Introduction to the Research Project: Persuasive and Rhetorical Devices

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SWBAT determine the meaning of rhetorical and persuasive terms as they are used in a speech, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings by analyzing how a speaker uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a speech.

Big Idea

The ideas that bind: Identifying persuasion and rhetoric in speech.


This lesson serves as the introductory lesson to the research project. I will spend some time explaining the process and expectations; then, I will proceed to explain in a PowerPoint the purpose of a speech and the varied persuasive and rhetorical devices.  I hope to give students the analytical tools to perform an analysis of a speech.  I will cover this information in modeling exactly how to analyze a speech for rhetorical devices.  On another level, this project is inter-disciplinary because its combines American history with literary analysis.  Students will research biographical and historical information and note how these factors influenced the speech.

Students will spend three full class periods compiling information.  The writing of the paper will be done for homework.  See the project outline. 

Introducing to Oratory: Rhetorical and Persuasive Techniques

20 minutes

In this section, I have prepared a PowerPoint to introduce students to the various persuasive and rhetorical techniques that they will be identifying in their chosen speeches.  My intention is to illustrate to students how a speech is similar to an advertisement or commercial.  Each media is designed to influence behavior.  Ultimately, I want them to understand how language is power, and how it is used to initiate change or to condemn injustice. 

My experience is that students struggle with the language in speeches.  I explain that in a speech, similar to a commercial, there is probably one or two major themes that are repeated throughout the work.  If they grasp that one point, they will understand the speech.  Additionally, many of the speech have audio and video components.  I allow students to either listen or watch the speeches to enhance their understanding.  Sometimes thei comprehension can be aided by visual cues and the body language of the speaker.

I have students take notes; for more challenging classrooms, I have them complete a sheet with the terms already on it.  Students just simply have to fill in the term with the definition.

A Model: The Gettysburg Address

20 minutes

Since students have difficulty recognizing rhetorical and persuasive devices in a speech, we will model the type of analysis that students will be required to do in this project.  I have included a copy of the "Gettysburg Address."  (This is my model). Although this speech is text prescribed for the ninth and tenth grade in Appendix B of the Common Core, I chose it as my model because students are familiar with it, and it is easier to recognize the rhetorical devices.  In order for students to recognize rhetorical devices in a more complex speech, my experience teaches me that it is more productive for them to be able to see them in a less complex speech.  They will then be able to carry that mastery to a more complicated speech.

In modeling the exercise, I choose a student(s) to read the text aloud, and then I write on the board the four rhetorical devices that we will be covering in this project:  restatement, repetition, rhetorical question, and parallelism.  Then, I also write the persuasive appeals: emotional, logical, and ethical.

To encourage students to engage in a discussion and work their way through the speech searching for examples of the four rhetorical devices, I have them work with a partner.  Depending on the class, I either assign their partner or I chose one for them.  

As we read the first line of the speech, I ask students, "Who is Lincoln referring to when he says 'our fathers?"  I use this as a weak allusion to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.  There is no other concrete example of allusion in this speech.  (I did not include allusion in the PowerPoint because we have covered this literary technique several times throughout the course.)  Students annotate their copy of the speech with the appropriate rhetorical technique and underline the portion of the text that supports the term.

I then ask students to look for words that are repeated and why.  Students will notice right away "we cannot" stated three times in the first line of the paragraph.  I ask them why would Lincoln says "we cannot" three times.  Their responses with some prompting focus on the fact that the living cannot consecrate a battlefield; it is those who have died on its soil who create a legacy of its importance.  Lincoln here is trying to drum up continued support and enthusiasm for the war, which has proven to be extremely difficult and bloody for both armies.  This idea is restated a few times, which is the example of restatement.  The last line is the example of parallelism or parallel structure where the grammatical structure of preposition, article, noun is repeated three times: of the people, for the people, by the people.

See the attached video for further explanation.

Lastly, I will ask students to identify whether Lincoln is making an emotional, logical, or ethical appeal.  My feeling is it is an emotional appeal.

Persuasive and Rhetorical Devices in Advertising

30 minutes

To practice analysis of persuasive devices, I take students to the computer lab and have them sign on to the Slideshare link below.  Students work through the Slideshare and review terms and devices.  Finally, when they reach slides 12-25, they will examine the ad and identify the purpose of the ad (what is advertiser selling and why); the audience (who is the advertiser selling to); and which persuasive devices are being used.  Answer will be written on white-lined paper and submitted for a grade.  My experience has taught me that if students can recognize the rhetorical techniques in an ad they can then apply this knowledge to a speech.