Reading Response Guidelines

The assignment (as described in the syllabus)

Once a week, you are asked to post a substantial reading response to our class blog. The goal of this assignment is to encourage you to actively process engage with what you are reading. Accordingly, I encourage you to post a response to each reading as a way of helping you to process what you have read. However, because I know everyone has busy weeks, I will be looking to see you that have made a contribution (one post) for at least ten different weeks. Note that for a response to count for a given week, it must be posted prior to our class discussion of the relevant material. Included in Reading Response Participation are post-messina event reflections. There are three scheduled Messina events for which I am asking you to write a post: A Fall lecture, Clybourne Park Play, and our BSO Symphony trip.


The body of the response should [1] identify a particular passage of interest from the assigned reading, [2] explain the context of the passage, and [3] articulate to your classmates and me why this passage caught your attention.

Your response can focus on something you found in the reading that was provocative, weird, challenging, disconcerting or unclear. But the heart of you response should focus on the explanation of why the passage affected you in this way. This is a chance to critically reflect on you first impressions and to start analyzing why the reading struck you in the way it did.

Please thoughtfully use paragraph units to structure your response and organize your thoughts. The response should be a least 200 words, but can be as long as you want.


A strong response will typically look something like this:

In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates makes the claim that the tyrant—despite holding the highest political position in society—is actually powerless. I found this passage initially confusing, but then, after some reflection, posing a real challenge to the way I often think about my life.

Socrates makes this claim in a debate with a character name Callicles. Callicles is focused on getting the most out of life for himself and his family. But he interprets this as acquiring more material power than anyone else and being able to command everyone else to do his bidding. Socrates’ response is to suggest that the tyrant is actually powerless because he lacks knowledge and therefore doesn’t know how to use the material power he possesses.

This claim felt like a real challenge because most of the time I’m thinking about how to amass material resources so that later I can do whatever I want. However, I seldom reflect in a serious way on what I really want or what is really good for me. I generally take it for granted that I will always know what’s best for me and what will lead me to the happiest life. Socrates, however, seems to be suggesting that this kind of knowledge is one of the hardest things to find and requires much more effort than acquiring the material resources needed to pursue the good life.

Notice that the first paragraph introduces the claim being made and make a statement about your response to it: a response that you will need to explain below. While it is tempting to simply write: “I found this passage interesting,” I am asking you to work toward more informative and precise claims such as: “I found the passage confusing because it didn’t correlate with my own experience” or “The passage really resonated with my core beliefs” or “This claim was really confusing because it seemed to contradict what was said in the previous chapter.” Keep in mind that whatever you state here is what you will need to explain or provide support for in the remainder of the response.

The second paragraph tries to quickly provide context for the claim or passage in question. This is the place to explicate the passage and clarify its full meaning.

With that in place, your third paragraph should go on to explain and provide support for your reaction to the text. However you reacted, this is the place to articulate to yourself and others why you responded in this way.

Messina Responses

In addition to our reading response posts, I’m will also be looking to see responses to three Messina related events. Unlike our reading posts, which need to be posted before class, these responses should be submitted within a week after the Messina event. They should follow the same guidelines as those outlined above.

Two of these Messina Events are scheduled: Clybourne Park (10/25) and BSO Trip (11/7).

The third event is an unscheduled attendance at any lecture on campus this fall. Your job is to attend this lecture and write a response. A list of Messina related lectures throughout the fall semester can be found here:


This is a low-stakes writing assignment. I am primarily looking for a good faith effort. I will be looking to see that the three elements mentioned above are present, that the response is at least 200 words, posted before the class discussion date, and generally well written. (In other words, please proof read your posts, making sure they are written in complete sentences, proceed in a logical progression, and are free of obvious grammar mistakes.)

Posts that meet these expectations will receive, a check or full credit (10) and posts that are attempted but fail to meet these expectations will receive a check minus or half credit (5). When I return the first and second exams, I will also return a report acknowledging the posts submitted and the credit received.

As always, if you are unclear or uncertain about anything, please make use of my office hours and come talk to me.