USU 1320: History and Civilization
©Damen, 2014
A Guide To Writing in History and Classics
Index of Chapters
Course Description

Group Work: In-Class Discussions

Group Work involves In-Class Discussions during which students assemble into Groups and create Quality Thesis Topics (QTT's). No partial or bonus credit will be given in this part of the class.

A. In-Class Discussions/Group Work (5 X 50 pts. each)

Class work on those days designated for In-Class Discussions will be broken into two stages: (1) Formation of Groups, (2) Creation of Quality Thesis Topics (QTT's) and Paper Outlines.

Stage 1: Formation of Groups. At the beginning of each class period designated for In-Class Discussion, students will be divided into groups of five called Pentads. These Pentads will be created randomly and will be different for each In-Class Discussion. Late-coming students will be added to Pentads which have not as yet had a QTT approved (see below, Creation of QTT's). Any students who come so late that there are no groups left which have not formed a QTT will be dismissed from class with no chance to get credit for Group Work or write a Paper on that occasion (see below, Outlining Papers).

Stage 2: Creation of Quality Thesis Topics (QTT's) and Paper Outlines. Students in each Pentad will determine through discussion a QTT which they would like to use as the foundation of a Paper based on the Part of the class most recently covered. Suitable QTT's must address directly an issue raised in one or more of the three Sections of the Part of the class most recently covered, though they may incorporate topics covered in previous Parts. When a Pentad believes their QTT is suitable, they may call me or one of my assistants over for advice. At the same time, the Pentad should begin looking for data that support the QTT and begin outlining their Paper. Outlines must follow the format specified in The Writing Guide (click here to see that outline), with sections noted appropriately (e.g. 1.A, 1.B, etc.). Once sufficient data have been found and entered on the outline, the Pentad may call over me or a Graduate Assistant (GA) for approval. If approved, the In-Class Discussion Form (ICDF) may be turned in for immediate credit or retained and turned in with a Paper based on the QTT outlined on that ICDF. In either case, the IDCF is worth 50 points and the Pentad is excused from class.

Please remember that Papers based on a QTT must follow the foutline carefully and the In-Class Discussion Form which has my or a GA's approval on it must be attached to the Paper when it is turned in.

B. What makes a QTT (Quality Thesis Topic) suitable?

The criteria on which that decision will be made are whether the QTT reflects a positive and professional approach to an important historical issue and whether it can be answered with the data found in course materials.

C. In-Class Discussion Forms (ICDF's)

Once Pentads are formed, each student will receive an In-Class Discussion Form (ICDF) to fill out during the in-class discussion (click here to see a sample copy of this form). This form can be turned in at the end of class after the Pentad's QTT and Outline have been approved, or students can hold onto it if they intend to write a Paper based on the QTT and outline on the form. If they keep it, the form must be attached to the Paper when it is turned in. An approved ICDF is worth 50 points of credit whether or not the Paper based on it is turned in or accepted for credit.

D. The Goals and Methods of this Exercise

There are two important goals in this assignment: learning to think and write critically about the past, and learning to work together with others on a project.

First, one of the most important things to be gained from this class is the ability to formulate penetrating questions and tackle complex issues. We will spend a good part of the class learning to phrase and frame historical questions and thesis statements in a manner which respects the depth and complexity of thought necessary in understanding the past. By nature, historical issues can be expressed as Quality Thesis Topics (e.g. "Economic and military factors represent the principal reasons for the collapse of centralized government in Rome during the fifth century CE."). These QTT's should have a realistic potential for being addressed through the available data (in this case, course materials), should avoid bias as much as possible and should foster a sophisticated, multi-dimensional approach to the past.They should also encompass assertions about aspects of history around which practical debates and realistic arguments can center.

Second, learning to work collaboratively is an essential ingredient in your future success as a professional so I will ask you to hone those skills here. As with all things, good practice begins with good preparation. So before you meet with your Pentad, ask yourself what you personally would like to explore further among many things you've encountered in the latest Part of the class. Think about what interested you most during lectures and readings. Bring those interests to class on an In-Class Discussion day and share them with those in your Pentad. Listen to what interests other people have and collaborate. Surely you will not find perfect consensus so you will have to work together to discover a middle ground where all members get a little of what they want to write about. Learning to be a good partner who willingly shares both interests and outlook will make you a better team member in any future group endeavor.

E. Sample Quality Thesis Topics

Here are examples of how to phrase quality thesis topics and the types of issues to aim at:

• "Organized settlements first arose in the so-called Cradles of Civilization because these areas offered economic and geographical advantages other sites did not."

• "Though much of recorded history centers on DWEM's, historical data embrace the lives of women, foreigners, children, people of color and others, too."

• "There's nothing ‘dark' about the Dark Ages, which was in reality a bustling era of reform and dynamic growth."

F. WARNING: Do not plagiarize the words of other students in your Pentad!

Finally, when you are working together so closely with others, you will have to make an effort not to copy each other's words exactly. All the members of a Pentad may use exactly the same words in stating the Theme of their Paper, but outside of that you cannot use the exact same words as another member of your Pentad. A sequence of more than FIVE words in the exact same order constitutes plagiarism. So once you've left class and your Pentad, write your Paper independently. Be assured: All the Papers from each Pentad will be read together by whoever grades it. The penalties for plagiarism in this class are strict and follow the University's regulations (see "Academic Integrity").


Index of Chapters
Course Description