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Humor Me: Using Humor Writing to Teach First-Year Composition Students Rhetoric and Composition
AuthorPreston, Elizabeth K
AdvisorMacauley, William J
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A perennial problem for many first-year composition (FYC) instructors is deciding what curricular materials to use to teach their students about rhetoric and composition and how to use those resources to enable their students to practice and hone their writing skills. This dissertation argues that humor writing is a viable option as it offers unique points of connection between students and the curricular material that aid them in learning about, and achieving, college-level writing. Furthermore, humor writing can provide opportunities to teach FYC students how to engage consciously with and analyze the integral concepts of audience awareness and situated knowledge through a medium that is engaging and familiar. Thus, this dissertation’s research is guided by three questions: 1) How might humor writing be used as a teaching tool in FYC? 2) How might humor writing be used to teach FYC students how to engage consciously with and analyze audience awareness and situated knowledge? 3) What are some of the risks of using humor writing to teach rhetoric and composition in FYC, and how can they be minimized?Interestingly, two of the greats in rhetoric and composition, Aristotle and Quintilian, praised humor for its mastery of rhetoric and used it to teach their students. However, humor fell out of favor during the Industrial Revolution because entertainment was seen as anathema to “serious” curricular work. Humor is now making a slight and tentative return due to academia’s increased acceptance of popular culture. In conjunction with an exploration of rhetoric and composition’s historical on-again-off-again relationship with humor, this dissertation uses rhetorical analysis to ascertain how modern humor writers use audience awareness and situated knowledge.The analyses’ findings imply that much of humor writing liberally employs audience awareness and situated knowledge, thereby making it fertile ground for teaching FYC students about said concepts. In light of these findings, this dissertation offers activities, lesson plans, and assignments for FYC, and it discusses the benefits and possible risks of using humor writing and how those risks may be mitigated. Ultimately, this dissertation concludes that humor writing is a possible answer to FYC instructors’ challenge of including engaging material that lends itself to students practicing and honing their writing abilities, particularly their knowledge and skills regarding audience awareness and situated knowledge.