Lesson Plan on Writing with Motive

*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 to effectively write with “motive”—or purpose—through definition, example, and practice.

Work Completed Before Class: Students should have read some course material (article, chapter, etc.) and be familiar with course vocabulary or key terms. Students may already be drafting an essay or have an essay assignment.

Sequence of Activities (about 1 hour):

1 (10-15 min) Discuss Harvey’s definition of motive, i.e. the “intellectual context” of your course. What are the field(s), areas, and intellectual conversation the course engages in and why are they important? How and why are the key terms or concepts important?

2 (20 min) In small groups or individually students should pick 2 or 3 key terms. They should write down 1) their own definition of the terms; and, 2) how they engage with the course and its field(s), e.g. their intellectual context.

3 (15 min) Whole class discussion. Connect key terms to motive and intellectual context. Answer the “so what?” question demonstrating how arguments using or about key terminology are interesting beyond the classroom.

4 (15 min) Students should write a few sentences articulating the “motivating moves” driving their essay.


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

Motive: “the intellectual context that you establish for your topic and thesis at the start of your essay, in order to suggest why someone, besides your instructor, might want to read an essay on this topic or need to hear your particular thesis argued—why your thesis isn’t just obvious to all, why other people might hold other theses (that you think are wrong). Your motive should be aimed at your audience: it won’t necessarily be the reason you first got interested in the topic (which could be private and idiosyncratic) or the personal motivation behind your engagement with the topic. Indeed it’s where you suggest that your argument is generally interesting. Defining motive should be the main business of your introductory paragraphs.”

Some “motivating moves” by Kerry Walk:

1. The truth isn’t what one would expect, or what it might appear to be on first reading.

2. There’s a mystery or puzzle or question here that needs answering.

3. Published views of the matter conflict.

4.We can learn about a larger phenomenon by studying this smaller one.

5. This seemingly tangential or insignificant matter is actually important or interesting.

6. There’s an inconsistency, contradiction, or tension here that needs explaining.

7. The standard opinion(s) need challenging or qualifying.

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