Waiting for Superman Essay Instructions and Guidelines
You probably have quite a bit of experience reading and summarizing. Since grade school, you
have been writing book reports and suffering through summer reading programs. Reading,
comprehending, and summarizing are vital skills. At the college level, however, simply
regurgitating material is insufficient. One of the most important benefits of a college education is
the ability to think critically. Understanding someone else’s ideas and then responding to them is
one of the most common tasks you will encounter in your college classes. And although your
future employer may never ask you to provide a literary analysis of The Scarlett Letter or a
research paper about global warming, you will be expected to exercise critical thinking skills on
a regular basis.
Write a summary-and-response essay about the documentary, Waiting for Superman. You are
not being asked to discuss whether you like/dislike the film or agree/disagree with the ideas set
forth in it. Instead, you are being asked to deconstruct the film and assess the validity of the
arguments set forth in it.
The summary portion of the essay should be fairly brief, preferably limited to the
introductory paragraph but certainly no more than one body paragraph. Your response
should take up the bulk of the paper.
• For this essay, you will incorporate two secondary sources. You may use the “Waiting for Superman Rebuttal” articles as your sources, or you may choose your own sources after
conducting research. You must properly incorporate these sources into the essay, using signal
phrases to introduce the sources and using parenthetical citations to credit the authors. You
also will include a Works Cited page with correct MLA citations for each source. In addition,
you must properly cite Waiting for Superman.
• You must adhere to the formatting guidelines set forth in The MLA Handbook, 8th edition.
Be sure that all margins measure 1 inch and that you use the Times New Roman 12-point
font. You should also follow MLA formatting guidelines regarding the page heading, running
header, page numbering, etc. Finally, your citations must conform to MLA citation style.
• The essay’s assigned length is 1,0001,200 words.
Step 1. Grab some snacks and watch the film. The first time you view the film, do not take
notes. Just enjoy it (hopefully) like you would any other movie.
Step 2. Watch the movie a second time. This time, you should pay close attention to the
director’s argument. In addition, you should try to identify the director’s purpose and intended
audience. Take notes. Write down any relevant facts or statistics.
Step 3. Write a response to the film. Some questions to consider:
• What did you think about the film?
• Do you agree or disagree with the ideas set forth in it?
• Does the director convincingly prove his thesis? If not, why?
• What are the director’s underlying assumptions?
• What is Guggenheim assuming that you will agree/disagree with?
• Does Guggenheim omit information that would damage his argument? If so, what
information does he omit?
• What rhetorical strategy/strategies does Guggenheim use? (See for
https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/04/ more information about rhetorical
Step 4. Complete the “Deconstructing a Documentary Film Worksheet.”
Step 5. Write the summary portion of the essay. Do not write the film equivalent of a book
report. Instead, identify the director’s thesis and then summarize the evidence he uses to support
that thesis. Be objective. Do not allow your own thoughts to creep into your summary.
Step 6. For the response section of the essay, choose one of the following strategies for writing a
• Analyze the effectiveness of the director’s argument – In this case, the response analyzes key features, such as the clarity of the main idea; the organization of the argument; the
quality of the supporting evidence; and/or the effectiveness of the author’s style, tone, and
• Agree or disagree with the director’s argument – Often, responders react to the ideas or the argument of the essay. In this case, the responders show why they agree or disagree
with what the director says.
• Interpret and reflect on the director’s argument – The responder examines the underlying assumptions or the implications of the director’s argument. Often the responder reflects
on how his or her own experiences, attitudes, and observations relate to the film.