Rhetorical Analysis: "Letter From Birmingham Jail" Day 3

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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.


Today we will finish our close study of the rhetorical strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”  We covered a lot of ground the past two days by looking at author purpose regarding the use of specific evidence and allusions, syntax and organization of ideas, and larger organizational work in developing central ideas.  We will continue this work by extending our analysis on both ends of the rhetorical spectrum:  we will look at why King chooses to bring up certain points and issues, and then look at a single paragraph and the variety of rhetorical strategies that are going on within a few sentences.  In this manner we will bring together the organization choices that speak to the central idea and purpose of standard (standards 3 and 5 for informational texts), as well as the detailed language choices that create appeals to the audience (this addresses parts of standard 4 regarding the meanings of words and phrases; it is kind of a hybrid of the Literature and informational standard in this context, since we are looking more at the impact the words and phrases have on tone and central idea rather than how a word is defined throughout a text).

Small Group Discussion

15 minutes

I will have the students work with each other as they did yesterday, sharing their answers from questions 7-12 on pg. 295 of The Language of Composition 2e.  I will ask them to find a different partner from yesterday to mix things up, and take fifteen minutes to share their ideas.  While I will collect this set of answers to assess formally, I will also circulate to listen in for any particular challenges I may want to address (yesterday there weren't any particular issues in need of clarification, though, except to consider the rhetorical situation; even though he was writing to a specific group, it was for a newspaper, and therefore a broader audience).  I like to have students somehow review homework material before entering a class-wide conversation so they can re-connect with the material; getting reacquainted with the material will deepen the learning process for the day, as well has make more students feel confident contributing in class discussion.

Class Discussion

20 minutes

After they’ve talked in small groups, we will focus our attention on three different parts of the letter.  First, we will look at question number nine, which asks why King waited until paragraph 45 “to address the alleged commendable behavior of the “Birmingham police in ‘preventing violence.’”  Through class discussion on this topic, I will follow up by revisiting our discussion of yesterday regarding how he systematically addresses the other issues presented by the clergy he is responding to (the original letter by Birmingham clergy that he is responding to is also printed in the textbook, so they know that context).  We spent some time yesterday wondering “what if these ideas were in a different order?” to explore how organization of ideas is important to how a writer can influence and persuade a reader.   So this discussion regarding the end of the letter will help bring the idea home by asking that same question about this particular passage, exploring how much more incendiary it would be if it was earlier in the text, and why it would have such a different effect.  

Rhetoric of a Single Paragraph

45 minutes

Next, we will do another close reading of a paragraph; question seven asks them to identify four rhetorical strategies used in the one paragraph.  I think this is a great question, because it really shows how more than one strategy can be used even in the same phrase, and for multiple types of appeals--it is a great way to address literature standard 4 regarding the use of figurative language, word choices, etc., and how these strategies impact tone and how they emphasize central ideas.  For this part I will put the paragraph on the Smartboard and as students share the strategies they noticed and what influence they have on the audience, I will underline the moments for visual emphasis so students who may not have noticed them can see how they are operating.   As we are doing this, I will also note how there are at least four strategies in half the paragraph, because when writing an argument, every language choice is a rhetorical choice.  This video highlights some of the devices I will make sure we hit in this piece:  Mlkjr Day 3-1.m4v.