Understanding Martin Luther King Jr.'s Rhetorical Appeal in his Letter from Birmingham Jail

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SWBAT identify the rhetorical appeals Martin Luther King Jr.'s uses in his Letter from Birmingham Jail as well as his point of view by reading and annotating the text.

Big Idea

How to Move the Crowd: The Persuasive, Powerful Rhetoric of Martin Luther King


10 minutes

Quick Write

To stimulate their thoughts on taking a stance about something, students are asked to write the answer to this question in their journals: “Should we have a uniform policy in this high school?”  Students use their words to convince me that their opinion is the correct one W.9-10.10.

After they answer the question I select a few students to share their answers and ask them the question: "How are you trying to convince me that what you are saying is correct?" I then facilitate a short discussion of their responses .SL.9-10.1

Building Knowledge

20 minutes

Teaching the use of rhetoric in their writing is an important skill in high school.  When teaching students rhetoric, you should have an understanding of what you want your students to learn. In this lesson I have a specific type of rhetoric that I want my students to understand. I begin by giving them the building blocks for rhetoric, which include ethos, pathos and logos arguments. Ethos is an appeal to authority, pathos is an appeal to emotion and logos is an appeal to logic.

First I give them some background knowledge by explaining that their responses were stating an opinion on a subject important to them and that the Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that from the world around them, people speaking could observe how communication happens and use that understanding to develop convincing arguments.  He used the word rhetoric to describe the art of persuading someone to think like you.  I then ask who tries to convince people that they are right?

Next, I identify three elements that speakers and writers think about when trying to persuade and ask students to write these elements in their daily journals:  
  1. the argument being presented, 
  2. the message that the author is trying to convey and 
  3. the audience they are speaking to. 
I then discuss how the message will change depending on the intended audience and how this can add to the effectiveness of the argument.
Next, I explain that Aristotle divided the means of persuasion or appeals, into three categories: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. I briefly discuss why these rhetorical appeals can be an effective and critical persuasive elements of an argument.  I use  Rhetoric Intro power point presentation with examples and formative assessments.  Students are asked to take notes in their journals on each appeal because they will be using this information during the student learning activity.

To check for understanding I use the Cold Call technique asking students to define: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos SL.9-10.1

Student Learning Activity: Building Knowledge: Modeling How to Identify A Speaker’s Appeal

15 minutes

I begin the Student Learning Activity with slide #6 which asks them to identify the appeal the speaker is using in each of the preceding slides to advance their point of view or purpose RI.9-10.6

I use excerpts from speeches given by President Obama (slide #7), Ben Bernanke (slide #8), and Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" (slide #9) of the  Rhetoric Intro powerpoint.  In each speech I model how to identify a speaker's appeal  by underlining words or phrases that are clues to which appeal the speaker is using.  I ask students to re-read their definitions and write the appeal being used in their journals.  Next, I facilitate the checking and discussion of the students' answers.



Student Learning Activity: Identifying Appeal in Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail”

15 minutes

I then pass out Martin Luther King Jr's "Letter from Birmingham Jail" (1963) speech that I downloaded from the CCSS web site http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Appendix_B.pdf.

Cultivating students’ ability to read complex texts independently is one of the key priorities of the Common Core State Standards and is a requirement that students be able to demonstrate their independent capacity to read at the appropriate level of complexity and depth. Many of my students need scaffolding to engage in complex texts. I provide support by first modeling the annotation of the second paragraph and by handing out Rehtorical Answers that they will refer to.  

I then have students read the speech, Letter From Birmingham Jail, and annotate words and phrases supporting the appeal (RI.9-10.1) in the remaining paragraphs, and answer the questions concerning which of the three appeals does King use in the different paragraphs RI.9-10.6.

When finished I facilitate a discussion of the correct answers and use the docucamera to project the speech onto a screen as students take turns underlining words that support the appeal. 


Wrap Up

15 minutes

Envelope Please!

I want to check for student understanding and assess if they reached the learning objective with this novel wrap up activity. Students open their envelopes that I placed on their tables and read and answer the strip of paper that I typed a scenario in which they have to identify which the rhetorical appeal(s) is being used. The questions are tiered (with a color dot on envelopes) by matching the student's readiness and ability with questions that address basic comprehension to analysis and synthesis.

As a student answers the question, I facilitate understanding by asking what and why questions regarding the rehtorical appeals.