Introduction to Rhetorical Appeals and Writing a Rhetorical Precis

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SWBAT identify and evaluate how an author uses rhetoric to advance an argument by evaluating three movie reviews focusing on audience and rhetorical appeals.

Big Idea

What is the purpose? How does it connect to an audience? Students will distinguish between and objective analysis and personal opinion.

Let's Get Started: Quick Review of the Rhetorical Triangle

5 minutes

It has been awhile since the class has focused on literary nonfiction.  It is time to review rhetorical analysis and begin to build on what the class already knows.  As the students walk in there is a picture of the rhetorical triangle on the board.  Students have to define and label the triangle.  They define audience, context, purpose, and message. 

When I teach the rhetorical triangle, I give the students a list of verbs that describe the purpose for writing.  Since the last unit heavily focused on literature, I want to review the verbs of purpose to help the students transition to informational texts.  So, next I ask them the verbs of purpose: inform, explain, persuade, and describe. I also review how to write a purpose sentence (L.9-10.6).

(author's name) wants to (verb of purpose) (target audience) that (restate claim or message).

Sometimes this formula creates a clunky sentence.  However the formula helps the students grasp the foundation of rhetorical analysis. If they know the audience, context and purpose, they can expand it into an objective analysis or rhetorical precis about the text. Eventually they will be able to demonstrate how rhetorical elements advance the author's argument (RI 9-10 6).

Building Knowledge: Notes on Rhetorical Appeals

10 minutes

Now that we are on a solid foundation, I pass out a handout on rhetorical appeals and  rhetorical precis.  I ask the students to make a list of literary nonfiction and/or nonfiction in general.  I am looking for them to go beyond the biography/autobiography and really consider the different types of texts they encounter. The informational texts I am going to give them are reviews of the same film written by different authors.  Before we get to the texts, I want them to start thinking about informational texts that are different from what they are used to seeing in English class. Additionally, I remind the students that not all rhetorical situations are texts.  The list should include:

news articles


journal articles

personal narratives

historic documents

science papers




The handout contains the basic information on ethos, pathos and logos including questions the students can ask themselves about a text to determine how an author uses the appeals. I also write the information on the board to create a shared class visual of the handout.  The vocabulary is content specific (L 9-10 6).  I want students to build their capacity to use ethos, pathos, and logos when they talk about the quality of evidence in an argument and how the author uses it to establish a purpose (RI 9-10 6).

I give them an example of credibility.  I am going to write an essay on basketball.  I do not like basketball. So, I ask them if I am a credible source.  Then I ask them to explain why.  We go through all the appeals using examples from different student's interests to create examples of each appeal. 

Building Knowledge: Four Sentences to a Rhetorical Precis

15 minutes

Now, it is time to get to the nitty-gritty of the notes.  Most of the students had some passing familiarity with the appeals, now it is time to talk about an objective summary of literary nonfiction.  This class is a 10th grade honors. I frequently tell my students that it is the last year of high school English, so I want them to leave the class as college readers and writers.  Their college credit options for next year are AP Language and duel enrollment WRT 101 which is a rhetoric and composition class. Both classes use rhetorical precis as the foundation of analysis. 

A rhetorical precis is an objective summary of a situation (RI 9-10.2).  It has specific elements that requires students to write in a formal style specific to the discipline (W 9-10. 4).  For this class, I want them to hit the basics.  The notes on  rhetorical precis create a four sentence paragraph.  Each paragraph focuses on an element of a precis. If they can master a basic four elements, when they get to the next level, they will have a strong foundation to build on. Yes, it will be clunky.  As they develop their stills at extracting the appropriate information from the text and acquire an objective voice, the rhetorical precis they write will evolve into a more fluid text. Luckily, I also teach the dual enrollment class and will get to see this evolution next year. 

Finally after students write their precis or objective summary, they will write a second paragraph that addresses their response to the text.  Each student will discuss how successful s/he found this piece to be based upon the writer’s use rhetorical appeals, language and/or writing style to connect with his/her audience (RI 9-10 6). 

Applying Knowledge: Whole Class Writes a Rhetorical Precis

25 minutes

Tucson High students suffer from 'fear of the unknown' disease.  They freeze up and panic any time they have to do something new.  Honestly, nothing in the precis is new.  However the precis requires them to organize the information into a formal and/or formulaic paragraph that is new to them (W 9-10. 4).  

