FL1010 Freshman English, Spring 2017

TA Session

Teaching Assistant: Kent Chang ([email protected])

(draft; PDF)

Why TA Writing Workshops: (1) you can improve your writing, since we’ll be looking at nuances of grammar and ways to write better sentences; (2) this requires little preparation compared to other assignments.

Writing assignments

In-workshop assignments (25 points each)

In-workshop assignments are distributed at the beginning of workshop sessions, and you are expected to finish and return them to me before you leave. Not homework.

Why short assignments: (1) they require less commitment, and (2) they are easier compared to the longer ones (good for those doing more than 22 credits).

Short writing assignments for grading

Homework—Brief reflections (10 points each)

Short watching assignment options

Short assignments (1–3): study tips

We’ll have three short assignment discussion sessions before midterm, and they revolve around the same topic: how to be a better student. Last semester, we talked about how to be more productive, and this semester, we’ll try to figure out how to study more effectively. I know everyone has different a learning style, and I hope through this assignment, you can develop your style, improving your note-taking skills, developing your study habits, etc.

Watching assignment: In the following YouTube channels, you can find videos (generally short ones, most less than 10 minutes) in which each YouTuber shares his/her study tips. You don’t necessarily have to watch videos from them; if you find other similar-themed videos that interest you more, you’re more than welcome to share them with us! After you have at least watched one related video, you can write your brief reflection and/or come to a short assignment discussion session.

Short assignments (4–6): TED Talks

After midterm, we’ll watch longer TED Talks (than those you watch in the first hour sessions) and discuss them. You can watch a 10- or 20-minute TED Talk. Afterwards, you can write your reflection, and/or come to a discussion session.

Watching assignment: Any TED Talk. Some suggestions:

Or you may just check out their playlist of the most popular talks of all.

Why longer assignments: If you somehow believe that learning English can help you gain “international perspectives” (whatever that really means), you should give one of these a try.

Longer writing assignments for grading

Homework—Listening journals (25 points each)

  • Instructions: Outline the content of your longer watching/listening assignment (see below), and copy some collocations and memorable quotes. You can download the template below, type your work in the Word document, and upload the completed journal to our Facebook group.
  • Submission: Upload your file to our Facebook group.
  • Why this assignment: This is how you can improve your English through listening to authentic material. We talked about the crucial importance of storing “sound files” in your head, and this is how. Another thing I mentioned was learning new collocations (instead of one new vocabulary word at a time) in contexts, so you should be able to understand the design of this journal. This is also something you can keep after this course.
Download listening journal template (Word .doc)

Homework—Listening responses (35 points each)

  • Instructions: Give your response to and critique of relevant watching/listening assignment and/or answers to the suggested questions (you don’t have to answer all of them if more than one is listed). Similarly, you can download the template, type your work there, and upload your response to our Facebook group.
  • Submission: Upload your file to our Facebook group.
  • Why this assignment: It’s more like an essay assignment, so it gives you another chance to practice your English writing. On the other hand, since you have to actually watch something before writing it, and you have enough time to do so, you are more likely to produce writings of substance.
Download listening response template (Word .doc)

Longer watching/listening assignment options

Assignments 1–3 can make you more informed about current events, and the remaining three can, to a certain degree, be regard as dramatic representations of social issues behind those events in our contemporary world.

Donald Trump, social media, and the notion of reality


It’s difficult because it’s essentially a comedy show, so it’s full of cultural references as well as proper names which you might not know. Plus, Oliver speaks a somewhat curious variation of British English.

Purpose and goal

This assignment can give you more context as you read our first assigned reading for group project presentation. Also through this assignment, I hope you can learn more about what’s happening in America after Trump took office. Last Week Tonight, despite it being unmistakably liberal, has a team that tends to do well on fact-checking and citing sources of materials used for their show.

