black question marks with a few red question marks scattered on a shiny black surface

Looking For Problems

What issue(s) in your life are both uncertain and significant to you and others? Chances are that is an issue worth writing about.

As my first year writers prepare to write their own good faith arguments we begin our work by writing about the problems we encounter in our daily lives as move about our communities. Many students noted that writing about these issues was both cathartic and therapeutic. May you also find inspiration in these invitations to write.

As I’ve noted before, each class session begins with this simple sentence stem I Am A Writer From… where students are invited to write and share what is heavy on their hearts or minds. To kick off our search for important problems in our lives we began with that writing: what are some problems you see again and again…problems in your life and problems in the lives of your classmates?

We then moved on to another simple sentence stem: I Wish You Knew… that is a tremendous writing inspiration I have used countless times over the years. I included some variations to guide my students.

Something I wish:

  • My family knew or understood…
  • My friends knew or understood…
  • My teachers knew or understood…
  • Morehead State knew or understood…
  • Politicians knew or understood…
  • [group of your choosing] knew or understood…

We then used a National Writing Project argument activity that directs us to write out the schedule of our last 24 hours and look for the problems (or arguments) we can find in those events. For example, I found increases in local food pantry usage, underfunding of local media, factory farming, police violence, and teacher shortages, foster care, and the myth of American individualism in my day. What can you find in yours?

We also looked back at our previous writing about social contracts, beliefs, and rhetorical analysis for problems we would like to solve with our arguments. For example, I noted

  • We need more play (in school, in adulthood, etc.)
  • We need more human connection (to succeed in school, life, etc.)
  • Our social contracts need reinforcement

Finally, we explored these questions:

  • Why did you come to college?
  • Why did you pick your major/program (or this institution)?
  • What worries you about your home and/or hometown?
  • What worries you about your future? The future of your family?
  • Wayne Brockriede defines argumentation as a dynamic process that changes as arguments develop
  • People call on argument when they encounter an issue that is both uncertain and significant
  • Arguments are not about winning but about problem solving as a community

As we contemplated the role of argument to help us grapple with issues that are both uncertain and significant in our lives, we then spent time writing about that issue. What issue(s) in your life are both uncertain and significant to you and others? Chances are that is an issue worth writing about.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay