons in Language and Life.
(I’m still looking for the right book for this unit. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear from you.)
This unit will end with a test on the novel and a “what do I expect college to do for me” type of paper.

3. A 2-3 week unit titled “Is there nothing new under the sun?” to be linked to library week. A student-led unit where groups find as much new information as possible about issues relating to student life. Students will have to look at the latest research and examine how new discoveries and inventions change our lives and shape our perceptions.

This is Carolyn Darin’s assignment with a twist. Students have to choose one student health concern and lead the class in a 30 minute discussion of the topic. Some topics are alcohol or drug use, sexuality issues (STD’s, date rape, being sexually active or not), roommate issues, weight/nutrition issues, sleep issues, anxiety, familial/parental issues, money problems, homesickness. My only addition to the assignment is the following:
Remember that the point of this presentation is to teach/learn new things, not to regurgitate things you have heard over and over again in school. Therefore, when you do your research and presentation, concentrate on new studies and new information in your field.
Interesting science news made available for regular people:

On Live Science a quiz about sex myths, Taboos, and Bizarre Facts:

Nutrition Quiz:

4. A unit on historical events that still influence our lives today, for example the Vietnam War, WWII, the cold war, the Japanese encampment, etc. Something within the last 100 years that students are likely to know little about. This unit lends itself to a guest lecture by someone from the history department.
This unit can end with a discussion of how this event is depicted in the arts – movies, songs, novels, plays, etc., and how this depiction compares with the historical facts. This also opens up the discussion of whether there are historical facts.
5. All tours and visits will take place over a two week period so as to allow better continuity in class.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me

  1. Which governor threw his support behind Barack Obama for president Friday, delivering one of the most coveted and tightly held endorsements in the race for the Democratic nomination? (Bill Richardson, the nation's only Hispanic governor)

  2. Thousands of Christians from all over the world crowded the stone alleyways of which ancient city to mark Good Friday? (Jerusalem's Old City)

  3. How much did Obama's campaign spend per day during the month of February, a crucial month that began with the Feb.5 Super Tuesday and ended with both candidates marching to a showdown March 4 in Texas and Ohio? (nearly $1.5 million a day)

  4. A cash machine in Hull, England, became a big hit this week after it started doing what? (paying out twice as much money as it should.)

  5. *On Sunday the U.S. marked a grim milestone in the five-year conflict in Iraq as the death toll reached what number? (4000)

  6. Scientists in New Zealand and Japan used gene-silencing technology to create what? (a “tear-free” onion)

  7. Which game is fast becoming a craze in rehab therapy for patients recovering from strokes, broken bones, surgery and even combat injuries? (Some call it "Wiihabilitation." Nintendo's Wii video game system)

  8. A new study reports that the more often adolescents eat breakfast, the less likely they are to be what? (overweight)

  9. On Tuesday, Barack Obama released seven years of what, challenging Hillary Clinton to do the same? (tax returns).

  10. Which actress was named in the latest edition of Maxim, as the No. 1 Unsexiest Woman Alive? (Sarah Jessica Parker)

Suggestions For Writing Assignments Using the Newspaper

1. Ask students to choose a news story and follow it for a week or 10 days. Analyze the coverage, discuss the development of the story, see if the story makes its way into other sections of the paper such as the op/ed, when does it move into the inside pages, when does it cease to be news. (Based on Marie J. Secor’s assignment.)

2. Final project: students work in groups to choose the three most important news stories they have read that they think should be distributed to all other U100 classes. Their poster presentation will have print-outs of the articles they chose, pictures from the newspaper and other media, and a detailed explanation of the reasons and rationale for their choice.

Alternatively, students can choose a different medium such as a Power Point presentation or a video to discuss the stories that made a lasting impression on them. (Based on Brian Adler’s assignment.)

3. Combining news with ethics, Robert A. Logan asks students to “find and analyze one longer story, or a series of related stories, in which The New York Times reports about ethics in a major profession.” Students might need to go into the archives to find a story they want to work on, but even a quick search yielded many results.

