How Evidence Functions in Rhetorical Analysis

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SWBAT recognize how evidence functions in a rhetorical analysis essay through analysis of a student text.

Big Idea

Relevant, specific evidence makes a claim worth reading.


Warm Up--Evidence Review

10 minutes

While I always try to somehow review concepts before launching into a lesson that requires accessing that knowledge, today is particularly important because a number of students were not in class yesterday due to a student council meeting.  Because of this, I will have students who were present (two-thirds of the class) explain to their peers what we established regarding the Anne Applebaum article and the effectiveness of her rhetoric.  I will put the piece on the Smartboard and ask students to point out some of the types of evidence, and the discussion surrounding that, while I annotate on the board.  The ideas I specifically want to have explained are that there there was an over-reliance on current events and use of historical events only for pathos, which caused some logical fallacy.  However, it wasn't as bad as they initially made it out to be because of the context.  When I get to this point, I want to review the issue of exigence--the fact that in the moment it was written, much of the rhetoric we thought wasn't effective could have been in the moment, and could have been effective to the audience reading her work. 

This review will get the students absent yesterday at least on the same page, and the rest of the lesson and discussion of the text through the student essay should continue to reinforce these ideas during our new lesson.  Once I feel there is a strong understanding, I will have students form groups for the next activity, making sure that students who weren't present are in groups with students who were present yesterday.

Identifying Evidence and Function

30 minutes

Today I want to show students how evidence functions differently in different genres of non-fiction texts (one flaw of the common core, I think, is that it lumps all non-fiction into one broad category of "informational texts."  In order to teach students how to recognize how evidence supports their analysis and builds central ideas, it is important to teach students not only they types of evidence that writers use, but also how this evidence works differently in a persuasive essay, or an explanatory essay, etc.).   The Anne Applebaum piece (Applebaum article.docx) is a critical column from a newspaper, and we've talked a lot the past two days about the importance of that context, and how some of the things she does in it work for the particular audience, and in fact the strong opinion is expected from a columnist.  Today I will have them analyze how evidence functions in a rhetorical analysis essay written by a student (a student essay from the textbook used in connection with the Anne Applebaum piece on page 28 of The Language of Composition 2e)-unfortunately it is not a public piece like Applebaum's, so I can't include it here).  I like to use similar analysis strategies in consecutive days so they can practice the method, and also because the students will likely be able to focus on the skills since they are accustomed to the activity. 

So, to organize the evidence I will have them work in small groups as I did yesterday with one group member as a scribe.   They will go through the essay paragraph by paragraph and identify evidence, and put different types of evidence (anecdotal, historical, quantitative, etc.) into columns.   As they do this, they will discuss why it is there, and whether or not it is doing its job in the text (to prove the thesis!).  The students were quite swayed by this argument yesterday when they analyzed the evidence of the Applebaum piece, so I’m hoping that this activity will help them see that the argument isn’t as solid as they first thought.

While there are certainly some strong moments of logical argument in the student piece, there are also some organizational issues, and the author does not always use strong evidence to substantiate claims.  Additionally, a great deal of the argument is based on credibility, such as claiming Applebaum isn’t qualified to write about this topic because she is a journalist rather than an expert in the field. . . an argument that isn’t that strong and hard to back up with concrete evidence from the column (since the argument is based only on the column, and not on outside research, since it is a rhetorical analysis).  By extracting evidence, students will not only see how the evidence works differently in this type of argument, and hopefully recognize some of potential flaws in writing a rhetorical analysis.  I will also ask them to take a look at tone and how that comes out in the piece (and whether the tone is appropriate for the genre).

How Strong is the Analysis?

25 minutes

Once students have had a chance to discuss the merits of the essay in small groups, each group will share some highlights of their discussion with the class, and I will annotate their thoughts on the Smartboard (in this case I will use the digital version of the textbook and use the Smartboard tools).  Since I will have been listening in to their conversations, I will call on the group I felt had a particularly strong discussion to go first to model sharing for the others and set a tone of rigor.   After all the groups have shared and as a class we have discussed the text, I will take one more step and read what the teacher’s manual for the textbook says in order to emphasize how important it is to determine the connotative meaning of words and phrases in a text, and how they are functioning to determine effectiveness (Reading standards 4 and 5!).  

High school students in English classes often have a natural skepticism when their teachers analyze a text closely, thinking the teacher is just 'way to into this stuff!"   So, as I preface to the reading from the manual, I plan to tell students that the editors have all worked for the college board, have taught the course, and have written questions and scored the test.  This will give some credibility not only to the lesson, but also to the fact that this type of close reading and scrutiny of their own writing is really important.  Also, it will give students a sense of expectations regarding the eventual AP exam.  While I don’t like spending lots of time discussing high stakes testing in class, sharing information like this can also help reset the bar, so to speak—emphasizing the amount of rigor expected from them in the course.

The discussion we have will be based on their previous comments about the piece, though I do have a particular idea to emphasize, too.  In the teachers manual (pg. 7), one organizational problem it explains is that the thesis statement suggests there will be three fallacies addressed in the analysis, but then in the body all three aren't addressed.  And, they are not in the same order as in the thesis, causing an issue of parallelism.  Since we've been focused on evidence, the students will likely not notice this, so it will be a good way to plan the seed regarding organization of a text.

The part that I think will validate the students' own work is when the manual states that there is too much reliance on "personal alarm" (pathos) than solid evidence.  

Finally, this will get them thinking about their own writing, which is important as we transition to our first writing unit--writing the rhetorical analysis essay--next week.