Lesson Plan on Key Terms and Concepts*

*Note: this lesson plan is not linked to a particular course, but was developed by Writing at Queens to be easily adapted for any course.  You may view and download all lesson plans in this series or download this lesson plan in .docx format.

Outcome: Students will learn the importance of keyterms and how they constitute an intellectual context or field through definition, example, and practice.

Work Completed Before Class: Students should have read an assigned article or scholarly paper.

Sequence of Activities (about 50 min):

1 (5 min) Read aloud Harvey’s definition of keyterms. Discuss as a class what keyterms inform this course or discipline (for example, what keyterms appear on the course syllabus).

2 (10 min) In small groups students should find around 5 keyterms and identify what kind of keyterm they are according to Harvey: a recurring term, a basic opposition, a literal term, a ruling metaphor, or arguable assumptions.

3 (10 min) In their own words, student groups should write out one-sentence definitions of each of these keyterms.

4 (15-20 min) Student groups share their results and how they decided to categorize their keyterms. (Instructor writes a few definitions on the board.) In discussion, students should refer both to how the writer employs the keyterm in the assigned reading and to how those keyterms relate to the intellectual context of the course.

5 (5 min) Wrap-up by connecting discussion of keyterms to students’ own writing. For example, if working on an essay draft, students should identify and define their 3 most important keyterms. If conducting library research, students can compare keyterms with their search terms.


Hand-out for students: Gordon Harvey’s definition of “keyterms” from “Elements of the Academic Essay” (doc):

Keyterms: the recurring terms or basic oppositions that an argument rests upon, usually literal but sometimes a ruling metaphor. These terms usually imply certain assumptions—unstated beliefs about life, history, literature, reasoning, etc. that the essayist doesn’t argue for but simply assumes to be true. An essay’s key terms should be clear in their meaning and appear throughout (not be abandoned halfway); they should be appropriate for the subject at hand (not unfair or too simple—a false or constraining opposition); and they should not be inert clichés or abstractions (e.g. “the evils of society”). The attendant assumptions should bear logical inspection, and if arguable they should be explicitly acknowledged.

Posted in Keyterms

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