The Power of Rhetoric (Day 1 of 3)

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SWBAT identify and evaluate the use of rhetorical strategies, figurative language, and exceptionally beautiful speech in a Puritan sermon.

Big Idea

How many ways can you say "your fate is in God's hands"? I’m not sure, let's ask Jonathan Edwards...or was that a rhetorical question?!


We are nearing the end of our exploration of literature of the early Americans at this point in the unit!  Last class period, students spent a significant portion of time exploring extended metaphor and Puritan poetry.  Today we are going to wrap up the literature of the Puritans and begin examining the elements of speeches and rhetoric using excerpts from a sermon by Johnathan Edwards.  


25 minutes

Since my curriculum is tied directly to the historical context in which the literature was written, this morning's opening activity will ask students to look at Puritan values and their evolution through future generations of Americans, including those in the early 1900s, mid-1900s, 1990s, current times, and 20-50 years in the future.  We previously discussed guiding Puritan values and how Puritan values are the foundation of many current cultural mores, so this lesson will also provide a review of the major Puritan values.  To carry out this activity, students will complete a "Puritan Values Pulse Checker" via Google Form.  Using a Google Form has many strengths, but for this assignment, it is particularly valuable because it provides immediately-tabulated feedback to use to guide a class exploration of results.  

After students are done with the "pulse checker," but before we discuss the results as a class, we will take a few moments to investigate the students' connections with each generation of Americans.  This will serve to inform discussion in the data-results section of the opener, since many of the historical events that students thought of to characterize each generation of Americans will also serve as the facts that informed their inferences on the "pulse checker."  I will write each of the generation titles on the board, and then I will ask students to tell me what kinds of things they were thinking about when they considered each generation of Americans.  I will prompt them to tell me about what historical events they saw as shaping the culture, since many students will immediately fall back on telling me about the values listed on the survey (for example, "Well, I thought the early 1900's Americans would be frugal like the Puritans...").  The point of this activity is to identify the reasoning for their value judgments before discussing those judgments in light of the historical evidence.  I have previously found that skipping this portion of the lesson results in much less legitimate discussion while the results graphs are projected.  

Once all of the generations are discussed and framed in historical context, I will project the "Results Summary" of the Google Form.  Because the graphs will be separated kind of oddly (each value has five total circle graphs, one for each of the generations), I will give students an overview of how the graphs work before asking for their opinions.  Major points I will show are how graphs progress through time on the same value and how each graph reflects the class's insights on each value's importance from "much less" than the Puritans to "much more" than the Puritans.  For each Puritan value, I will ask students to perform the following tasks:

  • Draw conclusions supported by evidence which explain the results and trends of the graphs.
  • Explain why they feel results changed the way they have between generations (i.e., why things like "frugality" were perceived to be much more valued in the early 1900's, but were "much less" valued by the 1990's before making a comeback in the present and possibly future!).  
  • Explain why they felt that future generations would value these Puritan beliefs more or less than present day.
  • Explain what specific events led to their inferences about the values of Americans throughout different generations.
  • Make connections between generations with similar results and suggest why they might have those values in common.


After this activity, we will move on to discuss the homework students should have completed for today.  The assignment was to read Edward Taylor's "Huswifery," and use our lesson from last time to identify and support the extended metaphor and explain the theme of the work.  To begin, I will project the poem on my screen and have a student read the first stanza, then call on another to read the second stanza, and so on.  Before we launch into the analysis, I will ask students how their experience reading this poem was.  Many students will say it was difficult, and I will continue probing to require students to explain exactly what made it difficult (like vocabulary, little spinning wheel or loom knowledge, old language, etc.) and what they did to improve their reading.  This section of the discussion is really important to furthering the Reading Apprenticeship aspect of the course, which requires students to be more aware, metacognitive, and reflective readers.  The Common Core shares these requirements, so the Reading Apprenticeship approach integrates seamlessly into my classroom.  

After articulating what was difficult about the text and what reading strategies they used to discern the meaning of the text, students will share their views on the extended metaphor present in "Huswifery."  In some classes, students will be tentative to offer their opinion on such a complicated work.  In this case, I will limit the discussion to the first stanza, discuss it, and then move to the second stanza, and so on.  After students discuss their perception of the extended metaphor, I will show them my Google Drawing, which I created to help visual students get a better grasp on the metaphor and further connect all the pieces of Taylor's work.  I will encourage all students to save a copy of the Google Drawing for future study.

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Next, we will transition from Puritan literature to our final type of literature in this unit of study, speeches and essays of the Revolutionary period.  Since this will be our first look at formal speeches this year, we will begin by taking some notes on types of speeches and rhetorical strategies.  Ultimately, students will be identifying these rhetorical strategies in the seminal documents of the United States, including speeches by Patrick Henry and Ben Franklin, an essay by Thomas Paine, and The Declaration of Independence.  Before we can start that process, however, we need to gather a firm basis in the appropriate terminology to discuss such works.