Required material 2
Suggested Google Searches

Steve Bannon, Breitbart, Infowars

Suggested Questions
  • Describe your experience of watchng Last Week Tonight. Do you find it difficult to understand? What makes you feel stuck?
  • What does Olive advise people to do, given the current situation?
  • How do you judge whether a piece of information on Facebook is true and its source reliable? Explain.
  • A New York Times reporter, Nick Confessore suggests during the election night, “There is obviously a huge disconnect between different parts of the country—it is a gap of race, of class, of opportunity and of power. The dizzying shift tonight—when Clinton was so heavily favored going in and now is favored to lose—hints that the gap is not merely demographic, but informational.” Comment on Facebook’s latent contribution to Donald Trump’s presidency.

Additional homework options
return to quick links

Freakonomics Radio: Why Uber Is an Economist’s Dream


I also assigned an episode from Freakonomics Radio so it should seem familiar. You know that both Dubner and Levitt are quite articulate and speak this clear American English. Plus you can find the transcript of this episode. So, this assignment shouldn’t be too difficult.

Purpose and goal

People here in Taiwan start talking about Uber again after our Transportation Ministry ordered Uber Taiwan to cease operations, and you might be able to sense some sentiment attached to this issue. This assignment invites you to consider Uber from another perspective—that of an economist. This assignment serves as the continuation of our gig economy discussion last semester.

Required material 1
Suggested Google Searches

Uber, demand curve

Suggested Questions
  • How is Uber “the embodiment of what the economists would like the economy to look like”? Explain.
  • How is the advantage which Levitt cliams Uber has related to its operation in Taiwan? Can you refute Levitt’s argument and
return to quick links

The Guardian Politics Weekly Podcast: The housing crisis, the Brexit bill and the French election


The language can be more difficult—you’ll hear more than one variety of British English in the podcast. Other than that, it depends on how informed you are about western politics: if Theresa May, Article 50, the commons and the lords and Marine Le Pen don’t sound completely strange to you, you should be fine.

Purpose and goal

We’re reading an article on homelessness in the US. In fact, housing is also a huge issue in the UK, and you can learn more about it through this assignment. On the other hand, Taiwanese media tend to focus too much on the personality of Trump, as if he was the only person that matters in the international political scene. But Brexit and the sentiment against which Le Pen rises up as well as its implication to the unity of EU are also worth your attention.

Required material 1
Suggested Google Searches

Brexit, Theresa May, Article 50, Marine Le Pen

Suggested Questions
  • What’s the implication of triggering Article 50? Try to sense the sentiment against this issue as you listen to the podcast.
  • What’s the cause of the housing crisis?
  • Some compare Le Pen to Donald Trump. Explain why it is or it is not fair.

Additional homework options

The following articles are written in a higher-level English:

return to quick links

In the Heights


This can give you an idea of how this assignment can be difficult: In the Heights is the winner of Best Musical of Tony Awards in 2008, and entered the finalist of Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009. This information might give you some idea of the level of English you can expect. Further, the lyricist frequently mixes Spanish with English and uses obscure words. Also, the extensive cultural references can strike you as quite daunting. That said, the musical can really teach you something you didn’t know and put things into perspective. Indeed, it’s the most challenging longer assignment, but it’s also the most interesting and informative one.

Purpose and goal

This assignment means to enable you to appreciate a different culture and another side of America. If anything, this assignment can give you an idea of why Trump is elected and a sense of the unfortunate entanglement between class and income manifesting in contemporary American society. In this light, this assignment is related to many of the assigned readings for this semester. Also, if you found Hamilton: an American Musical from last semester interesting, you can’t miss In the Heights.

This assignment will show that we and Americans are indeed different, but also surprisingly similar at the same time. You will have a glimpse of Hispanic culture and the situation of Latin American immigrants.

