Proposing a SAGES Seminar

For the descriptions of First Seminars and University Seminars, please refer here


FALL 2019

This document summarizes the elements of First Seminars. Instructors should develop a course that draws on their particular strengths and interests as teachers and scholars. That said, a First Seminar should also be consistent with SAGES’ mission of using seminar-based instruction to teach students how to use the skills of academic inquiry, think critically and ethically, and communicate their ideas in writing effectively. To that end, First Seminars focus on establishing the core academic skills that new college students need so that they may contribute to academic conversations. In particular, by the end of First Seminar students should be able to:

  • participate in an academic conversation by contributing insightful, relevant ideas
  • consider differences in values and assumptions to think critically and deliberate ethically
  • read, summarize, and apply scholarly concepts and information
  • write clearly and persuasively
  • effectively communicate information and ideas using a mixture of oral and other modes (e.g., visual, digital)

Primary aims of First Seminar include the development of the ability to make persuasive arguments, whether written or oral. About one-third of the time in First Seminar should be devoted to strengthening the students’ writing skills through both instruction and practice. Your instruction of writing can take a variety of forms, including leading presentations on elements of good writing, coordinating workshops and peer review sessions, and meeting individually with students for writing conferences. Paying attention to the structure and style of your assigned readings is often a successful way to identify attributes of effective prose, attributes that students can incorporate into their own writing.


Individual instructors are encouraged to customize their First Seminars. At the same time, some degree of equivalence across sections is necessary in order to fulfill the course objectives, promote a common educational experience, and ensure that expectations across seminars are fair and consistent. For Fall 2019, as has been the case for several years, the common elements of First Seminar are the following:

  1. Seminar The “seminar approach” is central to SAGES, and First Seminar is the primary context in which students begin to learn what a seminar is and how to participate in it successfully. A seminar is more than just a small class: discussion is privileged over lecturing and the process of critical thinking and collective inquiry is as important as the conclusions reached or the content addressed. Learning to listen and respond to others in a seminar discussion is as important as learning to articulate one’s own ideas and positions. These aspects of the seminar approach will be important not only in First Seminar but in all subsequent seminar experiences.
  1. Emphasis on Writing The SAGES program emphasizes writing across all of its seminars. In First Seminar, students should work with classmates and instructors to enhance their writing skills, focusing in particular on summarizing and synthesizing complex scholarly arguments; responding to specific academic conversations; articulating their own lines of inquiry;

and improving their writing process, including drafting, revising, and editing for clarity and mechanical correctness. Focused writing instruction will be built into the weekly schedule of the seminar. If the seminar meets three times per week, the equivalent of one session each week should focus on writing instruction. If the seminar meets twice per week, the equivalent of much of one session each week should focus on writing instruction.

Some seminars will have additional writing support. If you have requested additional writing support, it is expected that you will develop a plan with the writing instructor on how you will work together to integrate the writing and writing instruction into the seminar. Specific outcomes, recommended texts, and assignment suggestions are included below in another section.

  1. Fourth Hour Events and First Seminar’s “Fourth Hour” permits a range of additional learning experiences. During Fourth Hour, students may engage in activities to promote their mastery of writing or oral presentation skills, view films relevant to class discussions, attend plenary events, or visit institutions of culture or scholarship in University Circle or elsewhere in Greater Cleveland. Please plan on a total of ten Fourth Hour meetings (more explanation can be found later in this summary).

During the course of the semester, we would like instructors to incorporate into their curricula at least two visits to University Circle and other institutions. Each class should visit the institutions as a group, so that the experience will enrich classroom discussions and other activities. To facilitate the process of selecting experiences that will enrich the seminar, we will provide you descriptions of the programs, suggested activities, and a calendar of local cultural events.

Coordination of Fourth Hour visits (including arranging for payment and transportation) is done by Sharmon Sollitto (email: Please do not contact the institutions without first consulting Sharmon. Some plenary events will be scheduled during the Fourth Hour time slot; details will follow in early August.

  1. Class Students are expected to attend and actively participate in regular class sessions and other assigned events and activities. Unexcused absences should result in grade penalties as determined by individual instructors. Please provide an explicit statement of your policy in your syllabus. It is a good practice to keep students informed of your ongoing assessment of their class participation.
  2. Reading Assignments. Faculty should assign readings that introduce and develop the course topic. Such readings can serve as a common intellectual experience and help ground In general, if assigning dense academic articles, expect students to read and process 20-30 pages for the week. If assigning less difficult literature or popular journalistic non-fiction, expect them to read perhaps 80-100 pages per week.

Bear in mind that CWRU policy states that for each credit hour, there should be associated work that can be completed by a typical student in 2-3 hours of effort outside the classroom. When assigning reading, be mindful of other work that students are doing for you. In weeks when major writing assignments are due, you should assign less reading. Or select readings that do “double duty” by illustrating important writing skills. For example, a chapter on the causes of high infant mortality rates in Cleveland might also demonstrate how to integrate evidentiary data logically and with stylistic clarity.