I will give students an outline for notes that they will fill in while we discuss speech and rhetorical strategy terms.  The outline and a guide that demonstrates exactly what questions I will ask students during this note-taking activity are included in the resources section.  In previous years, I have asked students to take notes during lectures without outlines, but I found that many students get almost obsessive with trying to write down everything that is discussed (and other students will write down absolutely nothing of value).  This year I am trying outlining notes, but I am fairly confident this will evolve as the year proceeds.  


30 minutes

At this point, we will have gotten a chance to review applicable speech terms (which honestly, students should already know at this grade level), and our next endeavor will be to start applying some of those terms while evaluating a sermon.  While pretty much every textbook I have ever seen contains "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards, I never actually teach the whole thing to students.  It can be kind of a hard road to tackle more literature that is heavy in Puritan themes (and eternal damnation, obviously) at this point in the unit, because students, who are used to reading primarily plot-based fiction (if they read at all), have really had to work hard to understand the complex, predominantly non-fiction text we have covered so far in this unit.  I am starting to see participative, active readers, and I just don't want to kill that in them today before I challenge them with the seminal American works.  So I will use student-chosen selections from this piece to look at rhetorical strategies, review figurative language from earlier in the year, and appreciate some genuinely artistic prose (albeit terrifying for many).  And to make it more interesting and fun to students, they will be reading selections from the text in their very best "Puritan minister" voices.  What could have been a dreadful reading of this complicated text will turn into a group of excited kids exploring the text and sharing what they find.  

To get students immediately involved in the text, I will introduce the excerpt (the "Application" section of the text from page 12-16) from "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by explaining that we will not be reading the entire sermon because it is, overall, pretty terrifying.  I will continue that while it's terrifying at times, it's also one of the most beautifully terrifying, well-written, and presumably well-spoken texts I've ever seen.  To that end, I will also tell students that, just as we took care to narrate our Native American origin myth stories with passion and emotion, we will read our chosen excerpts with the firey passion of a Puritan minister, intent on saving souls from Hell!  Our objectives for this activity will be to select and share bits of particularly well-written language, examples of rhetorical strategies at play, and elements of figurative language.  To model this activity, I will share with students one of my favorite sections of text (located at the bottom of page 12 about wickedness making people "heavy as Lead" through the gorgeous image of a rock falling through a spider's web) in my best booming-Puritan-minister voice.  I will also explain what I specifically like about it and the figurative language it employs.  

After my opening example, I will move around the room to student volunteers to read their own favorite, "most terrifying" passages and allow them to explain why they selected it and what rhetorical strategies, figurative language, and striking language it contains.  At the conclusion of this activity, students will likely have read most of the passage, oddly enough!  The major difference will be that they will have done so excitedly and willingly!  If students don't mention the rhetorical skills listed in our notes, I will ask students to identify a few examples for each.  We will also discuss the purpose, audience, tone, and mood of the sermon before moving on.


15 minutes

To close our class period today, we will transition from the seriousness and weight of Jonathan Edwards's sermon to a much lighter version of speech, stand-up comedy.  My students (and I) love stand-up comedy, and when I started to consider the types of skilled speakers my students primarily see, comedy was by and large the most familiar to them.  I want students to recognize that skilled comedians often employ the same skill-set of other speakers, including Jonathan Edwards from this lesson and Patrick Henry of the next lesson.

I will call two student volunteers to the whiteboard to serve as class scribes to note "Comedians" in one column and "Characteristics of a Good Comedian" in another.  Then, I will ask the whole class to name several comedians that they enjoy.  After a substantial list has been accumulated, I will ask students to brainstorm a list of what, specifically, these comedians do to be such successful speakers.  Students will likely list that they aren't afraid of tackling tough subjects, are confident in both body language and tone, use pacing and pauses to amplify humor and story-telling, interact with the audience, return to a similar catchphrase or story in multiple parts of the routine (like Ron White's "tater salad" references!), and don't take themselves too seriously.  If students do not mention any of the rhetorical strategies listed in the notes, I will ask individually about them to see if good comedians employ these tactics in their routines.

Once students have completed their list, my volunteers will be able to return to their seats, and I will play a brief clip of Jim Gaffigan's "Lazy" routine from his Big Baby tour.  I enjoy Jim Gaffigan, though many students don't know him, because his comedy is generally appropriate and this clip in particular is probably relatable to students.  Also, I think this clip has extra layers of humor because he pokes fun at reading, which just seems ironic to be coming from an English teacher!  After the clip, we will revisit the second column to add any more characteristics of a good comedian that students have thought of since viewing the clip.  

Finally, I will reframe the list to address characteristics of a good speaker by crossing out "comedian" and writing "speaker" in the column heading.  We will briefly move down the list to address each of the characteristics, placing an asterisk before each trait that also applies to being a successful speaker.  I expect most (if not all) of the characteristics will be the same, which should solidify the connection between rhetorical skills and successful speaking of all kinds.  

Next Steps

Students will not have official homework tonight.  Next class period we will continue identifying rhetorical skills used in speeches using Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention" and compare that to a written argument using Thomas Paine's American Crisis, Number 1.