Since doing the practice multiple choice section of the AP and having students evaluate tell me that they are still not completely comfortable with recognizing how an author uses rhetorical strategies as they build their central ideas, I had been trying to think of ways to have them visually explore the rhetorical strategies and how they are organized to influence a reader. A weekend trip to Washington, D.C. provided the aha moment—create a rhetorical map to visually represent how an author is using rhetoric to show their central idea. This addresses the shifts in reading informational text standards 5 and 6, where there is an emphasis on effectiveness of structure and places where the rhetoric is particularly effective in a text. This activity will also allow for in depth practice on reading informational text standards 1-4, too, as they determine central ideas through evidence, have to look deeply at the complex sets of ideas in order to design their map, and also look at specific word choices. It will be a hands-on assignment to work on these skills, and a long enough assignment for me to really see the students' strengths and things we need to work on (since they will be working independently for a few days, I have lots of time to listen and work with groups).
I’ve never done this activity and want to start it right away, so today, as I introduce the project, we will brainstorm ideas for the design the same way I thought of the idea, by using a Washington D.C. tourist map and using Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” since we just worked extensively on that for the past two days.
To begin, I will hand out the assignment sheet (Road Map of Rhetoric.docx) and read through it with the students, stressing that this is in response to their own evaluations and needs. Then we will look at a tourist map of Washington, D.C., noting how the White House is central to the map, with the National Mall and Washington Monument with the Smithsonian museums around it, and certain roads named after states while others are lettered or numbered, etc. , simply to see how many different items are on the map. Then I will explain that their task is to use the parts of a map to represent different aspects of an essay. For example, a monument or main building or mall could represent (and be named after) the central idea of the text, and all the other roads somehow lead to it (these ideas are on the assignment sheet).
To try to provide a model, we will jointly consider some ideas using MLKjr. I think that this activity is abstract enough that I will need to provide some initial ideas, so I will start by suggesting that a central idea concerns the injustice of how certain communities have more rights than other communities, so I could have the main road of Letter from Birmingam Jail City to be “Lane of Injustice” and sketch a road across the center of the white board. Then, since community is such an important word that he uses in many contexts, I could maybe have different “community halls” along the road, named with quotes from the text regarding those communities ( I will then sketch those—I’m horrible at drawing, but will do my best to give them the idea!). Then, to give the students a chance to practice this, I will turn their attention to paragraph 14 where King uses parallel construction in a very long sentence, writing a series of anecdotes that illicit strong emotion (this is a paragraph we spent a great deal of time on a couple days ago, so they are all familiar enough with the rhetorical strategies here to focus on how to show them). I will ask the students to read it again, then suggest some ideas of how the strategies could be represented.
My guess is that even with the models, they will be a little confused and need to just start getting their hands dirty and the ideas will develop—this, in fact, is a main goal in this activity—to force them to think abstractly, to struggle a bit to figure out how to represent the rhetoric visually. I think this type of collaborative problem-solving will help them think more deeply about how the rhetorical devices are working to develop central ideas in the text; essentially, I think the lack of a clear model is a good thing, so they don’t have that to fall back on.
To make groups, I will go through the list of reading choices provided, giving a brief summary of each (I chose these because they are all contemporary and short, so they can deeply focus on the rhetoric; allowing some choice differentiates via the topics, again to focus on the skills I want them to focus on while limiting the variables). They can also go to the page and skim the pieces they are interested in, then choose two top choices. At this point I will simply go around the room and have each share their choices—my goal is to get at least some students together who are interested in the same pieces, then distribute the outliers in order to make groups of three (the outliers may at least be in the same category). I have a feeling this is going to get messy, but it at least shows I’m trying to provide choices!!!
Once we’ve established groups, students will take about fifteen minutes to read their piece and take notes on the rhetorical strategies, based on the assignment sheet. After all members of the group have read the piece, they will then start to get their hands dirty, spending the remainder of class determining the central ideas of the text, identifying the rhetorical strategies and vocabulary words central to author purpose, and beginning to brainstorm ideas for their map. They won't have a great deal of time here, but I think it is important to get started with talking about the text so they have a starting point for tomorrow. I will stress that they should start from the beginning--establish the rhetorical situation and central ideas by looking at the things they highlighted/noted and how they are connected.
Next Steps: I have the library scheduled for the next three days so students can work on these at their own tables (the librarian has lots of art supplies to use!) and I can work with groups individually on their work.