I pass  out the texts we are going to use to write our rhetorical precis.  I give them four movie reviews of Youssou N'Dour I Bring What I Love. We will evaluate the first review as a whole class, the second in groups, and the last two the students will tackle independently.  Half the class will be assigned the third review and half the class the fourth review. I want them to build confidence as a learning community and carry that confidence into independent writing. I gathered these reviews from a variety of sources including the New York Times.  I want them to practice with texts that are accessible. All of the reviews have accessible language and content. The point is to extrapolate the information necessary for the precis not to grapple with the content of the text. Before we begin reading, I tell the class to turn the requirements of each sentence into questions. I write the questions on the board. 

1.     Who is the author? What is the genre? What is the title and when was it published? What is the claim? 

 2.      How does the author support his/her claim?(RI 9-10. 2)

At this point, I remind the class that we are not evaluating the quality of the evidence.  All we need to do is summarize the primary support.  Brevity is key to a one sentence summary.

 3.       What is the purpose? How does s/he accomplish this purpose?

Once again, no judgment. 

4.      Who is the target audience? How does the author connect to the audience?

Audience is always a challenge.  I reinforce that everyone who reads the New York Times is not the target audience.  Words like every and all do not describe the target audience.  Consider who the writer is thinking about when s/he writes the text. Everyone else is secondary.  

Woohoo, we are ready to read.  I ask a student to read the movie review out loud.  I want the class just to listen the first.  Next, I tell them to reread the review and annotate it based on the information needed for the precis.  In other words, annotate the answers to the questions. 

As they wind up their annotating, I as for volunteers to answer each question. The students write the responses on their handout as I write the answers on the board beneath the questions.  

The moment has arrived. It is time to write our whole class precis.  I am trying to break them out of their fear of the unknown. By writing this precis as a class, everyone has the opportunity to contribute to the writing.  They are building experience together. They can also visualize how to go from responding to the questions to building a rhetorical precis paragraph. Once students move to independent writing, they will have the same model to reference. 

I switch to the smart-board and pull up MS Word.  I have horrible smart-board handwriting.  I make the font large enough for everyone to read.  I repeat the questions for sentence one. I write the responses as a sentence as the students answer the questions. I repeat this process until we have a completed class rhetorical precis. Some of the sentences are very clunky.  However, at this point content is more important than style. 

 Finally, I tell them to write the second paragraph of the rhetorical precis assignment.  For simplicity, I ask them to choose one of the three rhetorical appeals to address in their response paragraph.  I take a couple of volunteers to read their paragraphs out loud to the class. 



Applying Knowlege: Small Groups Write a Rhetocial Precis

30 minutes

Whole class writing is not the complete cure for 'fear of the unknown' disease. I assign the next review.  Robert Ebert wrote this review on his website in 2009. I ask the class before they read the text, why is Robert Ebert a credible movie reviewer?  I am looking for them to tell me that he had a movie review show and/or he wrote for the Chicago Sun for many years.  I let the kiddos look him up on their phones if they don't know who he is.  The review itself does not provide enough information for them to establish ethos. In order to avoid the students getting hung up on that one point, I cover it with the whole class before they start working in their table groups.  

Moving towards independent writing, this time, they will work in their table groups to complete the precis and the response paragraph. Even though the entire class watched the development of the whole class precis, not everyone participated.  By moving from the whole class to small groups, the students who held back will have a chance to participate in the collaborative writing of a rhetorical precis.  I go through the steps with the one more time.  Read it once, read and annotate, answer the questions (RI 9-10. 2), and write the precis paragraph.  Finally, write the response paragraph. This time, develop the response to include all the rhetorical appeals. No one is alone. After students individually annotate the review, they can discuss their conclusions before they respond to the question or write the precis (SL 9-10 1C).    

As they work in groups, I walk around answering questions and listening to conversations. 

Wrap Up: Looking to the Next Class

5 minutes

'Fear of the unknown' disease cured, I hope.  I assign one of the two remaining reviews as homework.  When I photocopied the assignment, I switched the last page on half the copies.  Each student only has to complete three precis, however there are four reviews in the packet. 

I remind students that if they need help they can come to end of the day conference (tutoring time) for help.