The Power of Rhetoric (Day 3 of 3)

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SWBAT evaluate the effectiveness of political works by Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, and Ben Franklin by comparing and contrasting the organizational structure, themes, rhetorical devices, and argumentative elements extrapolated through close-reading and class discussion.

Big Idea

If I said Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, & Ben Franklin were astronauts, would you believe me? Bet you would if THEY said it. That's talent.


Last class period, students spent time in class creating an objective paragraph-by-paragraph summary and listing of rhetorical strategies used in Patrick Henry's "Speech to the Virginia Convention."  For homework, they had to repeat the same procedure with Thomas Paine's The Crisis, Number 1.  This class period marks the last day in our "Power of Rhetoric" series and nearly the final day in the opening unit.  So far we have spent time building reading strategies necessary to close, independent reading, recognizing how history and literature are entwined, and building knowledge about literary elements and their applications in text.  This opening unit is crucial to setting a positive tone for the year, but it also gives me the opportunity to preassess students and determine areas of weakness that will need to be addressed in upcoming units.  


10 minutes

Before beginning our discussion of students' homework, I will ask students to gather a list of similarities and differences between the Thomas Paine essay they read for homework and the Patrick Henry speech we read together last time.  To guide this activity, I will instruct them to ignore content features of the works and focus only on how these men communicate their ideas.  Their thoughts should be limited to organization, argumentation methods, rhetorical strategies, tone, mood, syntax, word choice, and other features of composition.  These features will be listed on the whiteboard by a student scribe to inform our discussion (after I take attendance).  

Once students have finished listing our their thoughts, we will go over their lists to make inferences about why the works are so structurally different.  I expect that students will recognize that many of these features are different because one is an essay and one is a speech, but if they do not, I will help them arrive at that conclusion, then look again at how the features back up that idea.  Students will note that more complex syntax, increased sentence length, more complicated vocabulary, and longer paragraphs make the essay different than the speech.  The speech uses sentence length that is shorter, more familiar vocabulary, and elements like rhetorical questions to engage the audience.  Tone and mood of both pieces also varies with changing audiences (especially since the speech is directed at legislators and the essay at more "common people").  After these differences are discussed, the class can move forward with discussing summaries and strategies in the Thomas Paine work.

Building Knowledge

45 minutes

To review the Thomas Paine homework, I will ask students to first offer a brief overview of the work as a whole.  Then, I will go around the room having students share their paragraph-by-paragraph summaries and argumentative strategies used in each paragraph.  Students may be hesitant to share their summaries, as the text was more complicated, but I will encourage students to share what they have and then allow other students to build more on the main idea offered.  All rhetorical or argumentative strategies offered will be backed up by evidence and examples within the paragraph to show the strategy being used.  I will also make sure to ask students the following questions during this portion of the class period:

  • Why do you think that Paine uses loaded words like "tyranny" more freely than Henry?  (Students should point to the later time period, but also the intended audiences for each piece.  Henry would be more cautious to avoid offending the convention so openly, since his speech had a higher profile.)
  • Is the argument that things are more valuable when you work harder for them an accurate one?  Explain your position with examples.
  • How do his definitions of "freedom" and "slavery" develop throughout the text?  
  • Why is it argumentatively smart that Paine takes discussing whether or not they entered the war too soon or too late off the table?  (Students should recognize that by stating this, he limits the argument to what he wants to discuss.  I will give an example to illustrate this concept in action and the possible consequences of not limited your argument.  This year, our district switched entirely to a 1:1 setting, issuing Chromebooks to all students in grades 4-12.  There is obviously still some resistance to this transition for students, but for the most part it is going well.  However, it's a pretty safe bet that students have all been involved in at least one conversation about how they can better use the Chromebooks in the future that has turned into a "we never should have gotten these in the first place!" discussion.  I will use this example to show that by offering a simple statement about what you are prepared to argue about and what you are not prepared to argue about in this situation, these pointless wanderings could be avoided.)
  • Why do so many of these texts offer God's wishes as support for their arguments?  Is this effective?  Why or why not?
  • Paine's got some pretty harsh words for "Tories."  Does that hurt or help his argument?
  • What does the anecdote in the tavern do for his argument?  Is he appealing to logic or emotion?  Is it successful?
  • Why does Paine use repetition to say "bind in all cases whatsoever" again near the end of this essay?  Would restatement have been just as good?
  • Paine lands pretty heavily on the idea that if you're not with us, you're against us.  Do you believe that to be ethical?  Isn't that like the bandwagon technique?  Or is it okay in this case since it's for a good cause?  What are the rules?


Once we have finished looking at the text, I want to touch base with students about the reading experience they had while reading this text independently.  I have received some feedback from students prior to today, so I will take time to collect more information from the group as a whole about ways I can best meet the needs of my students, both in class and at home.  I often ask students about how I can do things better for them, and they actually play a big role in how I structure lessons.  I am not sure of exactly how long this portion of the lesson will be (though I ball-parked about twenty minutes), but the remaining time in the hour will be spent in an independent reading application of the skills we reviewed today, so this section can be pretty flexible.  Suggestions, strategies, and needs will be noted here, and I will revise my curriculum and student resources accordingly.  The developments from this conversation will be attached in the reflection for this section.


30 minutes

For the final activity of the day, students will watch a dorky video about Ben Franklin to get a better idea about all the things he was involved in and then read our final revolutionary appeal, "Speech in the Convention."  Before reading, I will remind students that Ben Franklin is writing about approving the Constitution, and not arguing about anything to do with breaking away from Britain.  Though this speech was delivered about a decade after the other works we've read in the last few days, it was chosen to accompany these arguments because it just as passionately argues his point while employing a vastly different tone than either of the other works.  I also appreciate that it uses uncertainty to argue a strong point about being certain, which is just too beautifully paradoxical not to address.  

After students read the short speech, they will complete the attached "Comparing Arguments of the Revolution" graphic organizer to analyze specific elements of each text and compare them with one another.  This activity should not be overly complicated, as it is a culmination of our close-readings, class discussion, and homework assignments.  This organizer with be graded as a summative assessment to demonstrate student mastery and understanding of each of the concepts.  We will continue working with these concepts in future readings, but they have had plenty of guided and independent practice at this point that they will be much more comfortable making assertions supported by evidence.  They will have the remainder of the hour to work through this assignment.  I will be circulating around the room to help students with any issues they may encounter during this time.


5 minutes

In the final five minutes of class, I will ask students about their initial impression of Ben Franklin's speech in comparison to the other two documents which we have already analyzed.  They will summarize his argument briefly.  They will also have the opportunity to ask any questions about the homework before they depart for the afternoon!

Next Steps

For homework, students will complete the "Comparing Arguments of the Revolution" graphic organizer after reading Ben Franklin's speech.  I will spend the next two evenings setting into motion the suggestions my students gave me in today's class period to improve their experience in my class!