Required material 2
In addition to at least one thing from the backgrounds section above, choose one:
  • In the Heights: low quality cam
  • In the Heights Original Broadway Cast Recording: YouTube playlist
    You should listen/watch the whole thing, but you may choose to focus on a theme :
    1. situation of the immigrants in Washington Heights (the Usnavi and Abuela Claudia track):
      • “In the Heights” (introducing characters, ending with Usnavi’s manifesto)
      • “96,000” (a massive “I Want” song, also highlighting how poor the bodega is)
      • “Paciencia y Fe” (Abuela Claudia’s song!)
      • “Blackout” (pay attention to Usnavi’s interaction first with Vanessa and abuela; end of Act 1)
      • “Hundreds of Stories” (the relationship between Abuela Claudia and Usnavi)
      • “Carnaval del Barrio” (contrast Usnavi here and in “96,000”, and find translations for all the Spanish phrases, as they are important)
      • “Atentión” (no annotation to avoid spoliers)
      • “Alabanza”
      • “Finale”
    2. love story in the Heights (the Benny and Nina track):
      • “In the Heights”
      • “Breathe” (Nina’s first appearance)
      • “Inutil” (Nina’s father’s song)
      • “No Me Diga” (cf. “Breathe”)
      • “96,000” (Why isn’t Nina in this song?)
      • “When You’re Home” (note the gender reversal in the Benny-Nina relationship)
      • “The Club” (a sarcastic Benny spitting it out!)
      • “Blackout” (You have to see the video for this one, pay attention to how it ends!)
      • “Sunrise”
      • “Enough” (Nina’s mother talking!)
      • “Atentión”
      • “Alabanza”
      • “Everything I know”
      • “When the Sun Goes Down”
Suggested Google Searches

Lin-Manuel Miranda, Washington Heights, Latino/Latina/Latinx, graffiti, hip-hop

Suggested Questions
  • Last semester, some of you didn’t understand why coffee was of such importance to Costa Rica residents when we listened to The Secret of Happiness. What new insights did Heights give you? In other words, consider Usanvi’s role in the bodega.
  • Compare Miranda’s story to other immigrant stories you have heard. We learned the word, homogeneous, last term. Why can’t you say America is a homogeneous society?
  • Streetlight: Consider the following passage. Describe the crisis that Usnavi is in; is it resolved in the end? Also explicate the image of streetlight (also mentioned in “Paciencia y Fe”) as well as its symbolic significance in the play.

    Yeah, I’m a streetlight, chokin’ on the heat
    The world spins around while I’m frozen to my seat
    The people that I know all keep on rollin' down the street
    But every day is different so I’m switchin’ up the beat

    ’Cuz my parents came with nothing, they got a little more
    And sure, we’re poor, but yo, at least we got the store
    And it’s all about the legacy they left with me, it’s destiny
    And one day I’ll be on a beach with Sonny writing checks to me

    “In the Heights”
  • Why does Nina say this?

    I am the one who made it out!
    The one who always made the grade
    But maybe I should have just stayed home . . .

  • This dialogue appears before “Benny’s Dispatch” in the actual production (look up ‘dispatch’ first if you don’t know what that is). Discuss Kevin’s hostility towards Benny (Kevn is Benny’s boss, Nina’s father), and how this complicates Benny and Nina’s relationship. For further discussion, you may want to take a look at how Benny describes his boss in “96,000”. It’s also interesting to consider how languages we speak construct our identities: we live on an island where people mix English and Chinese to talk posh, but do characters in the play mix English and Spanish for the same reason?

    Hey, boss, I’ll cover the mdio.


    You don't speak Spanish.


    Five years with these drivers?


    You’re not Latino.


    How much English did you speak when you started here? Benny is honorary Latino.
    (KEVIN hands BENNY the radio.)


    Ahem, there's a new voice riding the heat wave today—


    Just get them from point A to point B.

  • Sonny’s “I Want” song: Discuss the significance of the following passage. While Sonny’s youthful idealism is appealing, consider also if it ever occurs to you that there are places without “wireless web browsing” in New York? But then, is gentrification necessarily a good thing?

    With ninety-six thousand, I’d finally fix housin’
    Give the barrio computers with wireless web browsin’
    Your kids are livin’ without a good edjumication
    Change the station, teach 'em about gentrification
    The rent is escalatin’




    The rich are penetratin’




    We pay our corporations when we should be demonstratin’




    What about immigration?




