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Below are some possible informal writing prompts for Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and supplemental readings.

The introduction and Chapter 1 of Outliers work to question the meritocracy myth in America. Gladwell believes that no one makes it alone.

Using some examples from the book and our class discussion, first explain why Gladwell believes that to be true. After you have summarized his argument, explain whether you agree or disagree using your own examples and explanations.

After reading “How Do You Raise a Prodigy?” and Chapter 2 of Outliers, answer the following questions.

Do you think it is better to be very good at something specific or to have broad skills (that aren’t as good) in many areas? Consider things like daily function and employment. Are the people you consider most successful experts in a particular area? How do these ideas connect with Gladwell’s discussion of the 10,000 hour rule? Is there anything that you intend to put 10,000 hours into practicing?

After reading Chapter 4 of Outliers, answer the following questions.

Gladwell compares the way that Chris Langan acted when he faced obstacles to his success to the way Robert Oppenheimer reacted to obstacles. What do these reactions tell us about the way failure and success operate together? Can you think of a time when you failed at something and it made you work harder? Can you think of a time you failed at something and it made you give up? What is the best way to react to failure?

After reading Chs. 6 and 7 of Outliers, answer the following questions.

On p. 170, Gladwell says “This is the form that racial and ethnic stereotypes take. We want to believe that we are not prisoners of our ethnic histories.” How does this connect with the story of Harlan, Kentucky? What evidence is there to suggest that we are shaped by the decisions and culture of our pasts? Are we locked into these cultures? Why or why not? (Be sure to provide some specific examples from the reading, your own experiences, or both.)

After reading Outliers Chapter 8, answer the following questions.

How do the proverbs on p. 237 and p. 238 illustrate different cultural understandings of hard work and luck? How might you behave differently depending on what you believe about these concepts? Which quotes best fit your personal belief about hard work and luck? Explain your choice. 

After reading Chapter 9 of Outliers, answer the following questions.

What was Marita’s bargain? Why does she think this is a worthwhile investment and how does it relate to cultural legacies? What does she sacrifice? Do you think that this is worth the sacrifice? Explain.

After reading Ch. 8, answer the following questions.

On p. 239-246, we see Renee struggle with a math question and eventually arrive at the right answer. What does Gladwell tell us is remarkable about Renee’s work? How long do you usually spend on a problem before giving up? What makes you more likely to keep trying even if you’re frustrated?

After reading the epliogue for Outliers, answer the following prompt.

How does the difference between sugar plantations and cotton plantains change the relationships and treatment of slaves in Jamaica and the United States? How did this factor into Gladwell’s ancestors’ success? Explain. 

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