  1. Writing First Seminar is a writing-intensive course. First Seminar students should produce 20-25 pages of finished writing. This total should include only writing to be graded or that has been significantly revised after incorporating feedback from the instructor and/or peers (as opposed to “low-stakes” writing such as free-writing, shorter in-class or homework assignments, etc.). Students should also engage in informal types of writing – notes, reading responses, journals, discussion questions, etc. – throughout the semester.

Revision is an essential writing skill. Provide opportunities for students to revise their writing through a process of drafting, receiving and incorporating feedback (from instructors and/or peers), and polishing their work. The best revision is often achieved when students are not just responding to feedback but also incorporating new information/perspectives into their subsequent drafts. Reward this sort of comprehensive revision as the scholarly engagement that it is by counting it toward the total number of finished pages produced.

To help First Seminar students rehearse their skills, assign multiple (3-5) shorter pieces of varying lengths (3-7 pages). Remember to count toward the semester’s total any pages that represent significant scholarly engagement and composition. For example:

  • two 3-page and two 5-page papers, plus one comprehensively revised/rethought piece (i.e. one of the 5-page papers) = 21 pp total
  • three 4-page and one 7-page papers, plus one comprehensive revision of a 4-page piece = 23 pp total
  • one 3-page, one 4-page, and one 5-page paper, plus comprehensive revisions of the last two = 21 pp total

First Seminar students are not expected to write a longer research paper; however, students still need to be introduced to fundamental research skills and library resources. Consider how writing assignments might be structured to include opportunities for students to find, evaluate, and integrate evidence from researched sources.

Consider using Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein’s They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing (Fourth Ed, W. W. Norton, 2018; 978-0393631678; $27.50). The text is the result of the authors’ teaching in a writing-intensive, seminar-based program, and a number of faculty members at CWRU have used it successfully in SAGES classrooms since 2006. The book helps students make the transition to university-level reading and writing by approaching written work in the university as an academic conversation, and it offers concrete suggestions about how students can identify those conversations, understand their significance, begin to enter them, and reflect on their own “moves” within them. The text fits nicely with First Seminar’s emphasis on integrating students into the university and enlisting their participation in its intellectual endeavors. Copies of the text are available for review in the SAGES office.

  1. Writing

In lieu of a final exam, each student should prepare a Writing Reflection assignment: a two-page self-assessment of the student’s development as a writer through the course of the semester.

Students should be invited to comment on any aspect of their writing, either as it applies to the writing they have produced or to their process as writers, including their revision practices. If students have yet to formally revise a paper and resubmit it, this assignment should include such a revision.

The assignment also functions as an opportunity for students to rehearse preparation of their SAGES Writing Portfolio. The Portfolio—a graduation requirement—contains work from each of their First and University Seminars, as well as a reflective essay that comments on their development as writers. It is due after completion of the final University Seminar. Please emphasize that students should retain both printed copies and electronic files for all papers.


Many faculty find formal oral presentations very important and very successful. Students find them useful in their preparation for other seminars and courses. Starting this year we are recommending that faculty incorporate at least one oral presentation in the First Seminar. These presentations should be brief (no more than 5 minutes).

Recognizing the need to provide direction concerning the attributes of a good oral presentation, SAGES commissioned SAGES Teaching Fellow William M. Doll to write a primer titled SPEAK: How to Talk to Classmates and Others (Oxford University Press, 2014; 978-0199989867;

$9.95). The primer can be ordered through the CWRU bookstore. Please contact the SAGES office for an examination copy. In addition, Bill Doll is available to conduct in-class workshops.


Students compare notes on their First Seminar experiences. Therefore, there should be no major differences in how grades are assigned among the various classes. The recommended distribution is as follows:

Common Elements Only                   Common and Recommended Elements Class Participation 25%                              Class Participation 20%

Writing Assignments 65%                Writing Assignments 60% Final Writing Reflection 10%                     Final Writing Reflection 10%

Oral presentation(s) 10%


Orientations and Workshops. Each summer Student Advancement leads a First-Year Advising Orientation and SAGES leads a separate Teaching in SAGES Orientation. During the year, we offer weekly pedagogy workshops on SAGES-relevant topics, such as managing effective discussions, promoting critical thinking, designing good writing assignments, giving effective feedback, and teaching oral presentation skills.

Pedagogical and Instructional Resources. A Guide to Teaching in SAGES is available through the SAGES Canvas page. This Guide provides an overview of the program’s mission, structure, and student learning outcomes. It also compiles a continuously updated collection of best practices, tips, and sample classroom activities, assignments, and rubrics. For additional materials focused on the teaching of writing, The Writing@CWRU website ( contains resources for seminar leaders and writing instructors.


As a SAGES instructor, you can choose from several levels of classroom writing support. You may request:

  • a collaborative writing instructor, who attends all classes and works with you to design and conduct the course
  • a writing consultant, who attends class approximately half of the time and offers periodic writing workshops and consulting to you and your students
  • or a writing workshop leader, who provides 3-4 workshops throughout the semester and remains “on call” for you and your students as a writing

The writing instructors who offer these various levels of support are SAGES Teaching Fellows. All of them have experience in teaching college-level writing and have received additional SAGES-specific training to provide writing instruction in seminars. Most are full-time lecturers in the English department.

