Suggest the Writing Assignments for My “Intro to Christian Scriptures” Course

I’m finishing up my syllabus for the intro to Christian Scriptures course I will be teaching in the Fall.  The blank that remains is exactly what the writing assignment will be.  While I do have a few ideas of my own, I’m asking for your suggestions, to see what is out there.

Here are a few specs on the course to help guide your suggestions:
*The course is largely lecture-based, with 60 Baylor freshmen enrolled.
*The writing has to be minimal (for their sake and for mine!). 
*At present I have 4 separating writing assignments on the dockett, each running about 3-4 pages (750-1000 words).
*I want it to be something that will force them to think and engage the material.  Yet something still manageable for a room full of freshmen, only 2 of which are religion majors (and if they knew as much as I did when I became a religion major, let’s just count them as non-majors!).
*These are NOT research papers.  Just assignments to help them think on the material and to help refine their writing.

A favorite of some that I know has been to write a reflection on a biblical text in relation to a movie (the Matrix trilogy is verboten!).  While I don’t love this assignment personally, it forces them to think.  Still wrestling with it.

So, what do you suggest?  Four separate assignments, roughly 3 pages each.  I eagerly await your insights!

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14 thoughts on “Suggest the Writing Assignments for My “Intro to Christian Scriptures” Course

  1. Michael says:

    Great opportunity, John!

    Just assign portions of your dissertation, and (viola!) research is done!

    No, seriously, I’ll get back to you on this.

    A fun movie for the assignment you mentioned would be to have them work on a text in relation to Harry Potter. Might knock some sense into some of the fundie freshies.

  2. John Anderson says:

    Michael, the only thing is I want my dissertation to be publishable!

    I’m open to having them pick their own movies if they want, so long as it isn’t the Matrix.

    I have already been told the fundie freshies can get a little offended quite quickly when the teacher doesn’t make this a Sunday School class. Good times.

  3. Joseph Kelly says:

    Have them pick a particular genre found in the Bible and write a modern version of their own. The possibilities are endless and will make reading and grading much more exciting for you. I had to do this in my Psalms and Wisdom Literature course in my undergrad, and I know the same teacher required the same assignment in Paul’s Epistles class. For the latter, the kids had to write a letter to a church they had been a part of at one point in their life. This assignment would require even less length, but if done well it could require as much or even more work than a 3-4 page paper.

  4. Roy "Eli" Garton says:

    Assuming that you’re having the students turn their assignments in every four to five weeks, you could have the students write a page length personal reflection for each week of class. I know this sounds mundane, but it may be easier to grade as well as more realistic for the students: you only have to check the page length (if you’re pressed for time), and it doesn’t assume that every person in the room is an avid movie-goer. One caveat: In order to ensure critical reflection, you could have them put in bold the critical issue they are reflecting upon, and extra points if that bolded issue is in comparison/contrast to something culturally significant. Just a thought.

  5. Jim says:

    why make it so complex- you’re only adding to your own misery at having to read tons of rubbish. i suggest you abandon the written portion and instead have each student preach a 10 minute sermon on a text you assign. then you’ll see if they know scripture

  6. Jill says:

    I enjoy the Bible blogging community a lot, but I imagine that very few bloggers have taught a large bible survey course at the freshman level. Otherwise, you would hear that if you require 4 750 word min. papers from 65 students (plus an exam or two) you will get overwhelmed not by grading their exegesis but basic freashman writing skills (clear thesis, structure of arguement, etc.). Unless you have TAs, assign 2 papers for each student max. If you haven’t already, go online and look for syllabi from other courses at universities of Baylor’s size, you’ll see what I mean. Maybe Bibb would have some advice on this? After all, you will be writing your dissertation and hopefully have SBL interviews to prepare for as well.

  7. John Anderson says:

    Joseph: Thank you for this idea. It may be a bit too narrow, but I do like it as a possibility for one of the assignments.

    Roy: I had thought about something like this. My only fear is getting mindlessness; I don’t know that this would require them to think too terribly critically. But I have thought about it and may use it as one of the final assignments (i.e., how has/has not this course changed how you read the Bible). Thanks.

    Jim: I don’t know how this is complicated, but I am glad you empathize with my reading this stuff. Such is the life of the teacher-academic! I actually don’t mind it so long as the students have an interesting prompt, which is what I’m after here. And since I don’t have an MDiv, and have never preached a sermon in my life, I don’t know how helpful it would be to have the students do it. It’s a different animal.

    Jill: Thanks for your words of warning. I have thought this over a lot in trying to formulate the nature of the assignments. In looking back over my syllabus I think I may chop it down to 3 or maybe 2, pending how many prompts I come up with that work. Probably 3, unless I have the “how has this course affected your reading of the Bible” be a part of the final exam. My rationale, though, in wanting to assign actual writing that will require actual work is because I am all too aware of the atrocity that is undergraduate writing. These assignments would serve many purposes: getting them to (hopefully) think critically about a given topic, as well as forcing them to write cogently and clearly. I’m a stickler for that, and think it would be a valuable learning tool that could (read: should) help them immensely in their next 3 or 4 years at Baylor. But I do agree with you entirely on the balance with dissertation and job interviews. Between the two, the latter is going to win out.

    Other suggestions?

  8. Michael says:

    What about having them write a first person short story as a biblical character, following the material in the biblical text? Sort of a short version of Longenecker’s Lost Letters of Pergamum.

  9. Brian Small says:

    Hey John, here are some suggestions:

    For my class I am having them select a biblical figure and then do a character study on that figure.

    Another possibility is to have them select a movie related to a biblical story and then have them critique it in terms of its biblical accuracy. I have compiled a list of movies. I will send it to you; you only need ask.

    Another writing assignment I have though of recently is to have students select one of the ANE texts like the Atrahasis Epic, Enuma Elish or Epic of Gilgamesh and then have them do a comparison/contrast with the creation or flood story.

  10. Michael says:

    What about re-enacting the scene from Elisha and the young folks in 2 Kings 2. You could have part of the class dress up as whoever Baylor is playing that week in football. Then, they could mock you (Elisha). Next, two luck chaps could burst into the classroom donning (Baylor) bear costumes… You know the rest of the story.

    🙂

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

  11. John Anderson says:

    Brian: I like the idea of a character study, but how do you construct the assignment at their level? You NT folk are far more adept at characterization than we OT’ers.

    Michael: It’s good to know you read the Hebrew Bible! That allays many of my concerns for you.

    Brian (again): I’m up to the task!!

  12. Brian Small says:

    I prepared an instruction sheet on how to do a character study. We should talk and then I can explain at length what I am having them do this semester.

    Since you mention OT people: Alter, Berlin, Bar-Efrat, and Gunn & Fewell all have chapters on characterization in their respective books.

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