In this course we’ll read and write public genres about the the environment–the plants, animals, geology and weather–with whom we share life. Our purpose is to explore environmental writing beyond academic forms to better communicate about the environment with public audiences. We’ll read and discuss exemplars of poetry, scientific journalism and short fiction to learn how to write in these genres. We’ll write field notes on social media site, a nonfiction feature, poetry, and a children’s book.

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contact info

instructor: k. stavenhagen
wkstavenATsyr.edu /wkstavenATesf.edu
office: 105-D Moon Library
hours: m–th 1–2 p.m. and by appointment

course description

In this course we’ll read and write public genres about the environment. I define environment as the flora and fauna with whom we share our life and health. Our purpose is to explore environmental writing beyond academic forms to better communicate about the environment with public audiences. We’ll read and discuss exemplars of poetry, scientific journalism and short fiction to learn how to write in these genres and then draft and write a microblog, a nonfiction feature, poetry, and a children’s book.

As we examine and practice these genres, we will identify the strengths and weaknesses of these forms in light of appeals to their intended audiences. We’ll contend with how to help the intended readers of our work understand environmental landscapes, cultivate attitudes about the environment, and pursue sustainable solutions. To learn to connect with our audiences, we’ll conduct the class as a writing studio wherein we’ll discuss not only readings but draft, review and discuss our own writing. 

course requirements and grading

Homework and Class Participation (15%)—This grade includes assigned annotations and short responses to the readings, brainstorming activities, imitative writing, drafts, peer review responses, reflections, in-class writing, and your contributions to class discussions and activities.In terms of participation, you are expected to raise questions, provide thoughtful observations and analyses of the texts, take part in in-class activities, and engage with your peers’ arguments and texts.

Unit 1 Assignment: Field Notes, Blog, Presentation (20%)—Write observation entries of a place, flora or fauna that you visit and post them on a social media site as an event page. Present before class your observations and interpretation of your site. 

Unit 2 Assignment: Scientific Journalism Feature Article (30%) – During the second unit, we’ll read and write a feature article about one particular flora, fauna or scientific researcher. You will research and contact a publication that publishes feature articles on science and the environment, conduct primary and secondary research, and write a 1500-2000 word magazine feature article about one flora, fauna, or researcher of your choice.

Unit 3 Assignment: Ecopoem (15%)—During the third unit, you will write a poem that addresses an environmental theme, question, or issue.

Unit 4 Assignment: Children’s Book (20%)—How would you talk about the environment with a child? The premise for this assignment is that connecting children and the environment is important and that such a genre challenges you and a group to shape a message to a particular audience with more apparent constraints. As with all assignments, but especially this one, we will read sample children’s books, create a storyboard (visual outline), and write a children’s book.  

A Note About Grading: While you will be receiving both numerical and letter grades for the four major assignments, the informal work of the class will be graded on a “check” system or a point system out of 20 points where a+” is worth a 100% (20/20), a✓+is worth an 85%(17/20), ais worth 80% (16/20), a✓-”  is worth 75 and a  “–” is gauged and marked by points 65% or lower (13/20 or lower). If, at any point in the semester, you’d like to know where your homework grade stands, just let me know and we’ll set up a meeting to review your progress in the course and calculate your tentative grade.

course objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will demonstrate the ability to:

  • Analyze the nuances and conventions of a range of professional and public genres of contemporary environmental writing.
  • Research and compose a variety of environmental document options including, but not limited to, field notes, journals, poetry, memoir, natural history, polemics, historical research, and collaborative projects.
  • Develop their writing, revising, and editing skills through instruction, feedback and practice.
  • Continue to develop their primary and secondary research skills.


Hyperlinked articles from web sites or hyperlinked PDF articles to download from the calendar page of the course website

Fisher-Wirth, Ann and Laura-Gray Street. Eds. The Ecopoetry Anthology. San Antonio, TX: Trinity, UP, 2013.

Please note: if you plan to print these documents from university computers, expect to replenish your printing supply at some point throughout the semester. As noted on the CNS webpage:

When [your] initial quota is exhausted, [you] can go to the Cashier’s office in Bray Hall (102 Bray Hall) to purchase additional printing units. 500 printing units cost $20.00 ($10.00 for 250 units(. After purchasing, students MUST present their receipt to a CNS working in room 317 Baker Labs (the HelpDesk) to have their quota replenished.

If you have environmental concerns about printing the documents, you’re encouraged to read the articles online, provided you bring electronic copies of the readings to class.


on attendance

This course relies heavily on in-class discussion, punctual attendance and energetic participation. These will be accessed and assigned a participation grade by me at the end of the semester (worth roughly 5 “homework” grades). Three unexcused absences can be had without penalty. After that your final grade will be affected If you miss the equivalent of three weeks of classes or more without any official (i.e. legitimate, documented) excuse, you will not be able to pass the course. Please note as well, that I can’t summarize or send missed class materials by email; in a subsequent class you are invited to procure handouts from me and lecture notes from a fellow student. In the case of absences, excused or unexcused, you are responsible for stopping by during my office hours or contacting a classmate to find out what you’ve missed.

on late work

The purpose of your homework is to prepare you for class discussion and writing. As such, late homework is not accepted for credit. That said, given the shuffle of the first two weeks of the semester, the first three major assignments will be accepted the same day it is due after class for a half letter grade reduction and one class period late with a full letter grade reduction. If you find yourself in need of an extension on a project with good reason, you are always welcome to discuss the possibility in advance of the project due date. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.

on academic integrity

SUNY ESF’s Academic Integrity Policy holds students accountable for the integrity of the work they submit.  Students should be familiar with the Policy and know that it is their responsibility to learn about expectations with regard to proper citation of sources in written work. Serious sanctions can result from academic dishonesty.  Further details are available here: http://www.esf.edu/students/handbook/integrity.pdf.

My addition: Anytime one borrows the words or ideas of others, the borrowed material must be properly acknowledged or documented.  Failure to do so constitutes plagiarism, a form of academic dishonesty. In this course, you will be expected to use MLA documentation for your creative non-fiction and journalism projects; the Purdue Online Writing Lab provides a great guide for MLA documentation, so you may want to visit the site as you prepare your written assignments: <http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/747/01/>. Please note that the university’s academic integrity policy extends to any work (including drafts and homework) you submit or bring to class throughout the semester, regardless of the assignment.

on accommodations

SUNY-ESF works closely with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) at Syracuse University in assisting students with learning and physical disabilities. If you believe that you need accommodations for a disability, you may contact the ESF Office of Student Affairs, 110 Bray Hall, 315-470-6660, for assistance with the process. You may also contact ODS directly, Room 309 of 804 University Avenue, 315-443-4498, to schedule an appointment to discuss your needs and the process for requesting accommodations. ODS is responsible for coordinating disability-related accommodations and will issue students with documented Disabilities Accommodation Authorization Letters, as appropriate. Since accommodations may require early planning and generally are not provided retroactively, please contact ODS as soon as possible. To learn more about ODS, visit http://disabilityservices.syr.edu

tutoring resources

The Writing Resource Center and Public Speaking Lab is located in 13 Moon Library (downstairs). Experienced writing and public speaking tutors are available to work with you in 30- to 50-minute one-on-one sessions during all stages of your writing projects. Drop-ins are allowed if tutors are available, but time slots fill quickly, especially during peak times in the semester, so I recommend you sign up in advance through the center’s online appointment system: http://esfWRC.appointy.com, Evening hours in Centennial Hall will be announced by the second week of classes on the student listserv. This is a free resource and is recommended for all formal writing and presentations.