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Winter Quarter '24

English 270: Uses of the English Language

The Matter of Style:

English Sentences Past and Present

Professor John Webster

Tu Th 2:30-4:20 Smith 305

Office phone: 543-6203 Padelford A-407

Office Hours: Monday and Wednesday 1:30-3:00pm, and by appt

Assignments and Updates


Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

Assignments and Updates | Blackboard

Course Overview:

A Matter of Style:

The English Sentence Past and Present

This class will offer you an intensive introduction to the world of English Sentences. You will learn about their elements and their structures, you'll learn to think about them as examples of a range of different styles and registers, and you will do this with sentences from literature as well as from ordinary life. You will write many sentences yourself, both as your own and as imitations of famous sentences from the past—even sentences from the morning newspaper. 

This will not be a grammar class (though we will do enough syntax to make you a better reader and maker of sentences), but you'll nevertheless learn much about the many different ways English speakers put their thoughts into words. 

At the end of the course you'll leave having memorized a few sentences, written more than a few others, read and spoken some of the most famous in the language, and heard many, many more. 


I want students leaving this class to be more confident and experienced with the reading and writing of English sentences and paragraphs.

I want students to leave with a strong intial understanding of some of the key elements of language—particularly in English, but also in some degree as those elements of English connect to other world languages.

I want students to leave having built their critical reading and writing skills by having written in different ways about the interpretation of sentences and paragraphs throughout the quarter.

And finally, I want students leaving the class to have had fun with language and knowing better what other courses in English might be able to offer them.

(Read "The Goals of This Course" for a more complete explanation of our goals for active reading and for increased familiarity with the elements of language.)


Recommended: A good hardcover collegiate dictionary. You will also create our own textbook/portfolio filled with a collection of sentences and paragraphs that you as a class will seek out and assemble yourselves. 

Along with those texts I will also provide a range of materials, either in class, on-line or through library reserve.


The chief goals of this class are to make you more informed, active, and, especially, self-reflective readers of sentences and paragraphs, and to introduce you to theformal study. The course description above outlines the general sequence for what we'll do, and some of that work will be in full-class settings; some in small groups.

Both because this is a W-course and because I strongly believe in writing as a means of learning, you'll be writing a lot for this class. Writing requires that you engage actively with your reading, and ensures that you—and everyone else in the class—will come ready to contribute to the general class thinking. Accordingly, you’ll be writing something for every class meeting—usually something informal, a “response” paper of no more than two pages. Sometimes those will be hard-copy papers; at other times they will be posted online.

In either case, at the end of the quarter you will be submitting all of your writing in an English and Language Portfolio—a collection of all the writing you do for the quarter, along with a Self-reflective Essay describing your experience in this class.

If you want to email me, you are welcome to do so—don't be surprised, however, if I do not give you a fast response. I get a LOT of email, and I cannot process it all when it first arrives. My email address is displayed on the homepage of this website.

Structured writing for the course will include three paper/midterms, a group project, and a final. I'm still figuring out what those projects will be.

Course Grading: 500 Points, apportioned in the following way:

Midterm 1: 100 (Pt 1, 30; Pt 2, 70)
Midterm 2: 100
Midterm 3 (Final): 120
Group Paragraph Project: 80
Portfolio: 60
Attendance/Participation: 40

Why so much writing? Several reasons. First, this is a W-Course. But more importantly, because writing is the single most effective way almost any of us have to make our learning active. The mere reading of assignments, by contrast, is an essentially passive process. Though your mind goes through steps enough to make the reading make sense, it rarely goes much beyond that point, nor is it forced to build connections to the conceptual frameworks you already have with any kind of strength or resilience.

Second, the writing you do will prepare you for our time together in class. With your having been actively writing, class sessions will move faster, group work will be much more interesting and efficient, and every person in the class will actually have read the assignment and be able to contribute to the whole. Our work together will be better because you will have already made progress on the day’s work well before class even begins.

Third, you will learn more. Having to write will force you to confront what you don’t already know, and will give you constant practice with the skills that the active reading of the authors we study requires.

Finally, writing well truly is central to education in English. It is, after all, what the rest of the world thinks English is all about—and will expect you to be able to do. You SHOULD be writing constantly—so much so that it doesn’t feel like quite such a big deal in the first place!

What I want. My criterion for the response papers is ECI: “engaged critical intelligence.” You don’t have to be “right,” and you don’t have to be polished. You don’t even have to solve entirely whatever problem I give you. But I do insist on real effort, even if it’s only to narrate for me the difficulties you are having as you try to come to grips with the assignment.

How Much Time Should You Spend Writing? In the past some students have spent more time and anxiety on these responses than is necessary. Please understand: though I genuinely do want you to take this writing seriously, I’m not asking for a series of “English papers.” I call them “response papers” to suggest that their purpose is to be responding with an Engaged Critical Intelligence both to the reading and to my question(s) about it. In specific terms that means: I expect from you either TWO double-spaced typed pages, or ONE FULLY ENGAGED HOUR of writing. If you want to spend more time than that—fine. Just don’t go over two pages, or, when posting on line, over the word-limit.

My response to your responses. I certainly do want your papers to be coherent, but the daily response papers are not supposed to be fully finished works. And because they are informal in this way, I will also rarely read them with the same close attention I will give to your formal work. In fact, some of your writing I won't read at all. The primary usefulness of such writings is in the writing itself. I take it as axiomatic that you will get substantially more from this class by having written regularly throughout than you otherwise would—and end-of-quarter evaluations from earlier classes confirm that most students agree.

Moreover my intent is that these exercises will be useful to you whether I actually read them or not. Indeed, I will not collect every set of papers at the time you write them (though you will be collecting them as you complete them, and turning them in as part of the course portfolio at quarter’s end). And when I do collect them, my comments will be of the “OK,” “good,” or “I’d like to see more thinking going on here” variety. (If you want more specific response to your work, you are welcome to come talk with me during my office hours.)

Late Papers. As much as I wish it were otherwise, I do not and cannot accept late response papers. With the reading of multiple sets of up to 40 papers for each assignment over the course of the quarter I will have trouble enough keeping them straight already! (40 times 20 is 800 papers!!!!!) You can, however, miss up to two assignments without any deductions from your final portfolio grade. I also do not accept emailed papers unless I specifically ask for them to be submitted in that way. Again, this is principally a paper management issue—I simply cannot keep track of papers coming in from different inputs at different times and places. Thanks for your understanding.

Truth in packaging disclosure:

1. In past quarters, most students have rated my classes highly as useful and relevant. But when students haven’t like them, they tend to complain that they never really understood what I was asking them to do in the first place. (They also complain that I am given to digressions!) I take those concerns seriously; I will demonstrate what I want as clearly as I can in class.

But if you feel as though you aren’t getting it over the first week, I strongly urge you either to drop the class then and find something you might like better, or to talk with me. It is actually very helpful for me as a teacher when I can hear from those who find what we do difficult/off-putting!

The Point: In the end, it is up to you to get help. DON’T PUT OFF asking for help!!

2. Because students are writing for every class session, some report working more on this class than they generally do for other classes. The average time spent runs between 10-12 hours per week, but some report they worked as much as 15-16 hours (still within the average of 3 hours per credit which the University sets as its standard for 5 credit classes, but more than you may be able to spend).

3. The median grade (50% above, 50% below) in my classes runs anywhere from 3.1 to 3.3. That is NOT the bottom grade—it is the median grade. That means that some of you may indeed get a 2.7 or a 3.0, even though you may have done better than that elsewhere. If that is going to make you unhappy, then, again, you should get into a different class. On the upside, however, I do not grade on a curve.That means that it is theoretically possible that everyone in the class will receive a 4.0. That is very unlikely, but I've certainly had classes whose students really did terrific work and we've come close.

4. Attendance and Participation are part of the course, and they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. I take role randomly during the quarter, but I also use my review of your portfolio work to evaluate your class participation. Incomplete portfolios mean incomplete participation.

5. All assignments must be completed on time. Your score on any paper reflects whether your work has met this requirement.

So much for the work you’ll be doing.

Now for a word of caution and of reassurance. I know that before this class some of you will not have thought much about sentences and paragraphs and how they work. Not to worry. Looking at how sentences work isn’t hard so much as it is really different (but not completely different!) in goal and method from ordinary writing. Once you’ve learned something about reading sentences stylistically, and provided you do the assigned reading and writing carefully and on time, you should be able to keep up with the work (see paragraph 2 above in Truth in Advertising).

All of that said, IF for some reason you expect to miss classes, then I very strongly urge you to find something else to take!!!

Religious Accommodations: Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW's policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available using the Religious Accommodations Request form. You can also just let me know so we can make up anything you miss when not in attendence.


Tentative Reading Schedule


Readings and Assignments will be on the Assignments and Updates page.




Course Overview | Texts | Syllabus | Reading Schedule

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