Close Reading: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson Day 1

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SWBAT to recognize the power of rhetorical appeals in a text, as well as shifts in appeals, through a close reading of the first two sections of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring.

Big Idea

Strong rhetorical appeal in introductory sections of a text can draw a mass audience into an academic, sophisticated conversation.


As we head into the home stretch before the AP Exam in early May, I want to have students continue to sharpen their rhetorical analysis skills while reading more complex texts around topics they are not quite as familiar with (I covered more accessible topics like pop culture and gender studies earlier in the year to teach the skills with more accessible topics), and that they may likely see on the exam.  Therefore, in the next couple weeks students will closely read some texts around the environment and politics, two topics that tend to work hand in hand (unfortunately) in our culture.  We will begin this work today by looking at the iconic work of Rachel Carson and the opening fable of Silent Spring.

The textbook (The Language of Composition 2e) has two sections from the opening of the book, “A Fable for Tomorrow” and “The Obligation to Endure.”  We will take these on separately in the next two days so we can put a microscope on the language, and also because on their AP exam they will be working with shorter excerpts.  Additionally, we can study the rhetorical impact a writer can make from one section to the next as they build ideas.   This latter item will also allow us to address the reading standard 7 shift which asks students to evaluate different sources to address a problem; in this case, students will first read these excerpts from Silent Spring and watch a video on the book, and then compare how she writes about human negligence with a piece by Bill McKibben that addresses this same issue.

Historical Context

15 minutes

For students to understand the context of Rachel Carson’s book and how important it was when published in 1962, we will watch a couple short videos that frame the book in its historical context and also show why Carson was motivated to write it.  This will lead to the question of how a scientific, non-fiction text became so popular outside of academia; while it does bring up an important issue, lots of books do that; it must have something to do with the writing, too.


The first is from CBS news

The second is from PBS (the last time I tried this, it required a log in for teachers).



Reader Response/Small Group Discussion

55 minutes

We have spent a lot of time this year doing rhetorical analysis of pieces, so to up the ante a bit, I want to really work on students’ identifying rhetorical strategies and devices while reading rather than considering the questions or assignment after reading.  This is an important skill to work on as they head into the AP Exam; because it is a timed test, the students will have to be evaluating while reading to really show what they know in an efficient way (to finish!). 

To do this, I will ask the students to read the piece to themselves and annotate, noting any language, organizational moves, etc., that they feel would appeal to a “popular” audience (even though the piece is in the textbook, I found a copy of “A Fable for Tomorrow” on line to print out for the students so they could annotate:  RachelCarsonFableforTomorrow.docx).  After they’ve done this, they will form groups of three and share what they saw, specifically considering the rhetorical appeal on a broad audience, and what appeals (ethos, logos, pathos) dominate.  My hope is that all the groups come to the conclusion that the opening narrative almost exclusively, and powerfully, appeals to emotions through their discussion.  They will talk as a small group for about fifteen minutes (this allows everyone to be more involved in the discourse) before sharing out with the whole group.  Once in the whole group, I will also ask some probing questions regarding the initial question of why this book became so broadly appealing—specifically, what about the language of “A Fable for Tomorrow” makes it both specific and generalized to appeal to such a wide audience?