Glinda Hall, UA-Fort Smith
Are We Being Supersized?
In this assignment, Freshman English 1203 students will go through the
writing process in producing a Causal Analysis/Evaluation three page essay.
Students will be shown the documentary Supersize Me, written by and starring
Morgan Spurlock and his thirty-day McDonald’s diet. Students will take notes,
brainstorm, and web ideas/issues as they watch the movie. Students will be
asked to pay particular attention to Spurlock’s claims regarding a causal
relationship between our diets and our nation’s health and increasing obesity.
Students will then choose a related topic or one that they have noted from the
movie, research said topic, produce an outline, a draft, and finally a final
formal essay.
This assignment involves each step of the writing process, therefore
building on several composition goals, such as: developing a manageable
topic and thesis statement, compiling valid and credible outside sources,
and organizing information into a coherent formal essay. Not only is
content important, but following the assignment in explaining a causal
relationship and presenting its causes and effects becomes a critical
objective in producing this paper.
The students will also have to incorporate outside sources to support
their claims. They will also need to exhibit correct parenthetical
citations, a Works Cited page, and generally show a working knowledge
of MLA format.
The movie Supersize Me is an entertaining, highly relatable
documentation of Morgan Spurlock’s experiences investigating not only
McDonald’s fast food, but our society’s views on food, diet, health, and
weight, but our nation’s food industry, health care, and politics involved.
Students will be able to choose from a wide-range of related topics, again
all of them emphasizing a causal relationship, and forcing students to
understand the complexity of such issues.
In researching causal relationships, it enables students to realize the
need to gather pertinent information from multiple perspectives, in order
to address a topic’s complexity. Issues generally do not tend to follow
linear or even chronological causal relationships, most tend to resemble
Whether we personally choose to eat fast food, shop at grocery powerhouses, buy only name-brand products, never read labels on processed
foods, or only buy organic, locally produced foods, students will become
aware of the importance in becoming well-informed, educated
consumers. Students will also become aware of the many different
entities contributing to our views, beliefs, and behaviors as consumers.
Causal Analysis:
Before beginning this topic, students will read through the textbook
chapter on causal relationships. Students will be asked to determine
what determines a causal relationship and what doesn’t. For example:
washing your car does not determine when or if it rains. Students will
also become aware of the fact that causal relationships are not simple
and involve multi-layers as well as multiple factors. Individually or
within groups, students will do in-class exercises where they will be
asked to brainstorm and outline/list causal relationships with many
diverse topics, such as: crime, high school dropout rates, success in
college, teen violence, etc.
The text lists several methods for analyzing causes. The students will
look at each method and the previous examples to determine causal
relationships. The methods are: 1)common factor method, 2)single
difference method, 3) concomitant variation, 4) process of elimination.
Once these methods are discussed, most students begin to recognize that
in some form and in other subject areas, these methods have been used
before. Again, in-class work whether individually or within a group
would allow students to discuss how these methods fit many of the
examples listed in the text and in class.
This preliminary work then leads to a discussion of the assignment for
their causal relationship essay. These preliminary exercises can take
one to two 50 minute classes, depending on the involvement of the
students and the discussions that could possibly follow after addressing
particular topics.
Prewriting/brainstorming activities before students watch Supersize Me.
Such as: Asking them to think about their own fast food eating habits;
Asking them if they read product nutrition labels; Why are
people/children becoming dangerously overweight? What are the
consequences of childhood obesity?
Supersize Me is approximately a two hour movie, with several extras on
the DVD that are worth also watching. This is a lot of time to take out of
class, therefore I ask students to take notes, and I stop the movie several
times to discuss particular issues raised.
As students are watching Supersize Me, they will be taking notes on
possible topics/issues for their own papers, as well as any questions, or
points of discussion to address after the movie.
After the movie, I also allow for class time to discuss issues and
questions the students may have. I find that this time to discuss is
critical for many students in helping them generate ideas for their own
Possible topics for a causal relationship paper:
Corn lobbyists wield considerable power in Washington, therefore why
does our food industry feel compelled to include by-products of corn,
such as high fructose corn syrup, in processed foods when these
additives have been studied and tested as being harmful when consumed
in large amounts.
Spurlock’s Supersize Me did in fact show a causal relationship between
fast food and obesity, so as with the tobacco industry being held
accountable for health problems from its products, shouldn’t fast food
companies also be held accountable. Who should pay for the obesity
issues our medical/health industry faces.
These are only two examples. We will also look at examples that would
not make good essay topics, such as: bad food is bad for you, or obese
people need to just not eat as much and exercise more – these are not
debatable issues, it is over simplifying the issues.
Students will then organize an outline with a thesis statement and begin
compiling outside sources. This outline receives feedback from me, as
well as peer editing in class.
Students will turn in a first draft, and will receive a grade based on MLA
format and following the assignment. Students will receive their drafts
back with feedback.
While students are working on their outlines and drafts, we will spend
class time reading and discussing other causal analysis essays. One
such essay appears in their composition textbook titled, “McNasty” and
critiques McDonald’s, as well as Taco Bell and Wendy’s, attempts at
healthier food items on their menus. Other readings may address our
nation’s food industry or our health care system.
If time allows, having students read in full or excerpts of Fast Food
Nation may also lead to further discussion and the generating of other
topics and ideas.
Students will then turn in a final, three-page formal essay which defines
and explains a causal relationship and analyzes its cause/effect
components. Students will also include an evaluation of said causal
relationship. (Evaluative essays were assigned earlier, so some possible
review time for this would be beneficial.)