Introducing the Rhetorical Square

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Working with various ads from magazines, SWBAT apply the concept of the rhetorical square in order to determine purpose, argument, audience, and persona of the ads.

Big Idea

Equipping students with a valuable skill to make them more effective readers and writers.

Introduction of Rhetorical Square

10 minutes

Today I will be introducing my students to the complex skill of applying the rhetorical square to text in order to equip them with a strategy that should improve both their reading and their writing. However, in order to ease them into the application, we will begin by applying the concept to advertisements I have gathered from magazines.

In the first ten minutes of class, I distribute and review the The Rhetorical Square handout I have prepared for them.  This is a necessary step, albeit a rather dry one to review with students, which is why my only goal is to read it out loud as a whole class at this time, so that the idea of it is in circulation.  I have found that it remains rather abstract as a concept until it is actually applied, but it is essential that my students have access to a thorough explanation of the skill via the handout.

I usually spilt the reading of the handout between two student volunteers, while I interject any necessary elaborations and/or explanations.  Again, I do not belabor the process at this point in the lesson, as it should become more clear to my students once we apply the skill to an ad as a whole class.


Whole Group Application

25 minutes

I next explain to my students that we are going to apply the concept together to a Covergirl ad that I have selected. Any ad will do, as long as you, the teacher, are able to easily see the elements of the rhetorical square in it so as to guide your students successfully through this first application.

I place the Whole Group Covergirl ad on the document camera and instruct my students to turn their handouts over to the back, where I have enlarged a copy of the rhetorical square for them to work with.  I explain to them that the most fluid way to work around the square is in a clockwise fashion, starting with purpose, followed by argument, audience, and persona.  I explain that as they are able to identify each of these four elements in the ad, that indicates that they are likewise noticing the strategies used in the ad in order to achieve its desired results.  The strategies are then listed in the center of the square.

NOTE:  The whole group rhetorical square sample that I have attached has been reformatted on the template, in order to maintain my suggested clockwise method of analysis.  I did not catch this error before I made the initial copies for my students, instead catching it as I was delivering the lesson!

Thus, as a whole group we begin to analyze the ad through the skill of the rhetorical square.  As students offer their responses, I write them down on my copy of the Whole Group Rhetorical Square on the document camera and students copy down the responses on their own copies.  I explain that each expression must be written as a complete sentence (until we get to persona).  

By first performing the skill collectively,  I am able to reshape any responses that may miss the mark, providing opportunities to further explain the proper application of the technique. Having taught this skill many times in the past, I anticipate a few trouble spots:

  • Students will often blend the argument of the ad into the purpose.  I tell them that the purpose should be the the easiest element to identify, and often will be the shortest expression of the four elements.
  • I will need to explain that often an ad (and ultimately, a text) makes more than one argument.
  • Identifying audience at first appears deceptively simple to students, and this usually takes some strong nudging on my part to encourage students to really study not only the strategies used in the ad, but to also consider the venue in which the ad appeared.
  • Students will need to be encouraged to think in adjectives when identifying persona.

I allow enough time for a thorough analysis of the ad in order to demonstrate the thought that I want my students to put into the analysis.  I want this first application of the skill to be as extensive as possible, even if more so than necessary, so that my students develop the habit of always being this thoughtful as readers and as writers.

Partner Application

25 minutes

My students are then placed in strategic pairs (high-low, wherever possible and whenever necessary) and are given an ad of their own with which to work.  In the past, I have taught this by allowing students to bring in an ad of their own, having assigned it as homework the previous day, or by allowing students to select an ad of their own from magazines I have in class. Two potential problems arise with these approaches, however:

  • If assigned as homework, some students will definitely forget to bring it.
  • If allowed to search magazines in class, students become easily distracted, often reading and discussing the contents of the magazine instead of staying focused on finding an ad.

Thus, for these reasons, I have preselected a set of ads that I intend to use throughout all of my classes, so as to keep as much fluidity in the lesson delivery and application as possible.  I have selected ads that I think will give my students the opportunity to be successful with the application of the technique on their own.

Each partnership is given a new ad with which to work and a piece of white computer paper upon which to create a new rhetorical square.  I leave the sample we have created as a whole group on the document camera during this portion of the lesson, so that students can reference it and be reminded of the depth they are aiming for in their analysis.

As students pairs are working, I am able to circulate and visit each pair, addressing any confusion and offering leading questions that may help them make previously overlooked discoveries about their ads.

Partner Sharing With Whole Group

10 minutes

With usually just a few minutes remaining in class, I ask for volunteer partnerships to place their ads on the document camera and share with the whole class their analysis of their ad through the skill of the rhetorical square.

As a closing comment, I inform my students that our next step will be to apply to skill to actual text.