Diagram of contextualizing. Options for approaching: situate ideas and arguments into historical and critical contexts. Develop a critical vocabulary for a given conversation. Deploy different types of evidence rhetorically. Understanding social activity that shapes genres (e.g., academic publications). Options for doing: Remix gathered data into an overview of a context. Copyright; responsible sourcing of media; citation practices. Use library technologies; databases.

When students contextualize, they are situating ideas, arguments, or practices in a larger context (e.g., a historical context, a critical context, a cultural context) in order to call their audience’s attention to that context. Contextualizing goes beyond summarizing the relevant information about an author or idea; when students contextualize, they use research in order to construct or bring into view a picture of the broad-scale situation, circumstance(s), or relationships that surround an issue, text, genre, or mode (as opposed to tracing a particular conversation within an issue, as in engaging a conversation).

Contextualizing Learning Objectives

  • Determine the relevant context for a project (e.g., historical, cultural, philosophical, ideological, research contexts)
  • Recognize how contexts shape meaning, use, and distribution of texts.
  • Situate a project, issue, or event within the relevant context
    • Establish the relationship between the context and the project
    • Explore the ways social activity shapes genres
  • Represent the context accurately and ethically using collected and curated research
    • Make use of diverse sources
    • Assess how disciplinary conventions affect composition practices
  • Make connections between your context and your values

Information Literacy Threshold Concepts

  • Authority is constructed and contextual
  • Information has value

Habits of Mind

  • Openness
  • Persistence
  • Flexibility
  • Responsibility


Assignment Writing Goals Contextualizing work
Annotated Bibliography Situate ideas into a historical context - develop a critical vocabulary Explore what each source shows us about the larger context surrounding a particular issue
Process note Understand social activity that shapes genres Reflect on the choices the student made and challenges encountered while working on a project
Genre analysis Understand social activity that shapes genres Investigate the history and cultural context of a kind of text (e.g., the political cartoon)
Short documentary Situate ideas into a historical context - deploy different types of evidence rhetorically Present an issue at length from multiple perspectives
Infographic Deploy different types of evidence rhetorically - situate ideas Remix gathered data on a particular issue into a visual form



Scholarly Bibliography

Devitt, Amy. “Teaching Critical Genre Awareness.” Genre in a Changing World, edited by Charles Bazerman, et al., The WAC Clearinghouse, 2009, pp. 337-351.

Beaufort, Anne. “Operationalizing the Concept of Discourse Community: A Case Study of One Institutional Site of Composing.” Research in the Teaching of English, vol. 31, no. 4, 1997, pp. 486–529.


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