    Politicians be hatin’




    Racism in this nation’s gone from latent to blatant




    I’ll cash my ticket and picket, invest in protest
    Never lose my focus 'til the city takes notice
    And you know this man! I'll never sleep
    Because the ghetto has a million promises for me to keep!


    (spoken) You are so cute!

  • In an interview with the creator of the show, Miranda said that there are prescribed roles for Latinos, both on screen and in real life. Abuela Claudia’s “Paciencia y Fe” can give you a glimpse of such situation. Discuss the following quotation in this light. (You’ll have to figure out what paciencia y fe means, first thing. Also Google “Mayor La Guardia”.)

    Fresh off the boat in America
    Freezing in early December
    A crowded city in Nineteen Forty-Three!
    Learning the ropes in America
    In español, I remember
    Dancing with Mayor La Guardia
    All of society welcoming mami and me!


    You better clean this mess!


    Paciencia y fe . . .


    You better learn inglés [English]!


    Paciencia y fe . . .


    You better not be late!—
    You better pull your weight!—
    Are you better off than you were with the birds of La Vibora?

    “Paciencia y Fe”
  • Why is this funny? Explain. (Unless you didn’t get it.)

    Let me get an amaretto sour for this ghetto flower!
    How are you so pretty?
    You complete me
    You had me at “hello,” you know you need me
    Truly, madly, deeply, let’s get freaky
    Oh I get it you’re the strong and silent type
    Well, I’m the Caribbean island type
    And I can drive you wild all night!
    But I digress!
    Say something so I don’t stress!


    No hablo inglés [I don’t speak English.]



    “The Club”
  • Why does Carla say she’s from Queens? Now do you know why you really shouldn’t keep asking people: “Where are you from?”

    Uh . . . My mom is Dominican-Cuban
    My dad is from Chile and P.R. which means:
    I’m Chile-Domini-Curican . . .
    But I always say I’m from Queens!

    “Carnaval del Barrio”
  • Why does Usnavi say this? What’s on his mind? What does this enlighten you about the immigrant narrative?

    There’s a breeze off the Hudson
    And just when
    You think you’re sick of living here the memory floods in
    The morning light, off the fire escapes
    The nights in Bennett Park blasting Big Pun tapes
    I’m ‘a miss this place, to tell you the truth:
    Kevin dispensin’ wisdom from his dispatch booth
    And at dawn, Vanessa at the salon, we gotta move on
    But who’s gonna notice we’re gone?

    When our job’s done, as the evening winds
    Down to a crawl, son, can I ease my mind
    When we’re all done? When we’ve resigned
    In the long run, what do we leave behind?
    [. . .]
    In five years, when this whole city’s rich folks and hipsters
    Who’s gonna miss this raggedy little business?

  • There so many recurring images in this play (in addition to that of streetlight), e.g. fire escape, star, piragua, etc. Discuss the significance of some of them.
  • In his Time Magazine essay “Life After Rent”, Richard Zoglin points out that “In the Heights might even be regarded as the first musical of the Barack Obama era. It represents change on Broadway. It's a show full of hope. And it has its producers—and a lot of other people who want Broadway to reach out to new audiences with contemporary, heartfelt shows like these—crying ‘Yes, we can.’”
    1. Comment on this statement.
    2. If you happen to know Hamilton, discuss both shows in relation to the “Obama era.” You may want to watch this video: "One Last Time" - Hamilton At The White House #ObamaLegacy first: you’ll see Christopher Jackson (Benny) as George Washington and Lin Manuel-Miranda (Usnavi) as Alexander Hamtilon. It’s an interesting encounter between what some call “Black first president” and “first Black president”.

Additional homework options
return to quick links



Although you’ll come across unfamiliar words in them, the English used in Disney movies is generally easy.