In addition to your own expertise and that of the writing instructors, a variety of other resources are available from The Writing Resource Center also provides supplementary support. Students are encouraged to make appointments with Writing Center consultants at Additional assistance, including help with approaches to providing writing instruction, may be available upon request from Kimberly Emmons, Director of the Writing Program, or Megan Jewell, Director of the Writing Resource Center.


Seminar Schedules: Most First Seminars will be offered in the following time slots to minimize conflicts with courses with large first-year student enrollments:

MWF 11:40-12:30* MWF 2:15-3:05*

MW 8:00-9:15 (only a few will be offered at this time) MW 3:20-4:35

MW 4:50-6:05

TuTh 8:30-9:45

TuTh 10:00-11:15

TuTh 1:00-2:15

TuTh 2:30-3:45

TuTh 4:00-5:15

  • Since these times are adjacent to the Fourth Hour, they offer wonderful opportunities for creative schedules and visits off-campus.

Please advise us ( of several times when you could offer your seminar given your other commitments.

Fourth Hour. Most Fourth Hours will occur during the MWF 12:45-2 pm time slot in the course schedule. Because of room shortages, you will have a room reserved for you on campus for Fourth Hour activities only on Monday OR Wednesday OR Friday. Of course, you can schedule off-campus activities (visits, etc.) on days when you do not have a classroom. As its name suggests, the Fourth Hour is worth one additional credit hour. You should plan to hold Fourth Hours two-thirds of the weeks or in other words 10 times during the semester.

Advising. Each faculty member leading a First Seminar is also the first-year advisor to the students in the seminar. This advising responsibility continues until the student declares a major. We have seen that the dual role of First Seminar instructor and first-year advisor builds familiarity and trust, thus making the advising process easier and more effective. This approach to advising further cements the students’ engagement with faculty—a strong determinant of student satisfaction and success. Freshman advisors are only expected to be generalists, not experts on every aspect of the curriculum. Answers to many questions are found in the advising handbook. The First-Year Registration Guide provides summaries and check-off lists for charting progress.

In partial compensation for the additional effort associated with advising and preparing for advising, each First Seminar instructor is eligible for a $1500 research account. Attendance at all advising workshops entitles faculty to these funds. Details on approved purchase and procurement policies will be provided.

Student Enrollment. Enrollment in each seminar is generally limited to 17. Students will be apprised of the First Seminars that will fit the course schedule they created during orientation and will be asked to identify several seminars they would like to take. From these selections, we will assign the students to seminars.

Contacts for Questions. Without a doubt, there are questions that we have not answered. Please contact the SAGES office at or 368-5830 with your questions.


To develop a new First Seminar, please start by thinking of a topic that you want to use as a basis for discussion and that you feel will be engaging for first-year students. As you design the seminar, please be cognizant of the expected elements of any First Seminar (described earlier in this document) and the goals for First Seminar articulated in the original proposal for SAGES:

  1. Enhance basic intellectual skills of academic inquiry: critical reading, quantitative and qualitative analysis, written and oral communication
  2. Provide a supportive, intellectually based, common experience
  3. Introduce basic information literacy skills
  4. Provide a foundation for ethical decision making
  5. Encourage a global, multidisciplinary perspective on the learning process
  6. Facilitate faculty/student interaction

To get a course approved, there are two options—one-time or permanent approval. One-time approval is the appropriate option for a new course. For one-time approval, we need:

  • a course title
  • a transcript title (30 or fewer characters including spaces)
  • a course description (2100 or fewer characters including spaces)
  • a list (or sample list) of readings, and
  • the grading elements and the associated percentages If you have a general syllabus, please send it

As part of your submission, please provide a brief rationale for your selection of the thematic area (i.e. Natural World, Social World, Symbolic World).

Thinking about the Symbolic World. Courses that meet the objectives of this theme explore the languages (including mathematics) used to describe, interpret, or construct the natural and social/cultural worlds. The study of these languages broadens the students’ understanding of human reasoning and communication.

Thinking about the Natural/Technological World. Courses that meet the objectives of this theme explore the identification, description, experimental investigation, and theoretical explanation of physical, biological, or chemical phenomena, as well as development and dissemination of technology.

Thinking about the Social World. Courses that meet the objectives of this theme introduce students to the methods and concepts critical to the understanding of human behavior and development, social organization, and historical change. These courses (like those for the Symbolic World) may also include the study of literature and of philosophical or religious ideas.

In addition, please affirm that the course will be offered in a seminar mode and that approximately 1/3 of the regular class time will be devoted to writing instruction.

If your course had previously received one-time approval, we should obtain permanent approval before it is offered again. For permanent approval, we will need the items above and a syllabus and course schedule. We will prepare the Course Action Form. If you are unsure whether your topical seminar had one-time or permanent approval, ask Peter Whiting.

Once prepared, the material should be sent to Peter Whiting ( A group of faculty readers will look at the seminar proposals and evaluate their correspondence with expectations for First Seminars. On the basis of their comments, the SAGES director makes a recommendation for approval to the appropriate curriculum committee.


If you are proposing a University Seminar, you can download the University Seminar Course Proposal Form.

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