4. Have students choose a story from The New York Times, and compare it to the way the same story/issue is reported in a magazine devoted to this field. For example, a story about a scientific discovery/invention in Scientific American, a business related story in Business Week or The Wall Street Journal, or an entertainment story in People Magazine. (Based on Keith D. Beyer’s assignment.)

Current Events Writing Assignments



"Every coin has two sides" is a common expression, but when it comes to news and world events, there are often more than two sides or two ways to view and interpret an event. As Americans we sometimes forget that the rest of the world does not always share perspectives common in the U.S, and it is worth exploring these different opinions.



  • To practice critical reading and analytical thinking skills

  • To form an educated opinion based on reading and research

  • To communicate clearly and effectively


For this writing assignment you will choose one major American newspaper, one newspaper published in the Middle East, Asia or Africa, and a third published in Europe, Australia or Oceana. A very useful site for choosing your newspapers is http://www.siteone.com/papers/intern.htm#I_ctry.

This site has links to newspapers from all over the world.


Scan the headline news and try to find one story covered in all three. If you cannot find the same story, pick three pieces concerned with the same general topic (i.e. elections in the U.S., conflict in the Middle East, violence in Pakistan, etc.). Then, for each story do the following:

  • Read the story carefully and critically and then write a short summary of the author’s main ideas. Provide any information you have about the author. (1/2-3/4 page)
  • Write a critical analysis of the story in which you answer the following questions (1 page):

    1. Does the story seem objective? How do you know?
    2. Compare this story with the others you have read. Is any information missing or different?
    3. Does the author obviously slant his/her story one way? What are some words or phrases that indicate this?
    4. Who is the intended audience and what pre-existing opinions might it hold?
    5. What would you ask the author to clarify?


Writing Assignment:

In a 2-3 page paper compare and contrast the three stories you have read. What are some facts that appeared in all three versions? What facts appeared only in one or two of the stories? To what extent did reading the three stories contribute to your understanding of the issue? To what extent did it confuse you? How does one determine what ‘the truth’ is, and is there only one truth?

Your essay must have a title, an introductory paragraph, three body paragraphs that support the thesis, and a concluding paragraph.
*Based on Andrea Modarres’s assignment.

Why teach the newspaper?

The Times’s managing editor, Bill Keller, argues compellingly [] that the knowledge to be gained from a newspaper does not merely keep us informed; it helps keep us civilized.” (6)

Professor John Haefner, Professor emeritus of social studies education at the university of Iowa wrote in a seminal essay titled “Partners in Education”: “Students, given the opportunity, come to see the newspaper as a bridge between the confining and often unreal world of school, and the vibrant, confusing and complex ‘real’ world of which they are a part. Students will read a newspaper when they will not read other school materials because the newspaper records events that have meaning for them.”

Rationale for using national newspapers in the college classroom:

  1. At the risk of using an overworked phrase, information is power. A newspaper is a tool for “empowerment.” Students have to become independent and self-reliant seekers, gatherers, and interpreters of information. (so they don’t have to depend on others to interpret it for them.)

  2. More than 70% of undergraduates seldom or never have conversations on campus about international affairs. A forte of the international newspaper is to move the reader beyond localism to a greater sense of international awareness.

  3. Newspaper readership is declining overall. Students have become more like their parents: they spend less and less time in discretionary reading and more time working and engaging in various forms of recreation.
    The future of any strong democracy depends on the educational level of its citizens and their ability to make informed choices.

  4. A 1997 study found that 73.3% of entering college students expressed little to no interest in politics – whether national, local, or campus-based.

  5. Critical thinking abilities can only be developed if students are exposed to stimulating information about which probing questions can and must be asked.

  6. The level of vocabulary used in national newspapers assumes a more intelligent, educated, professional, and influential readership than the level in local newspapers.

  7. We are attempting to introduce college students to the kind of behaviors we hope they will practice as adults.
  8. Part of what should happen in a college course is a broadening of horizons, an awareness of a larger, more significant world of trends, events, and subjects of interest to an educated person. First year students especially need to become engaged in a world less cloistered than the campus, and this course can help establish the lifetime habits of newspaper reading and intellectual curiosity.

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