From Reading to Writing: An Introduction to the Rhetorical Analysis Essay

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SWBAT recognize the writing structure of a rhetorical analysis essay, and how they can establish their own voice while still maintaining an objective point of view through analysis of a model analysis.

Big Idea

Explanatory essays are highly structured by nature, but can include some flare, too.


Completing Rhetoric Exam

25 minutes

When I realized yesterday that the students were taking longer than I expected on the open response portion of their exam, I decided to hold the multiple choice section for today.  Part of the reason is that it is timed--11th grade students in Massachusetts are making the standardized testing transition from the un-timed MCAS to timed AP and SAT exams, so part of the goal here is to slowly move them into that type of testing.  I chose the excerpt from Nickel and Dimed because it is modern both in style and context, so they wouldn't struggle reading it and could focus on the questions and becoming acquainted with the specificity of the multiple choice questions.  I also chose it because the Teacher's Manual for the Language of Composition 2e textbook has a set of multiple choice questions!

This specificity also works well as we move into our writing unit, priming students to think about diction, connotative meanings, organization, etc., in a precise way that puts the content of the first two units of the course (The Function of Language and Understanding Rhetoric) together.

Finally, the twenty five minutes I give them for the test here is quite generous, but I won't tell them that until later--the goal is to simply feel what it is like to be thoughful while on the clock.


From Reading to Writing: A Model

45 minutes

When entering a new unit with a new skill set, I always try to start with a model that we can construct jointly as a class.  In this case, the task is to take a close reading and transform that interpretation into tools for writing a well-crafted explanatory essay.  So as an introduction to this, we will take a look at a reading-to-writing sequence from their textbook, The Language of Composition 2e.  

We will first read a letter written by Groucho Marx to Warner Brother's studios in response to their request for Marx to remove "Casablanca" from the title of their new movie (Groucho Marx Letter.docx).  I like this piece because there is a nice combination of humor within a very logical argument.  Since they will have been quietly testing for the first part of class, we will read the text out loud as a class.  I'm always weary of calling on student to read out loud when they are not comfortable with it, but I also think they need to practice those skills, so I'm going to do a sort of hybrid--I will start by reading the first paragraph, then ask that someone new has to pick up every new paragraph after that until everyone has read.  However, I won't call on anyone--the students will have to make the decision to jump in and take their turn.  I don't remember trying this before, so we'll see how it goes!  I'm hoping this gives a combination of choice and pressure so even the shy students will take their turn and see that it isn't so bad!

Once we read it out loud, we'll take a look at some of the text-analysis questions provided in the textbook, like "why does he start out with the word "Apparently," and "what is the effect of Marx giving a history of Burbank in paragraph 2?"  These questions are models of the type of questioning students should be doing, and I'll frame them as such.  They also are quite similar to the multiple choice questions they just answered, which should add some credibility to it.  Also, I will sell them as the kinds of questions that by the end of the year, if they practice, will be able to ask naturally as they are reading.  From an analysis standpoint, they have students recognizing how specific words and phrases are being used in the text for rhetorical effect (reading standard 4), and how they are addressing a central idea.  This will be done via a full class discussion, and I'll put the piece on the Smartboard to annotate for clarity.

After we've gone through the text to establish a joint understanding of the central idea and rhetoric of the text, including some specific writing choices, we'll move to the sample rhetorical analysis of the Marx piece, also in the Language of Composition 2e on pages 62-63.  I'm guessing that I will only have time to touch on part of this, so my plan is to read the first paragraph or two out loud and point out some structural elements in the text (for example, how the author states their claim partly through an extended metaphor, or how the author integrates quotes into the syntax of their own sentence) to model observations and questioning the text, then send them home to read the rest and make similar observations in preparation for tomorrow when we will more thoroughly analyze this text.  If I have more time than I expect, I may ask for student observations as part of the modeling, but the key is for them to analyze the organizational and word choices from a writer's point of view.