About these Study Guides

I created these study guides to help my students prepare for literature classes. They are meant to serve several functions.

1) Some of them provide background to help readers understand what they are reading and why they are reading it (the historical status of the works).

2) They provide useful information, explaining allusions, obscure terms, etc. in the texts and provide translations of passages written in languages other than English.

3) They try to focus students' attention on issues that we will discuss in class.


One of the most common student complaints in literature classes is that they can't figure out what the teacher expects them to get out of the assignments. Homework turns into a massive guessing game, failing which, students wait for the teacher to clarify things in class. This makes for sluggish or nonexistent discussions. Students using these guides can read with more purpose. They know what issues I am going to want to them to deal with in class and can prepare much better.

I require my students to prepare written answers to the questions in these guides and come to class prepared to answer any one of them. At the beginning of class I collect the notes along with the quizzes. Not every question must be answered in the notes but they must show a diligent effort at preparation. Since I began using these guides, few students come to class without having both read and thought about the assignment, and discussions have improved enormously. Plagiarism of someone else's notes is grounds for failure in the class, like any other kind of plagiarism.

Questions & Answers about Using the Study Guides

Isn't this a lot of work?
For the more serious students, the guides simplify homework because they know what to concentrate on. Many things which would have to be puzzled out or looked up and simply explained. However, one of my goals is to encourage students to work harder and more productively.
But it'll take forever to answer all these questions!
But you don't have to write answers to all the questions. Many are simply ways of drawing your attention to features of the text I want you to notice. Others have simple answers you can easily recall if you have done the reading. Yet others are opinion-based or open-ended: you can easily answer them without notes. I expect substantial notes, at least a page or so of detail, for each assignment, to document that you are indeed preparing for class. Notes which cover only the first part of the assigned reading will be considered unsatisfactory.
But I have a great memory! Isn't this note-taking a waste of time?
Writing something down makes you think about it in a different sort of way. It makes you focus and define your thoughts. These notes can also provide a great basis for papers you write later. I don't require very many or very long papers in my classes. Instead, these notes and quizzes make up the bulk of the writing you will do. Think of them as a massive take-home final exam that you're writing a bit at a time: all open book!
Won't these guides inhibit discussion? They seem to foreclose some interpretations and privilege others.
To some degree this is true. While I hope fewer off-the-wall misreadings will occur, original readings are not required in the same way as in traditional classes. However, original thinkers seem to find it possible to offer their own readings, especially when they have mine to bounce them off of.
But what if I think some of what the guides say is just wrong?
No problem. Disagree. I change the contents of the guides in response to student comments all the time. These are not meant to be authoritative. They're just one professor's take based on his experience teaching these texts over the years. I not only welcome correction; I encourage it. Send corrections or suggestions to brians@wsu.edu.
But won't students be inhibited about disagreeing with you if they know your opinion ahead of time?
Not in my experience. In fact, students are able to ponder my opinions ahead of time, plot out their disagreements, and prepare to disagree. We have cut way down on the incidence of students being surprised and embarrassed in class when I disagree with them. By exposing my views first, I lower the risk for students rather than raising it. Discussions are far more lively now than before I started using the guides, and I've changed my own readings several times on the basis of student insights.
Aren't these a kind of amateur Cliff's Notes or Masterplots that students can use as substitutes for really reading the texts?
Judge for yourself. I don't think so. I try to provide information that isn't obvious; but to do well on the quizzes, you have to do your own reading.
I'm not one of your students. How can I use these guides?
Actually, it's people like you who I hope will become the main users for this Web version of my study guides. Use them as a set of notes to help you understand what you are reading. Ignore any parts you find uninteresting or unhelpful. But non-WSU students need to be aware that if you copy these notes and turn them in it will be quite easy for any teacher to track down the source of your plagiarism, thanks to the excellent searching tools of the Web.
I'm a teacher. Can I reproduce these for my students?
Sure, so long as you aren't printing them in a published book. Edit them, excerpt them, so long as you cite me as the source on your copies. Permission is granted for such use to nonprofit users only. If you have handouts of your own that you think are useful or interesting, send me a copy, or put them on the Web and send me the URL. I'd like to see a clearing house of classroom handouts where we could all share the fruits of each others' labors. Why do we all have to reinvent the wheel? Send your ideas and contributions to me if you wish, but read: my FAQ first.
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