Scroll down this page for information on discussion questions.

Email Subject Header: Your last name and the Title of the Course (for example, "BurtDisappearingMan")

Example of the Discussion Questions document format:

Your name



Three Big Words (on each assigned reading)





Three Film Shots (on each assigned film)




Send me a word doxc or word doc only. Do not send google docs, pdfs, or any other kind of doc.

Focus your DQs concretely on a scene or scenes or a recurring element in the film or reading. Fully describe what you want to discuss in class so that anyone in class will know what you are talking about immediately and be able to refer what you are saying to the film when discussing it in class. If possible, give time stamps for all shots you mention.

Focus your DQs only on the film or reading under discussion. Don’t compare the film to other film adaptations we’ve seen. (We can do that in class.)

Ask questions that can be pursued in discussion. “Why is the sky blue?” is not a fruitful question for discussion, as you all know.


Discussion Questions: What Aren't They?

DQs and BIG words ARE NOT busy work!!!!!

Their Purpose is four-fold:
1. DQs's are a writing exercise. To get better at anything, you have to do it a lot. And you have to care about doing it. So these are like mini-essays. They require some thought about something specific in the reading or viewing. (This is also why you need bring a print or electronic copy of the readings with you to class and have it open when we begin discussing it.)
2. Formulating questions is key to having a thesis for your paper. Reading literature closely means figuring out that you can talk about a lot of things you may have thought weren't possible to discuss. So learning how to read closely at times may push you out of your comfort zone.
3. Since class is organized as discussion, not lecture, you need to prepare to come to class ready to discuss something. If you don't have DQs, you won't have much to contribute to discussion. And student co-leaders of class depend on your DQs when preapring to lead class.
4. The class is more about questions that it is about answers. We're not going to be doing classification operations or summaries. We're unwrapping texts, not wrapping them up.

BTW, I print out the DQs and BIG WORDS and read through them before each class. I always bring my copy to class.

Discussion Questions: What Are They?

Each question includes 3-4 sentences describing concretely something you noticed and one or two sentences in the form of analytical questions ABOUT THE TEXT OR FILM ITSELF (that logically follow from your description). (The questions must be about the assigned film or the assigned reading. Do NOT use the reading or the film to launch general questions that have nothing to do with the reading or film. If you are discussing a reading, please give the page number or quote the passage if you have an ebook. If you are discussing a film, please refer to the shot or shots. When discussing a film, please refer to specific shots or aspects of a shot or sequences. When discussing a reading, please cite specific passages (and page numbers) or refer clearly to an formal aspect of the film ( a scene or a sequence) or of the text (and the relevant pages) you've read. Do NOT ask "what if?" questions, questions about how the novel, for example, would have been different if the author had written it differently or why he or she wrote it the way he or she did--ditto for a film; ask questions only about the novel the author did write or the film the director made. Similarly, do not ask questions about how students may feel about something in general that has nothing directly to do with the text or film). The more concrete you are, the more other students will be able to move from your questions back to the text (a copy of which we will each have with us in class and which we will be discussing, of course).

Here are examples of what I consider to be excellent discussion questions a student wrote for a reading I assigned.

Discussion Questions

1. In the chapter that immediately follows, Chapter 42, The Whiteness of the Whale, Ishmael engages in his first expression of a peculiar view, which starts with him describing his discomfort on the quality of the color white. "It was the whiteness of the whale that above all things appalled me" (159). In this discourse of his, Ishmael describes at some length the nature of the color white in things of beauty and virtue, the power of white as a symbol of regality and spiritual wholeness, on the one hand, and, on the other, the vision of white as symbolizing a desperate coldness, a void and a terror in the disparateness and abhorrence felt for the albino thing. It "is at once the most meaningful symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian Deity; and yet…the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind" (165). If the concept of whiteness is so devastating to Ishamel because it represents the infinite, what does that say of Ahab’s quest of attempting to attack and dismember the whiteness of Moby Dick? In Prophecies of Leviathan, the chapters are structured in a peculiar way as if to challenge the reader, and address him or her directly, “Here is a tale. Listen” (3) or relies on questions to frame chapters, is Szendy trying to invoke Melville and elicit a prophetic reading by doing this

2. . . . . . . (example is missing)

YOUR NAME (would go here, at the bottom of the document).

Discussion Questions:

1. Freud explains the definition of the “uncanny” in different ways, but uses up a little over 5 pages (221 – 226) in the beginning to explain the nuance of the German word heimlich (its technical opposite unheimlich being roughly translated to “uncanny”). It starts off mainly meaning familiar and homely. As Freud goes on to extensively define the word, the definition of the word becomes more ambiguous until finally it comes to mean its exact opposite—except the word does not change. So Freud concludes that heimlich is a word “which develops in the direction of ambivalence, until it finally coincides with its opposite, unheimlich” (226). Even though unheimlich is an “opposite” of heimlich, Freud also calls it a “sub-species” (226). Instead of unheimlich being defined on its own, Freud defined it in relation to its “opposite.” There are mounting similarities between the two words. How does this development relate to what Freud understands to be uncanny? What greater implications of language/translation does this definition development have? How is this process uncanny itself? The word for uncanny is uncanny!

2. Freud emphasizes the theme of “double,” “which appears in every shape and in every degree of development” (234). To deal with the fear of death, humans create a double (like the concept of the immortal soul) as “an insurance against the destruction of the ego” (235). Correspondingly, this idea, Freud explains, also becomes a “harbinger of death” (235). This is also uncanny—because even while the soul or the “double” is trying to insure immortality, it is simultaneously tied to death in this way. In what other ways is the “double” uncanny? Is the idea that it is separated from the self yet closely tied to it? Because it sometimes acts independently of the self (“that man is capable of self-observation”) (235)?

YOUR NAME (would go here).

How Do I Turn in My Discussion Questions?

See the document format above at the top of this webpage. Please put your name after the questions you email me. Please put the name of the class in your email subject heading, and please put your name in your emailed topic / discussion discussions after your questions. (It just makes it easier for me to copy them on to this page.) Please make sure your questions are your own (taking them from imdb, Wikipedia, or any other secondary source constitutes plagiarism, the consequence of which is failing the course), and please make them as concrete as possible (addressed to a specific aspect of the reading or film). Please limit your question to the film itself (don't bother with production or reception histories). Your questions should arise from a close reading of the film's form in conjunction with the readings.Your questions may or may not come up in class, but all students will should read all of them.

Why Do I Have to Write Discussion Questions?

Discussion can work extremely well, but it can only work and work well if all of you are equally prepared for discussion and only if you in fact do participate in class. You should be just as prepared to discuss on days you are not leading discussion as on days you are. The point of the questions is (a) that you do the readings and watch the films carefully (analytically); (b) that you come prepared to class to talk about the reading or film concretely; and (c) that you get practice for writing your papers and flim clip exercise (your papers will depend on your noticing the kinds of things in the readings and film that draw you to formulate questions about them. To this end, I will ask all of you email me I will then post these questions with your names on the course website or email them to you via the class email listerv before class. The day you lead class, you need not do the discussion questions.

Be sure to bring the assigned book or a copy of all assigned electronic readings and bring it with you to class. If you don't bring the reading(s) with you, I count you as absent.


If you don't turn in the discussion questions and three "Big Words" or three shots for films, depending on whether we are discussing a text or a film, I count you as absent. In addition to writing the DQs, I ask that you write at least three "BIG WORDS" you had to look up and give their definitions. Depending on the extent of your vocabulary, you may need to look up a lot of words or only one or two. DQs without three "BIG WORDS" and their definitions or three film shots will not count as passing work.