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!