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8.8 End-of-Chapter Assessment

Key Takeaways

  • While literature often portrays nature, it also reflects human attitudes toward nature. Those attitudes can spring from historical, political, and/or social causes, but they can provide useful insight into the relationship between society and the natural world.
  • You can understand a text’s ecological implications by paying particular attention to the way that natural features, animals, ecosystems, and the like are described within a given story, poem, play, or essay.
  • When writing ecocritical arguments about literature, you should avoid anachronistic claims that impute modern understandings of the environment to works written in previous periods. You can, however, discuss the ways that historical texts convey ideas that prefigure, echo, or run contrary to modern environmentalist thought.
  • When revising a paper for a literature class, you should think more broadly than simply proofreading. The process of revision should lead to significant changes and improvements in your transitions, claims, and evidence, as well as to the mechanics of your prose.

Writing Exercise

  1. Freewriting exercise. Make a list of all the “natural” words and/or phrases in a work of literature that you’ve read for class. These might include animal names, plant names, descriptions of natural features, or accounts of natural phenomena. Look over this list—what relationships do you see among the words you identified? How might these words help you craft an ecocritical research question?

Instructor Supplement: Class Exercise

  1. It can be difficult for students to see the environmental nuances in works that are not explicitly about nature. To help students see the ways that literature about, say, the industrial city can be read through an ecocritical lens, ask them to rewrite a passage from such a work in the mode of a Romantic writer. For instance, you might ask them to rewrite a passage from Life in the Iron Mills as a poem in the style of Walt Whitman. Such “mashups” can help expose the hidden elements of a work they might not otherwise notice. For more on this idea, see Ryan Cordell’s ProfHacker post on the subject ( Cordell, “Mashups in the Literature Classroom,” ProfHacker (blog), The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 9, 2010,

Instructor Supplement: Class Peer Review

  1. Have students conduct peer review on one of the sample papers using the organizational peer-review guide found in Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.7 "Chapter 8: Ecocritical":

    1. Place students in groups of three to four and have them reread the paper for peer review and fill out the guide sheet
    2. Have students discuss their feedback responses to the sample paper.
    3. Have students list the major feedback they discussed.
    4. Put the major issues on the blackboard or whiteboard.
    5. Discuss these responses. Make certain that you let students know that any paper can be improved.
  2. Plan to have your students conduct peer review on the drafts of their papers that they are writing in your class. Use the peer-review guide from Chapter 10 "Appendix A: Peer Review Sheets", Section 10.7 "Chapter 8: Ecocritical" and have them work in groups of three and do the following:

    1. Bring two hard copies of their paper so that each member can read the paper, OR work in a computer lab where students can share their papers on line. You may want to use the educational software that your campus supports—for example, Blackboard or Moodle—or you can have students use Google Drive to set up their peer-review groups.
    2. Have two students focus on the first paper in the group. While these students are reading, have the other student read the other two student papers.
    3. The two students should quickly fill out the peer-review sheet and then have a brief conversation about the strengths of the paper and ways the paper could be improved.
    4. Move to the next student and follow the same process. Depending on the length of your class, you may have to reduce the peer-review groups to two students.
    5. If time permits, ask the students to provide general comments—or ask questions—about the specific papers or the assignment overall.
    6. You may want to use peer review for each paper in your class.