How Evidence Functions (and Malfunctions) in a Text

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SWBAT identify various types of evidence in a text and explain how it functions in creating effective or ineffective rhetoric by analyzing the evidence of a newspaper column.

Big Idea

Evidence can make or break an argument's power and impact.


Identifying Evidence

30 minutes

Students will come into class having read and annotated Anne Applebaum’s editorial from the Washington Post “If the Japanese Can’t Build a Safe Reactor, Who Can?” (Applebaum article.docx).  Their task had been to identify and label the different types of evidence in the piece, based on pages 97-111 in their textbook The Language of Composition 2e.  Today, we will organize that evidence into categories and then analyze how the different types of evidence are functioning in the text to make meaning, and also determine how effective it is in doing that.  This explicit organizing the types of evidence will help students learn how passages in a text interact with each other to develop central ideas, tone, etc.

To organize the evidence I will have them work in small groups, with one group member as a scribe to put different types of evidence (anecdotal, historical, quantitative, etc.) into columns in their notebook (my first plan was to have these types on newsprint around the room and have students write examples on it before having groups focus on one type to determine function. . . however a number of students are missing due to a student council meeting, so I will save that for a later date when everyone is present).  As they do this, they will discuss why it is there, and whether or not it is doing its job in the text.  My hope is that they are also talking about what type of appeal the evidence is contributing to by now, without being prompted to do that.

The reason for spending the time to categorize like this is so students can see the parts outside of the whole; I think this helps them learn to recognize the different types of evidence (some of which they didn’t even realize was evidence!).  Then they can look at how the pieces interact, because they are seeing them as individual passages first.

One other thing to note about the reading selection is that it is in their Language and Composition 2e textbook as an example of a piece where rhetoric doesn’t always work, along with a student essay that argues this point of ineffectiveness.   They have read this previously as part of the broader chapter, so are going in familiar with it, and they are also already keyed into the fact that all the evidence might not be effective.  Even though it is in the text, though, I found the piece on-line and made copies for them so they could annotate (I find annotating to be a wonderful learning tool, but not one that fits well in public schools, since the kids don’t own their book. . . fortunately we don’t have paper quotas at our school!).

Also, they may be too swayed by the student essay that explains all the flaws--it will be a good opportunity to talk about context--that at the time this event happened, the intended audience may overlook the flaws because they are of the same mindset--emphasizing the importance of intended audience in rhetorical analysis.

How Evidence Functions in a Text

40 minutes

After students have had a chance to share evidence and identify types within their groups, as well as talk about its effectiveness, we will take a walk through the text as a class to see how the evidence is working in the context of the article.  I will have the article on the Smartboard and go sentence by sentence, establishing as a class if there is evidence, what kind it is, and how it is functioning, underlining and annotating as I go along, and debating effectiveness as we go along.

One goal I have here is to show how much “current event” evidence is used—reports from Japan that aren’t necessarily solid facts because of the chaos in the moment.  Additionally, I will highlight the use of historical references to other nuclear events such as Chernobyl, talking specifically how these references border on logical fallacy, but nevertheless have some effectiveness because of the occasion—people being deeply affected by the disaster.  We will also look at some of the claims the writer makes that aren’t necessarily substantiated with specific enough evidence.  These ideas all speak to the importance of the rhetorical situation, and how the passages of the text are working together in that context.

For Homework, students will complete the same task of identifying evidence and types of evidence, this time in the student essay in the textbook that is critical of the rhetorical effectiveness of this article.