The Argumentative Appeals: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

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SWBAT read the letters to Walter Dean Myers written by their peers to determine their effectiveness in convincing him to return to school.

Big Idea

Tapping into what students don't know that they already know.


5 minutes

Today my students will be returning to the letters they wrote as teams to the young Walter Dean Myers, encouraging him to come back to school.  I explain to my students that they will be reading the work of their peers and determining the effectiveness of the letters, based on a series of questions I have created for them to consider( Sample Student Letter).

Evaluation Committee Groups

35 minutes

Next I arrange my students in teams of three, making sure to spread my stronger students among the arrangements, and distribute a letter to each team, written by students in a separate class.  I have chosen to use the work of students from other classes to avoid any sort of bias that classmates might impose on one another.

I give each team an evaluation worksheet and explain that they are to read the letter they have been given and complete each question, citing evidence from the letter to support their claims wherever prompted.  I briefly review the questions out loud with the whole group, providing examples of possible emotional and/or logical evidence.  For example, I encourage my students to question what tone the letter takes with Walter in terms of identifying emotional evidence, and/or give them an example such as "If you come back to school, you are more likely to go to college and become successful" as an example of possible logical reasoning.   I urge my students to be honest in their responses, so long as they are able to back up their claims with evidence from the letter.

As my students read and evaluate the letters, I am able to circulate through the room, addressing any questions they might have and assisting them with finding the types of evidence they are looking for, if necessary (Sample Student Evaluation Form).  


Notes: Now Let's Name It

30 minutes

When my students have completed their evaluations, I explain to them that I am going to equip them with the language for what they have just identified through a set of notes that they will record in their classroom spiral notebook (Art of Argument).

As my students are exposed to the information in the powerpoint, I pause and ask them to share how they responded to the relative questions that focused on each argumentative appeal.  For example, as they learn the word ethos, I ask for volunteers to share how they answered question one, which asks whether or not they trusted the voice in the letter.  As students share their responses and explanations, I am able to elaborate upon the nature of ethos and how essential it is for a writer to establish trust with a reader.  We do this for all three appeals as we make our way through the presentation, and it becomes an easy transition for my students to start using the Greek terms in exchange for the wording on their evaluation forms, as they have built confidence with identifying them through the activity.

In closing the lesson, I inform my students that truly successful arguments are built on the foundation of all three appeals working effectively together.  To further illustrate this point, I use the example of keeping a fire extinguisher at home, an example once shared with me from a mentor teacher.  In short, it is a way to illustrate the power of the three appeals working together in this manner:

  • Ask students to raise their hands if they own a fire extinguisher at home.  Rarely, if ever, will all be able to answer in the affirmative.
  • Ask why not to those who do not own a fire extinguisher, for it would seem to make perfect, logical sense (logos) that everyone does.
  • Use this to point out how we cannot count on everyone to be motivated by logic alone. 
  • Now imagine that a fire chief, in uniform, visits the classroom and provides statistics for the number of home tragedies that have been averted as a result of having  fire extinguishers at home.  Our imaginary fire chief adds credibility (ethos) to the difficult-to-dispute statistics (logos).
  • Additionally, our fire chief provides the story of a three-year-old child who was lost in a home fire, a life that could have been easily spared had there only been a fire extinguisher on hand. The emotion (pathos) evoked from this story strengthens the argument that all should own a fire extinguisher at home.
  • Thus, when just the right dose of all three appeals are present when defending an argument, the likelihood of success increases.