Students in a First-Year Writing Seminar

Nuts and Bolts: Logistics, Books, and Grades

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Nuts and Bolts: Logistics, Books, and Grades

Instructor responsibilities

If you are a graduate student teaching a FWS, remember that you are fully responsible for this course—for grades, attendance standards, book orders (usually), and so on. This also means meeting every scheduled session of your course: if you fall ill and have to miss a class, for instance, you are responsible for making arrangements to cover that class. Your department’s support staff, your DGS, and your course leader are appropriate people to help you.

Students in your seminar

Students placed in a particular First-Year Writing Seminar will come from all undergraduate schools and colleges, will rarely be majoring in that particular subject, and will have selected your seminar as one of their top choices.

Scheduling of class rooms and times

Your department arranges teaching times and rooms; contact the appropriate administrator for information in these areas. Final examinations are not normally given in FWSs. Rather, you might hold final conferences during exam week, collect final drafts of essays, or have students submit portfolios of finished work. Certain hours shall be free from all formal undergraduate class exercises, including film screenings—4:25 P.M. to 7:30 P.M. on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; after 4:25 P.M. on Friday; after 12:05 P.M. on Saturday; and all day Sunday. In addition, classes may not meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. These times are reserved for activities such as prelims, sports, clubs, music, and eating.

Submitting syllabi

The Knight Institute should receive a copy of yoursyllabus by Wednesday of the first complete week in each semester. Please include not only the required reading list but also a schedule for having students read, write, and revise. This information is useful when students inquire about courses, and it helps us to keep abreast of the state of the Institute. If you are a graduate student, you should also give a copy of your syllabus to your course leader.

Ordering books

If you are designing your own FWS, you are responsible for ordering books. The support staff of your department can help you with this process and may be available to assist you to obtain desk copies. These individuals can also advise you about compiling course packets of readings through The Cornell Store or other vendors. Be sure to keep track of how much students will have to spend on texts for your First-Year Writing Seminar. Given that these are 3-credit courses, costs should normally not exceed $200 at most.

If you have not taught a seminar before, it makes sense to consult someone about which books to choose. If you are a graduate student instructor, your course leader will be able to advise you in this area.

You might either choose a handbook for use in your seminar, or plan to show students how to make effective use of online materials relating to matters of form, grammar, style, and documentation: first-year students need to know how to deploy such resources, and you will need to use these with them actively during the semester. For possibilities, consult the libraries in the Knight Institute (M101 McGraw) and the Writing Workshop (174 Rockefeller Hall). Free online resources include comprehensive websites such as the Purdue Online Writing Laboratory (OWL). Please be aware that some handbooks can be quite pricey; you may find that a smaller, less expensive version will serve your purpose. The Knight Institute library includes a collection of handbooks designed for use with specific disciplines.

Books on style

  • Lanham, Richard. Revising Prose, 5th ed. Longman, 2006.
  • Trimble, John R. Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing, 3rd ed. Longman, 2010.
  • Williams, Joseph M and Joseph Bizup. Style: Lessons in Clarity and Grace, 12th ed. Pearson, 2016.
  • Williams, Joseph M. and Joseph Bizup. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace5th ed. Longman, 2014.

Handbooks and other resources

  • Graff, Gerald and Cathy Birkenstein. They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing, 4th ed.Norton, 2017.
  • Bullock, Richard, Michael Brody, and Francine Weinberg. The Little Seagull Handbook. 3rd ed. Norton, 2016
  • Hacker, Diana. A Writer’s Reference. 9th ed., MLA Update, Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2017
  • Raimes, Ann. Keys for Writers, 8th ed., MLA Update,Wadsworth Publishing, 2017.
  • Hjortshoj, Keith. The Transition to College Writing, 2nd ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010.
  • Rosenwasser, David and Jill Stephen. Writing Analytically8th ed. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2018.


Books and websites on use of sources

  • The Code of Academic Integrity and Acknowledging the Work of Others. To download copies to use in class go to: academic-integrity/
  • Cornell’s Library website includes a Citation Management link on the home page in the Research column: excellent site provides links to APA, Chicago, and MLA citation style guides. Students will find information and examples for each of the citation styles. This page also contains information about citation management software that is currently used and supported at Cornell—Zotero, Mendeley, and EndNote—and a link to information about the Code of Academic Integrity.


Course packets

If you are designing your own coursepack of readings, ask the Custom Publishing Department at The Cornell Store to estimate costs. Permissions fees can be prohibitive.


Canvas is a web-based course management system that makes it easy for instructors to manage distribution of materials, assignments, communications, and other aspects of instruction for their courses. Go to to get started.

Copyright and fair use of documents

It is important that you follow legal guidelines for texts that you post on Blackboard, put on electronic reserve, or collect for a course packet.

For Canvas, you should, every semester, for each text, complete the “Fair Use Checklist” that can be downloaded from When you reteach a course, it is better to create a coursepack than to put texts protected by copyright online for a second and subsequent semesters. When you put texts on Canvas, be sure to set controls to limit access only to students in the course—excluding guest, observer, and self-enroll privileges. This step is an important means of avoiding copyright infringement.

Collecting and returning papers

Do not collect or return papers by asking students to deposit them in or gather them from boxes, mailrooms, or other unattended stations. Such procedures are illegal because they do not protect students’ confidentiality (and, alas, can invite cheating.) Do not ask your department’s office staff to collect your papers unless you are certain that they have agreed to this procedure.

You should collect and return papers individually and in person, in class or office hours. It is acceptable to collect papers in electronic format, such as email attachments or Canvas posts, and you may decide to provide feedback for revision electronically as well, such as emailing comments or inserting them in Microsoft Word. However, no grade information or other identifying information such as ID numbers should ever be communicated over email or seen or heard by anyone other than the recipient. Please exercise vigilance for the security of private information and anything that could be construed as the student’s educational record. Do not speak to parents about a student’s coursework without express written permission from the student. See Cornell’s policies at


Graduate students and temporary lecturers who offer First-Year Writing Seminars are the ultimate arbiters of the grades their students receive. They are the official instructors of the courses they teach, whether or not those courses are sections of a larger instructional entity with a single name (e.g., “True Stories”). Only they can decide to change the grades they award. Considerations of equity nonetheless suggest that the grading standards in a multi-sectioned course should be reasonably uniform—as indeed they should be in First-Year Writing Seminars as a whole. Students who wish to lodge a formal protest about the grades they receive should be directed to the Chair of the department in which a course is given (though even a Chair cannot overrule an instructor). Course leaders and the Director of First-Year Writing Seminars can sometimes help to defuse such problems informally.

When you are helping students improve their writing, the comments you make on papers are more important than the grades you assign; comments also take more time and more effort. If you would like to know more about how to comment on essays (and about grading), you should, if you are a graduate student instructor, consult your course leader. You can also consult Gottschalk and Hjortshoj’s The Elements of Teaching Writing, available in M101 McGraw Hall.