Close Reading: Personal Experience as Evidence

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SWBAT understand how personal experiences can be used as evidence to build central ideas in an argument through close rhetorical analysis of a text.

Big Idea

Personal experiences can act as powerful, logical evidence for an argument.


Jigsaw Rhetorical Analysis of Personal Experience

45 minutes

Today we will continue exploring how personal experiences can be used to develop arguments by analyzing Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Myth of the Latin Woman,” and Judy Brady’s “I Want a Wife,” with particular emphasis on Cofer’s piece.  The structure of her piece is similar to Cheryl Strayed in that she describes an event, then gives her feelings and analysis of it, then repeats the process, each time building her central idea about stereotypes of Latin women, and in doing so the nature of stereotyping as a whole (the resource here Cofer excerpt.docx shows this pattern--the yellow is the personal experience, and green is her thoughts/analysis of it; I will spend a lot more time with this pattern when we get to the writing unit that follows this one).  This allows us to return to the concept of building a central idea through this pattern that I learned was something the students needed more work on in the study of Wild .  The Judy Brady piece is more stylized, with the use of anaphora as a primary rhetorical device for creating tone and developing her argument.  She also alludes to personal experience in small generalized chunks rather than dedicating parts of the text to narrative in a similar fashion to Paul Theroux.  So, these are the elements of emphasis for our work with that text.

Four of the questions on page 551 of The Language of Composition 2e textbook do a nice job of breaking down how Cofer develops her central idea through the use of personal experiences (for example, one of them asks “How does Cofer broaden the argument from her personal experience to larger concerns, including other stereotypes in other communities”—this question addresses the idea of two or more central ideas developing in a text, a new reading skill for grade 11-12 in the CCSS), so we will focus on those today as we build a deeper understanding of how memoir is used to develop arguments in preparation for their own memoir writing.

To efficiently focus on these ideas and analyze the piece, we will Jigsaw the four questions (numbers 2-5, pg. 551):  the students will break up into four groups, and I will assign one question to each group (I will first ask them to go around and each give a one-minute response to the piece so they can establish general context for the piece before trying to analyze it).  The groups will have five to ten minutes (I will monitor their progress, and help the groups as I circulate if necessary) to discuss the question and determine pieces of evidence from the text that they will use to support their answer.

After the groups have discussed their question, each will share their response (we will do this in chronological order), and I will emphasize specific points as they pertain to the use of narrative as evidence and for rhetorical purpose, as we build to the last of the four questions, which specifically asks how she broadens her argument from personal experiences to larger concerns like stereotypes (the ones prior to this one ask about her explanation of stereotypes rather than denial, whether the use of personal experience weakens or strengthens the piece, and whether one should have been omitted).  Because I want to emphasize how the narrative parts build on one another, I will ask closer-reading questions about the passages, and the word choices and tone she takes on in each personal experience segment as she builds her case about stereotypes.  I don’t want to rush through this, but I will keep an eye on the clock so we have at least fifteen minutes to take a quick look at the Judy Brady piece.

Analysis: Implied Personal Experiences

25 minutes

Because of time (not only today, but because the Thanksgiving break is looming next week, and leaving unfinished business on the table then never works out that well), I will ask a couple pointed questions about the piece—specifically how she uses personal experience, and the rhetorical effect of the repeated phrase “I want a wife,” including what tone these two things work together to achieve.  She uses personal experiences in a similar fashion to Paul Theroux in "Being a Man," so I will ask students to think back to that piece, and also to consider which one is more effective in their opinion and why (while both are very critical and sarcastic, Brady's reliance on anaphora with the repeated "I want a wife" phrase brady anaphora.mp4seems more palatable for a larger audience than Theroux's use of high-appraisal words like "treacherous," and "pitiful").

Next Steps:  To practice writing personal narratives as arguments for bigger ideas, students will chose one item appropriate to their gender from the list of “stand-up” statements used in the conceptual framework activity last week that they have experienced, and write a single-draft narrative of the experience as a way of addressing gender stereotypes.  They will use either the Cofer piece or the Brady piece as a model.  Additionally, students will read the essay “Add Cake, Subtract Self Esteem” by Carol Knapp.