College Writing Series: Activity Theory, Discourse, and Genre

The course I most often teach at Appalachian State University…

  • in Boone, North Carolina is a second year required writing course called RC 2001 Writing Across the Curriculum. That phrase “across the curriculum” points to the aspect of a college student’s experience that they won’t just write in their English classes but as they take required courses in a range of disciplines and then move on to writing in majors that might include kinesiology, marketing, construction management, environmental studies, computer science, and health care administration students will write across all sorts of curriculums, in all sort of courses with homes in different majors.

So what’s my sister Anne got to do with anything?

Anne works in an architectural design firm in Los Angles. In the courses I teach at App State, I ask students to chose a Discourse to study and as a part of that work students interview a prominent member of that Discourse. My talk with Anne is an example of the kind of interview I’m asking for my students to conduct. The information from the interview will help students create what we call an Activity Triangle and the triangle and quotes from the interview will go in a major assignment called the Discourse Report.

Here’s the podcast episode in which I interview Anne about the Discourse of an interior design and architectural firm office:

Click audio player above to listen to the episode.

Today’s podcast episode works as…

  1. a review for students of the main ideas covered in my writing course up until the interview assignment is given. This interview is an example of the sort of interview I’m asking my students to conduct.
  2. an example of the needed “translation” that a student probably has to do for the person they are interviewing. My sister Anne understandably doesn’t know anything about concepts such as Discourse, genres, or activity theory, and so it should be helpful for students to see how I “translate” the ideas from our course so that they make sense to her and she can answer my questions.
  3. an example of how a non expert like me can interview an expert in a certain Discourse (in Anne’s case an architectural firm) in a way that allows for the interviewee to collect useful information.

If you’re a student or teacher of writing / composition and you’re interested in some more specific resources about the notion of a Discourse report, here are some resources you might find interesting:

  • Click here for the handout I use with my students that includes suggestions for what questions to ask when they interview a prominent member of the Discourse they have chosen to study.
  • Click here for the questions I use to help students use activity theory to analyze genre.

Please reach out if you have additional questions or observations. Thanks for checking out this episode of the Torg Stories Podcast!

Hawaii Vacation Guide

Erica and Jordan, creators of the website and YouTube channel The Hawaii Vacation Guide, are my guests on this Sunday, January 29, 2023 edition of the Torg Stories Podcast. We talk about getting started on planning a vacation to Hawaii with an emphasis on Maui, starting a business such as their travel website, and hearing some of their story as a couple including their experiences changing jobs and moves that included Hawaii, London, and California. It was a lively and informative conversation, and I hope you enjoy it!

Click audio player above to listen to the podcast.

Click here to link to Erica and Jordan’s website, The Hawaii Vacation Guide.

Click here to link to Erica and Jordan’s YouTube channel.

We’d love to hear from you about your Hawaii questions and recommendations. Thanks for checking out the episode!

Profit from Your Podcast

Affiliate marketing, selling products or services, working with a sponsor, crowdfunding, live events, and teaching courses are all topics in Dave Jackson’s book Profit from Your Podcast and are topics up for discussion in this week’s Sunday, January 22, 2023 edition of the Torg Stories Podcast. You can listen to the episode by clicking the player below.

Profit Monetize Podcast Affiliate marketing, selling products or services, working with a sponsor, crowdfunding, live events, and teaching courses are all topics in Dave Jackson's book Profit from Your Podcast and are up for discussion in this week's Sunday, January 22, 2023 edition of the Torg Stories Podcast.


Click here to purchase Dave Jackson’s book Profit from Your Podcast. Torg Stories is an Amazon Affiliate, and we do profit if you use the link to purchase.

Podcast Notes and Discussion Questions:

  1. Observation: I think we can tap into using a more direct and conversational tone that addresses you the listener. I also want to start learning who is listening. There are over 1k listeners for many episodes. Who are you all? Get in touch and tell us why you listen.
  2. Observation: we don’t do a niche podcast. I think one way to offset that is for each podcast to be about one thing: this book, Maui, Knives Out movie, The Bullet Train, college writing.
  3. We brainstorm niche podcasts for Anne to do. I think the best we came up with one called Melrose.
  4. Quote: You build an audience by creating content that inspires others to tell their friends.
  5. Question: Jackson writes about Glenn Herbert, who hosted Horses in the Morning: His audience started sending in really bad ads from people selling their horses on Craigslist. As he started reading these ads, more people started to send them in. They got so many (hundreds per week) that they made “Really Bad Ads” a segment that they saved for the last half hour of their Friday show. Can you think of ways we can invite our audience to participate?
  6. When it comes to search results, what you name the podcast file matters.
  7. Sponsorships: @GregFitzShow joked about an ad on one of their episodes. We’ll try the same joke. We’ll read any family friendly advertisement or message for $20. Send me a twitter DM @billtorg or an email for more details.

Thank you for taking the time to check out our page and listen to the show. We appreciate you!

James Paul Gee and Primary Discourse

What was your first home like? Who did you live with? What did the people you lived with believe? How did they spend their time? What do you think you inherited from those you lived with? Those questions and more, inspired by linguist James Paul Gee and his notion of primary Discourse, on this Sunday, January 15, 2023 edition of the Torg Stories podcast.

