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by Danita L. Owens, Assistant Professor of English

As a composition professor here at the college, I often find myself stressing to my students how important it is to write a powerful and meaningful introduction to their essays. I equate its purpose to that of an interlude to a song. When we hear a song, the interlude helps us to decide whether to turn up the volume or to turn off the song altogether. In the same way, the introduction of an essay helps the reader to determine if the essay is something he wants to continue reading or to decide not to read. This philosophy places an extreme amount of emphasis on the introduction of not only an essay, but also on introductions of any kind.

Nevertheless, the introductory portion of our classes, while still of extreme importance, seems to be tedious for us and quite uninteresting for too many of the students. This does not have to be so. We can inform students of our policies and requirements in our syllabi and make sure that they understand them by allowing them to be actively involved in the process of getting to know us.

Last semester, I began distributing a "Syllabus Scavenger Hunt" along with my syllabi. It is a list of twenty questions that I developed to emphasize the most critical points in my syllabi. The questionnaire is loaded with questions that range from "Where is your professorís office and what are her hours?" to "What is my policy on late assignments?" Students are divided into teams, and the teams have to race against each other to find the answers to these questions. After the first team has finished, I review all of the answers and allow students to ask questions about anything they do not clearly understand.

Although the winning team is the only recipient of extra points for participation, all students must turn in written responses and submit them for a grade. Since this is the studentsí first graded assignment, I tell them that they have now earned an "A" in the course and it will be up to them to keep it. Meanwhile, I keep the papers on file all semester as "insurance" for those moments when students claim to be unaware of certain policies I enforce that affect their grades.

Of course, this assignment can be adapted to fit the needs of any course and to match the style of any professor; but more importantly, this entire effort can make studentsí opportunity to get to know us much more interesting. Now, maybe fewer of our students will simply "turn us off" when we are introducing our policies to them.


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 19, No. 2

Spring 2004