Rhetorical Analysis: "Letter From Birmingham Jail" Day 2

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SWBAT recognize the rhetorical strategies used by a writer and how these strategies build on one another to influence a reader's perceptions of central ideas.

Big Idea

Writers organize words and ideas to influence the audience's views on the central idea.


As I explain in my reflection of yesterday's lesson, the student's didn't accomplish much in my absence and were not prepared for the class, so we only got through the first two questions as a class.   I was going to go back and have students do the jigsaw activity with the questions 2-7 to finish yesterday's lesson, but then thought more and decided to do things a little differently to focus more specific attention on paragraph 14 and question six from the text (pg. 295).   Upon reflection, I feel like I really need to focus in on small chunks of text to deepen their understanding of the impact of text structure and how it can impact an overall argument (Informational text standard 5), and doing a number of questions limits the time spent on any one element.  I don’t want to discount the other questions, though, so we will address those, but we will then do a super-close reading of the one paragraph so students can get a deeper appreciation of how the organization of clauses and syntax contribute to rhetorical appeals.

Small Group Discussion of Questions

20 minutes

I do want students to have a chance to talk about their findings with the other questions (in part to further emphasize that they are accountable for completing assignments, whether I'm there or not!), so I will start by having students get into groups of two or three and share their responses and talk about the different rhetorical elements.  This assures that everyone has a voice, and also provides formative assessment for me because I can listen and hear where students may have had challenges, either with a question or with a passage.  If there are any that are of particular issue, I will make sure to address that question in class either today or tomorrow.  Because the class, by this point in the year, has bonded so well, I will allow them to partner with anyone they wish.

I anticipate that we will be working for the day tomorrow on this piece, so I feel comfortable stopping students after fifteen or twenty minutes, even if they have not addressed all the questions, so I can focus in on paragraph 14.  I continue to try to balance practice addressing varied rhetorical strategies to see all that a text has to offer with the deep focus on specific reading skills--this is one of those days when the deep focus will be the emphasis (in part because the text is so long that I feel like the students will lose steam with it, and also because of the accountability issue of a few days ago.  While I wanted to make a point of their infraction, I also don't want to stay with the issue for day, which would be the case if we simply kept on with the questions.  Changing tact gives us all a fresh start).

Close Reading as a Class

50 minutes

We will do a simple question/answer to cover questions three and four so students can hear a collective response (question three addresses a biblical allusion and question four addresses author purpose) for about ten minutes before focusing on paragraph 14.  This paragraph really represents a rhetorical shift in the piece because of the powerful emotional impact.  To fully appreciate the effect, I will read it out loud so students can hear the impact not only of the imagery and anecdotes, but also the repetition and syntax.  After I read, I will ask students to free-write for five minutes how they felt hearing it, and look back at the text and consider what about the text contributed to that emotion (I can depend on the students to all seriously consider the power here; in a class where they may be the student who says “I didn’t feel anything” I would frame the prompt differently, perhaps something like “why might a reader be emotionally moved by this paragraph” to avoid that type of response and get to the same analytical end).  The five minutes of writing allows for all of the students to consider the appeals, and not just the ones who most readily contribute in class discussion; it also gives students who aren’t as quick on their feet in discussion something to say, since they’ve had a chance to process.

After students have written, I will ask for students to share their responses (not read them, but talk about them)—what emotions the piece evoked, and why.  Through this class discussion, I will make sure we address a number of things, as seen in this VIDEO (mlkjr day 2.mp4).

Next Steps:  We will address the second half of the Letter tomorrow in class.