Wing It 1: Descriptive Essay Prompt

The following assignment was designed as a first big writing assignment for a freshman level writing class. The intention of this assignment is to achieve three goals:

  1. Teach students about descriptive writing
  2. Teach students about being clear and concise with their writing
  3. Help students “jump”into more formal writing in a way that feels relatively familiar

Students will complete a longer draft, a minimum of 500 words, to be submitted for peer review, before cutting that draft back to a maximum of 350 words. After the writing assignment is completed, students will submit their work to Orion Magazine for consideration.

Assignment Overview

Prompt: For this assignment, you will write a descriptive essay in which you describe a place that is especially significant. This can be your favorite place, your least favorite place, a place you go often, a place where you spend a lot of your time, a place that you have only seen once, a place that you never want to return to again, a place that holds happy or sad memories for you, or a place that you dream about. As you write about the place, keep these questions in mind:

What connects you to your place? What history does it hold for you? What are your hopes and fears for it? What do you do to protect it, or prepare it for the future, or make it better?

The place should be an actual physical, geographic location that you can point to on a map. You should also include one or two visuals. The visuals may be photos, drawings, paints, maps, or a combination of these.  

There are some things to keep in mind while writing:

  1. Detail: Descriptive essays are most effective when they employ an ample amount of sensory details. 
  2. Conciseness: Although you should use adequate detail in your description, you should pick the best details. 
  3. Point of view: For many academic essays, third person is your best choice. However, for a descriptive essay, first person is a viable option. You should use your best judgement as to what point of view will be the best fit.  

Sources: You will not need any sources for this essay. 

Length: 350 words maximum (This is a strict maximum.)*

*NOTE: This word count is not a typo. I want you to write big in your draft, and then cut back so that you can practice being specific and concise with your language. 

Format: MLA

Submission:You may submit this assignment by uploading a file (.doc or .docx) or by using Google Docs.  After you have submitted the document to the Canvas site, go to this link: Orion Magazine and submit it there too. If you get published, I will give you 10 points extra credit on the final grade. 

NOTE: This is the shortest of the essays you will write for this class.

Rubric

Description: The place is clearly identified and is described with enough sensory detail to engage the reader.
This area will be used by the assessor to leave comments related to this criterion.
/15.0 pts
Conciseness: The document contains sufficient detail in the description, yet the details chosen are used concisely and efficiently.
/15.0 pts
Questions: All of the following questions are answered: What connects you to your place? What history does it hold for you? What are your hopes and fears for it? What do you do to protect it, or prepare it for the future, or make it better?
/15.0 pts
Length: The document follows the length restrictions. The final does not exceed 350 words.
/5.0 pts
Formatting: Document is free of typographical errors and is in MLA format. All quotes are appropriately cited in-text. Works cited page is correctly formatted.
/10.0 pts
Total Points: 60.0

My Attempt

There is a hill behind my house that I climb every morning with my dogs. From that vantage point I can see for many miles in every direction. I had never been one for views, until I moved to the desert. While I would still rather be deep in an old-growth forest, there is something about this landscapes that pushes me out of bed with the sunrise to take measure of the day. From the top of the hill I can see the dappled Sandia mountains to south and the snow-capped Jemez to the north. To the west I see the great rising mass of the flat-topped Cabezon, towering over an open plain, and to the east I see the hills I have no name for, but they roll on nonetheless, through peaks and dips and hidden springs. This is desert yes, but perhaps not what you would think of. This is high desert, where trees and cactus meet, where the spring landscape explodes with color.   There are people here, but not so many. We hear our dogs in the night, but I only see them after my climb. At six a.m. barely anyone is stirring, so it is me and the chaos of my thoughts against the seeming hush of sunrise. But it is not really quiet. Instead I hear the ravens in their nest as the babies squawk for breakfast, and the yipping murmur of coyotes bedding down for the day. Sometimes I share the hill with long-legged wild horses, who turn their brown noses to watch me pass. There are quiet snakes and little horned lizards too, who hearing the crunch of my sandals, usually give me a wide berth. Rabbits hold their grey-brown bodies still until my dogs have passed, then the burst for their burrows in a blink. There are always birds calling as they dart between pinon and juniper and bush. Some will cross the arroyo later to visit my feeders: Tit Mouse, Curved Bill Thrasher, Spotted Towhee, Pinon Jay, Dark-Eyed Junco, their names rolling in my mouth like a foreign tongue. If it has rained, the air smells heavy and fresh. If not, I can smell the coolness of night burning off as the rising sun peeks over the horizon, calling the ants from their mounds.

Grade

RUBRIC

Description: The place is clearly identified and is described with enough sensory detail to engage the reader.
The place itself could have been described in greater detail.
13/15.0 pts
Conciseness: The document contains sufficient detail in the description, yet the details chosen are used concisely and efficiently.
 There are several items/things described, and their description is not overly excessive. The description could have been more precise.
13/15.0 pts
Questions: All of the following questions are answered: What connects you to your place? What history does it hold for you? What are your hopes and fears for it? What do you do to protect it, or prepare it for the future, or make it better?
 All of the questions are not addessed.
12/15.0 pts
Length: The document follows the length restrictions. The final does not exceed 350 words.
 Good.
5/5.0 pts
Formatting: Document is free of typographical errors and is in MLA format. All quotes are appropriately cited in-text. Works cited page is correctly formatted.
 Fine. There are no quotes. There is no need for a Works Cited page.
10/10.0 pts
Total Points: 53/60.0
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