Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.
Department of English
Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Gian Pagnucci


Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Web Resources


English 730: Teaching Writing

Electronic Time Capsules

Dr. Gian Pagnucci

Electronic Time Capsules

Over the course of our semester, I've talked about a variety of things that are important for effective writing teaching. Let me sum up a few of the key points for you:

  • students need to be invested in the writing they do for a class
  • students need freedom as they write
  • technology can make learning more engaging
  • people learn best through active engagement in tasks
  • the learning we find most meaningful is almost always FUN!

I've designed this final assignment to tie together all of the above keys to good teaching. In addition, I hope this assignment helps model the type of writing task which works well with young students. In fact, I use a version of this assignment at the end of almost every course I teach.

Lastly, I hope you will find writing this assignment to be personally rewarding. If you don't, we're probably both wasting our time. But if you work with me on this, I think you'll find it to be a terrific way to finish off this course. This final writing assignment is for your future. What I’d like you to do is to create your own personal electronic time capsule.

What is a time capsule?

The idea of a time capsule is to preserve a record of today for people to look at years from now. You might have read about some time capsules that were created when we reached the year 2000. Time capsules often contain pictures and artifacts, such as clothing, jewelry, coins, and music. They also tend to include letters and written statements.

Sample Time Capsule

One good example of a time capsule is the one the New York Times Magazine created to celebrate the 2000 millennium. This time capsule contains information on the most important historical events from the last 1000 years as well as sounds and pictures. You can read about this time capsule by going to:

How does a time capsule work for our class?

First off, you’re going to create your own written time capsule for class. You get to decide what to write. You should write enough to make it worth opening your capsule later on.

I will not read your time capsule in any detail, so you can include some personal information if you like. I want to respect your privacy. I will check to be sure you have put some effort into this assignment. A full page of writing gets credit while 2 lines won’t. If you make any reasonable effort at all to do this assignment, I will give you full credit.

You will send your time capsule to me via email. I will store your email for 10 years (luckily, email messages don’t take up a lot of space). I will then send your time capsule message back to you by email. If that email comes back to me as undeliverable, I’ll try to send your time capsule to you by regular mail. This process isn’t perfect, but it has worked for most students I have had, and I have been doing  this time capsule activity for many years now (I have lots of piles of letters and emails waiting to be delivered at specific dates). If all else fails, send me an email in 10 years and ask to get your time capsule back. I will keep all the time capsules on file until each one is successfully delivered, so write me back when you receive yours. You can always get my current email address from my web page (which will probably be at IUP or search for me on the web).

On the Issue of Trust
Again, let me stress that as your teacher I will respect your privacy and guard your time capsule carefully. This is a valuable assignment, I believe, one that has a lot of future value for people. But the entire assignment only works if you can trust me. Since I realize that, and what this assignment to be a success for your class and for future classes, I view your trust in the assignment as sacred and will do everything I can to honor that trust.

Your Time Capsule’s Contents

The interesting part of creating a time capsule is deciding what should go into it. The fun part is opening that time capsule back up many years from now and seeing what you put in. Often, you might not even remember that you created the time capsule until the day to open it arrives. I’m going to give you a few guidelines for how to make Your Electronic Time Capsule. You don’t have to follow these exactly, but they should help you create an interesting time capsule that you’ll enjoy receiving 10 years from now. As you write, you might find it useful to include section headings for each part. There are lots of suggestions here, so choose the ones that you think are most important. Most good time capsules are a couple of pages long by the time they are finished.

The Date
Record the date you finish writing up your time capsule.

Contact Information
This part is really important. I’ll start with your email address, so if that changes, you might want to let me know. I’m going to send your time capsule back to you in 10 years time, hopefully by email. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try to use your mailing address, so please give me an address that is not likely to change (perhaps your parents’ address). I’ll do the best I can to get your time capsule back to you.

  • Your full name
  • All the email addresses you use
  • A permanent mailing address
Self Description
Write a paragraph or two describing yourself at this point in time. Include things like:
  • your weight and height
  • the type of clothing you wear
  • the type of job you have
  • what your college major is
  • etc.

Also say something about your personality: are you a nice person, cheerful, outgoing, quiet, or what? How would your friends describe you?

This Course
Ok, we've spent a whole semester together. I REALLY hope you learned something about how to be an effective writing teacher. Take a few moments to write a paragraph about what you learned from this course. What's one thing you want to remember for the future about how to be a better teacher? (Just for fun you could also throw in something you want to remember about Dr. Pagnucci, since I made you do this assignment; hopefully I'll still be in semi-good shape 10 years from now!)

Dissertation Plan
A graduate student's time capsule just wouldn't be complete if it didn't contain reference to a dusty doctoral tome. Discuss your best current idea for a dissertation. Then write up a short time line for carrying that dissertation through to completion. It's my sincerest hope that in 10 years' time, your dissertation really will be sitting proudly on your bookshelf.