Click above for audio. We discuss James Paul Gee and his notion of primary Discourse.

What do I mean, primary Discourse?  In the courses I teach at Appalachian State in Boone, North Carolina, my students and I read James Paul Gee’s article, “Individual in Community.” In it, Gee writes the following about primary Discourse: 

  • “All of us, through our primary socialization early in life in the home and peer group, acquire (at least) one initial Discourse. This initial Discourse, which I call our primary Discourse, is the one we first use to make sense of the world and interact with others.”
  • Students in my courses spend time observing, researching, reading and writing about the Discourse of their choice. This is often their chosen major, a job they want to have, or a club or team they are a member of.
  • One of the first pieces students compose as a part of their course in my classes on on the subject of their primary Discourse. One’s primary Discourse can often impact the ease or difficulty with which a person enters secondary Discourses such as a school Discourse.
This page from my scrapbook shows the role sports played in what James Paul Gee would call my primary Discourse

Readers, what do you think so far? Comments? Questions? Complaints? Here are some of the prompts I use with my students, and the ones my sister Anne and I talked through on this episode. Some of my notes about my own primary Discourse are below each prompt:

  • Describe your first “home.” What person or people lived with you? What kind of structure was it? What location in the world? (Charleston, The South, Mexico, Australia, etc).
    • Hillcrest Drive Logansport, Indiana. Three of us. College grads. Teachers. Elementary and HS. Dad: basketball, golf, mushrooms, Church, literature textbooks. Mom: all the housework and cooking, teaching. CHURCH. Dad got baptized somewhere in their early. MIDWEST. HOMOGENOUS. 
  • Tell us about the person or people you lived with beliefs and values.
    • Be nice and helpful. Go to work no matter how you’re feeling. Work hard. Meet your responsibilities. Work with young people via teams. Mom volunteer. Valued competition. Wonder where mom was with sports before she got married? 
  • Describe the identities of the first people you lived with.
    • Dad: coach. English teacher. Golfer. Mushroom hunter. 
    • Mom: a wife and mom doing everything at home and that’s a valuable thing. Reader. Hoosiers and Bears fans. 
  • Describe your first family (and that family might not be blood relation) and how you interacted with them.
    • Mom and dad were always kind to me and interested in me. They were thinking about what they could do to support me. Mom was always playing games with us, whether board games in the house or 2v1 wiffle ball in the back yard. 
  • What would you say you “inherited” from those in your primary Discourse? Sure, maybe eye color but what about things like a temper or a love of horror movies or reading or a work ethic?
    • Inherit? Teaching English / writing. Playing, watching, coaching, and finally teaching basketball. Being a reader. Consuming the news from Dad. 
    • Anne- it seems like you are the most just wanting to stay home and not talk to people, or the most withdrawn from those of your childhood. Where do you think that comes from? Is your history loving self from dad? 
  • What did the people in your primary Discourse do? How did they spend most of their time and their free time if they had any? Jobs? Stay home with you? Struggle with mental health? Always working? Read books? Watch TV? Operate a home business? As you grew up in your first years being around them and whatever it was they were doing, it probably impacted the formation of your identity. Write about that if you can. 
  • What did the people in your primary Discourse believe? Maybe hard work? Maybe not much? Maybe a god? 
  • What were the interests of those you first lived with? 
  • What language/s were spoken in your first home? 
  • What did the people you first lived with know about? Did they have a formal education? Were they experts some other way than going to school? High school grads? College? Learned the family business? 
  • Did living in The South, or the Midwest or the Northeast or any other region (whether that be in the United States or some other part of the world) shape your first identity? Maybe you consider yourself Irish or African or a Southerner? 
  • Did having money or not having money or pursuing money or not worrying about money impact your primary Discourse?
    • My kids have a lot. Mom really said she felt guilty sometimes about what we couldn’t have. Later, like in middle school, I remember trying to pick out a first day of school fit and realizing I really only had 1 or two things I wanted to wear. BUT, I think especially in elementary, it seemed like most people probably had about what we had. I don’t remember noticing much of anything in the way of lacking something, but maybe because I had enough. 
    • Later in HS, I guess things like Guess jeans or what car I drove mattered. And I think we had above average more than half. It seems like clothes and things and say what kind of phone you have matter much more now, but maybe that’s as much bigger school (1200 here vs. 400 in Winamac),
The members of my sister Anne’s primary Discourse in front of a big pine tree in the front yard of our home on Hillcrest Drive in Logansport, Indiana. From left to right: our mom Sue, my sister Anne, me Bill, and our Dad Martin

Click here for a fun introductory YouTube video I use in my classes by John Scott called “Gee: What is Discourse.” There have been 107,000 likes and 908 thumbs up for John’s video!

  • Anne, if I offered to read and leave three full comments on anyone’s drafts of their primary Discourse, think anyone would take me up on it? What would I charge? $20? Maybe include the possibility that we’d read part of the essay on the pod?

Don’t forget next week, Sunday January 23, 2023, Dave Jackson’s book How to Monetize Your Podcast.

Thank you for checking out this page and the episode of the podcast. We appreciate you!