Purpose and goal

Some of you discussed Tangled with me last semester, and we’re reading an article on androgynous male later this semester. These are relevant to this assignment: it’s about gender roles and gender performativity. Moana, our eponymous heroine, embarks on a true “hero’s journey”, but it does not culminate in “living happily ever after” with her love interest. She also looks like an actual 16-year-old girl (recall how Elsa from Frozen looks like). Apart from breaking conventions, Moana is a magnificent production, and for all its visual extravaganza, teaches us a lesson which is truly relevant: the importance of knowing who you truly are, and the hardship it entails.

Required material 1
Choose one:
Suggested Questions
  • What stops Moana from “traveling beyond the reef” at the beginning of the movie? What drives her to actually do so later?
  • Explain how Tamatoa seems androgynous, and why his song “Shiny” is a tribute to David Bowie.
  • What do these songs have in common: “You’re Welcome”, “Shiny”, and “I am Moana (Song of the Ancestors)”? These are typical “I Am” songs, but what is one?
  • The overarching metaphor of the movie is navigating your life. Comment on this metaphor.
  • Discuss the significance of this passage. Who is right though?

    I am not a princess.


    If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you're a princess.

Additional homework options
return to quick links

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them


No star for Potter fans though.

Purpose and goal

You read about Potter-fatigue for our final exam last semester. Let’s dig deeper into that and see if it’s fair. J.K. Rowling, who wrote the screenplay of the film, said that this movie was her response to current events, including xenophobia, homophobia, and the rise of populism. In this light, this film can resonate everyone. You don’t have to be familiar with the Potter universe before watching this film.

Required material 1
Choose one:
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • The Original Screen Play of the movie, which you can buy a copy of at Eslite Bookstore.
Suggested Questions
  • How does this film relate to current affairs? Explain.
  • Cite relevant moments where people from different cultural background are in conflict, harmony, or reconciliation.
  • Discuss the significance of this passage.
    Jacob Kowalski

    Did you say school? Is there a school? A wizardry school here? In America?


    Of course—Ilvermorny! It's only the best wizard school in the whole world!

    Newt Scamander

    I think you'll find the best wizarding school in the world is Hogwarts!


    (Incredulous and semi-insulted) Hogwash!

  • Discuss the significance of this passage.

    (laughing bitterly)
    A law that has us scuttling like rats in the gutter! A law that demands that we conceal our true nature! A law that directs those under its dominion to cower in fear lest we risk discovery! I ask you, Madam President—

    (eyes flashing to all present)
    —I ask all of you—who does this law protect? Us?

    (gesturing vaguely to the No-Majs above)
    Or them?

    (smiling bitterly)
    I refuse to bow down any longer.

Additional homework options
return to quick links


Language observations (5 points each)

Last semester we talked about the importance of opening up your ears as you learn a language, and how hard it actually is to use your ears well. To illustrate this, I told you that Taiwanese actually often say ㄐㄧㄠˇ ㄚˋ ㄔㄜ (jiǎo à chē) when they think they say 腳踏車.

Such is an example of language observation. It doesn’t have to be English; better yet, you can point out the difference between Chinese and English. You can post your language observations on Facebook.

Why this assignment: It’s always good to be more aware of how language is actually used. You probably have never thought about how you say 腳踏車 before I told you that particular linguistic phenomenon, and Chinese is your native tongue! Being observant about how you speak your language helps learning foreign languages. If you are able to tell how you and English native speakers speak English differently, for example, you can start consciously correct your English and speak the kind of English that people can understand easily.

Additional homework (10 points each)

For some longer assignments, you can see a list of “additional homework options”. You can read/watch/listen to stuff in such lists and let me know you do—through, say, also writing brief reflections, or bringing them up during longer assignment discussion sessions.

Why this assignment: Most videos listed below should actually be required, but I understand this will make longer assignments too intimidating. And I want to avoid that because in my honest opinion, longer assignments are much more exciting than the short ones!

However, please remember that if you don’t get to watch any of these by the end of the semester, you still can do so after this course!