Empowering Nonsense: Reading Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky†in a Basic Writing Class

Chamutal Noimann


Basic writing and reading students are scared. More than the unfamiliar places, faces, new methods and serious consequences of it all, they are afraid of words. Even if they successfully complete remediation, move on to English 101 and advance to upper courses in other disciplines, our students often face monstrous texts, which they have precious few skills to decipher. The ability to read aright is essential in upper level literature and writing classes, not only because readings provide content that students need to prove they understand, but also because reading model texts allows them to learn by example. In writing courses, we assign readings because they show how it is done when done right. This process does not only mean that readings offer them approaches to structuring a text, they also teach style, tone, vocabulary, correct spelling, syntax, grammar, idioms. In class, we take time to help students uncover all of these wonders and try to mold them into independent readers and deliberate writers, but the lonely, too-short single semester we are allowed with them is never enough to make them truly self-sufficient
In a Basic writing course, “Jabberwocky†teaches vocabulary, reading skills, and literary literacy. Furthermore it teaches self-esteem because it allows students to lower their defenses, relax into learning and build upon their strengths. Students in remediation are not only scared, they are also angry and frustrated because they were placed in remediation and told too many times their writing and reading skills are incompetent. Introducing a Nonjudgmental Awareness initiative in college remediation courses is just as important as it is for ELL courses. Using “Jabberwocky†as part of this program is a clear and natural choice, as it is filled with empowering creativity of thought and process.


basic writing, jabberwocky, composition, literature, lewis carroll

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