1. Deliver a brief lecture on the essay to have been read for today; namely, on any bits of sloppy prose or grammatical awkwardness (or misuses) or anything else for the students to avoid in their own writing. Question the author’s use of certain words in specific instances. Bring up more appropriate synonyms. Do this with confidence. Look out over your audience with a steely gaze, to let them know that you can be trusted and that your opinion should be a key factor in their own writing and revising, if not their lives.
2. Give the class a moment to scour the essay and isolate its thesis. Ask one student to read his or her finding. Ask if anyone got anything different. Consider the implications of these varying theses. Ask the class what a thesis is, anyway, other than an encapsulation of the characteristics the author wants to get across—and then ask if the author succeeded, based on this criterion. Hold the silence, void of movement, until it is pregnant with tension. Then ask if you just “blew their minds” in a really out-there voice. Bask in the glow of their appreciative laughter. Bask some more. If the moment is right, make a follow-up joke.
3. Have the students bring out their journal entries on the day’s reading. Ask for a volunteer to read. If none are forthcoming, make a lighthearted comment about how you have to “pick” a volunteer. Appear jocular. (Burliness helps.) Congratulate that one exemplary but shy student who always answers the question when no one else knows the answer and is coasting through the class on a cushion of talent and the bitterness that comes from having been too lazy to take the AP or placement tests to get out of the class in the first place, when he or she rolls her eyes and says “OK, I’ll read,” quietly. After he or she reads and the respectful silence has passed, nod with furrowed brow. Make a polite comment. Invite someone else to read. When no one else does, pose a rhetorical question and smile, softly.
4. Suggest an in-class writing assignment on identity (cultural, political, ethnic, or something else) and how it influenced this essay—and, indeed, how it influences the students’ own writing. While they scribble intermittently, read the errant copy of the student newspaper you find on the corner of the desk at the front of the room. Wonder why what the front page has as the day’s high temperature feels much lower than the actual temperature. Notice that this issue is three days old. Chuckle. Do the Sudoku puzzle. Get frustrated when your stall out. Remember, upon realizing you have two threes in the first row, you don’t know how to play Sudoku properly. Remember also that you don’t like Sudoku.
5. Nod toward the door at the one student who notices the hands of the clock three minutes past the end of class. Collect the students’ writing assignments as they file out. Smile openly at them; count on one hand the number of them who note this. Wait in the stairwell just outside the door. Rest your forehead against the cool cement. Appreciate its density. Wait a minute more. When colleagues step around you and raise sympathetic hands, raise one of your own in return. Take your time returning to the next classroom. Ask the students in the next class what they want to start with today.