Box Logic and Cornell Boxes in a High School Composition Course

Photo and box provided by Wendy Sittner


Influenced by my recent study of Geoffrey Sirc’s chapter “Box-Logic” from Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition, I was inspired to think about how I could use some of his ideas in my high school composition courses to help my students think about how they think about writing. 

Here are my initial thoughts…

“We still have not learned from the work done by our field’s historical avant-garde about the failure to see our composition classes in the larger world, particularly in terms of the student-imaginary” (Sirc 127).

  • After reading Dana Goldstein’s article, “Why Kids Can’t Write,” I was pressed to begin thinking about my own students, and what I can do to help them get over the hump that holds them back from exploring writing.  I fear that I, personally, put my students in a “box” with too much attention paid to formulaic writing.  In an effort to help our students pass standardized tests, we often ignore the importance of exploration that has little or no regimented parameters.   In response to this, I plan to challenge myself to begin my composition courses with a Cornell box assignment that will allow my students to examine their experiences with writing

“text as box=author as collector” (Sirc 117).

  • I often think that beginning with the simple and then moving on to the more complex is a good way to ease students into something new.  Inspired by this simple activity from Asha McLoughlin’s “Fun for Kids: Make a Box Like Cornell,” I decided to start with the basics.  I will challenge my students to “think outside of the box” (pun intended) and collect items that will help them express their own personal experiences and views on the writing process.  Is the writing process mostly pleasant or mostly unpleasant for you?  Do you have an understanding of how your own writing process works?  What does that look like?

“Text, then, as a collection of retrojective, idiosyncratic dream-moments, now electronically gathered, framed and exhibited” (Sirc 116).

  • Ultimately, I would like my students to be able to grow their physical Cornell boxes into new media “Cornell boxes.”  Throughout the course of the year, I will ask my students to continue to add to their physical boxes as their ideas about the writing process change and develop.  Somewhere around mid-year, I would like to see my students begin to transition this idea to a new media platform.  I will use Susan Delegrange’s Wunderkammer (obviously as an exemplar) as inspiration for what an online “box” might look like.

“True connection with one’s composition is when the work has a strong life in the writer, when it’s part of an on-going project, which means it continues growing, appearing in variant versions” (Sirc 120).

  • By the end of the year, I hope that my students have produced an online version of the Cornell box that they started in August.  It will have changed and grown, a fluid “document” as it is a reflection of their thoughts on writing.

Works Cited

Delagrange, Susan. “Wunderkammer, Cornell, and the Visual Canon of Arrangement.” Why teach digital writing? a rhetorical view of writing. 15 Jan. 2009. Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. 26 Jan. 2019 <;.

Goldstein, Dana. “Why Kids Can’t Write.” The New York Times. 02 Aug. 2017. The New York Times. 26 Jan. 2019 <;.

McLoughlin, Asha. “Fun for kids: Make a box like Cornell | Blog.” Royal Academy of Arts. 01 Sept. 2015. 26 Jan. 2019 <;.

Sirc, Geoffrey. “Box-Logic.” Writing New Media: Theory and Applications for Expanding the Teaching of Composition. By Anne Wysocki, Johndan Johnson-Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, and Geoffrey Sirc. Logan: Utah State UP, 2007. 111-46.

Sittner, Wendy. Cornell Box. 25 Jan. 2019.

Published by amhudak

a life-long learner trying something new

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1 Comment

  1. Asking students to collect items and them to spend time writing about their relationships would be fascinating! I could see them easily photographing those objects and putting them in a digital space to collect them there as well. In some ways, you could even consider something like a Google search as a kind of box.


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