Your Family
Our families drive a lot of us crazy. But still, there are few people as important to us. Write a little about your spouse, children, parents, grandparents, or any other relatives who matter to you. Record:

  • what your relations look like
  • things they often say
  • things they often do
  • things that annoy you about them
  • things you love about them

You might even write about some of the relatives you do not like—maybe things will have improved in 10 year’s time!

Your Friends
Spend a little time talking about the people who matter to you. Do you have a significant other? Who are you friends? Record their full names, what they look like, and perhaps their addresses. What do you like about these people? Why are they important to you? Some friends will stay with you forever, but sadly in 10 years time you might not even remember some of these people. So make a record of them now.

Your Interests
Write about the things you really like and try to explain why you like them so much:

  • What do you like to do in your free time?
  • What are your favorite television shows?
  • What are your favorite movies?
  • What kind of music do you listen to and on what radio stations?
  • What hobbies do you have?
  • Do you exercise?
  • What are your favorite foods and restaurants?
  • What are your favorite books?
  • What are your favorite sports teams?

Record what you like now, so you can see how your tastes change over time.

The Era You Live in Now
Record some information about the year you are living in now. This will help remind you about the historical time period when you created this time capsule. Include any information you think is important such as:

  • the current president
  • the state of the U.S. and world economies
  • major events happening in the news
  • major issues and problems effecting the world
  • the names of famous athletes and celebrities of the current time period

Your View of the World
Include some of personal views about this time in history, such as:

  • What political party do side with and why?
  • What problems in the world most worry you?
  • What are you doing to make the world a better place?
  • What is your opinion of some of the famous people (business and political leaders, rock and movie stars, athletes) in the world today?
Your Hopes and Dreams
Think a bit about your future and then record some of your goals and aspirations:
  • What kind of job do you hope to have in the future?
  • How much money do you hope to be earning?
  • Do you plan to be married or have children in the future? Is there someone special in your life now that you hope to still have in 10 year’s time?
  • What do you hope the world will be like in 10 year’s time?

I hope lots of your dreams work out for you.

Things to Treasure
Include a couple of items in your time capsule that really matter to you. These might include:

  • a quote or saying you want to always remember
  • a description of one or two of your possessions which are most important to you
  • the one thing that makes life worth living
  • your favorite place to visit
  • anything else that is extremely important to you

Seal Up Your Time Capsule and Email It Off

Send your time capsule on email to Dr. Pagnucci:


Subject: Time Capsule-Open in 2016

Body: Paste your time capsule message into the body of your email. Do NOT send your time capsule as an attachment since that will be harder to keep track of and access over 10 year’s time.

Delete Your Time Capsule

Once I receive your time capsule, I will send you a quick email confirming that I received it from you and that I have safely stored the time capsule away. This confirmation will be your verification that you successfully completed the assignment.

Once you get your confirmation, delete your own copy of the time capsule. I know that will be hard since you will have poured a lot of your thoughts and feelings into your time capsule. But, the key to any time capsule is that it cannot be opened ahead of time. If you keep your time capsule on your computer, it will only be a temptation. More importantly, time capsules are valuable because there is always a chance that you might not get them back. You are putting things away for the future, and we are never sure what the future will hold—it’s part of the fun.

The Power of Writing

So why do this activity as your final paper for English 730: Teaching Writing? It’s a chance for you to think about what is important to you and the act of writing can preserve some of those important things. Hopefully, by extension, you'll be prompted to think about how to help your students use writing to explore the things which are personally meaningful to them (and you are welcome to use this assignment with your students if you like).

This paper is also a way to communicate some of your most important values and beliefs to yourself 10 years in the future. One of the ironies of teaching is that for all the students you might help in a career, you don't get a lot of chances to teach yourself anything (at least not directly). But, with this time capsule, you actually get an opportunity to teach your future self what your present day self thought was important. In the future, the time capsule will also be a way to research who you were in the past. This time capsule will become an artifact 10 years from now that will help you look back to this time in your life.

If all those theoretical arguments don't persuade you this project is worth doing, then just consider that over the years most of my students have said this is a really fun assignment to do. That's probably reason enough.

I should warn you that when you open your time capsule in 10 year’s time, it might make you a little sad as well as happy. Some of the things you recorded that mattered to you will be gone. Other things you will suddenly remember, and you will wonder how you could ever have forgotten those things. If you write this assignment correctly, this time capsule will really matter to you, and you will want to get it back in 10 years.

I hope this last assignment, like others in this course, helps teach you that writing is the most powerful tool we humans have ever created. Writing can get to the heart of everything that matters to us as people. I also hope that your time capsule is just one of many important pieces of writing you will create in the years to come. Never forget how much writing can mean to you as well as to your students!

Gian Pagnucci

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