Close Reading: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson Day 2

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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.


The teacher’s manual for The Language of Composition 2e has a set of multiple choice questions for “A Fable for Tomorrow,” the famous opening of Silent Spring.  So, as practice for answering multiple choice questions and as a formative assessment of what students understood about the rhetoric of the piece, we will start by spending about fifteen minutes doing this before taking a look at “The Obligation to Endure,” the second section in the excerpt and how this builds on the arguments set forth in the fable (addressing the shift in Reading Informational texts standard 2 regarding how ideas build on one another in a text).

Multiple Choice Practice

20 minutes

To practice the testing environment, I will give the students fifteen minutes to re-read “A Fable for Tomorrow” and answer ten multiple choice questions.  When they are done I will read the answers (I am not collecting these for a grade), then ask students to work with each other to clarify any wrong answers.  If there are any that still need clarification, we will take a look at the question itself to make sure they know what it is asking, and any key words in the question or in the answer selections, before moving to why the actual answer is as it is (if this was a larger class I would probably collect these and do some data-crunching at home to make sure I address all the issues, but with only twelve students I am able to address issues in the moment).  I’m hoping this will only take around five to ten minutes, so we can get to the next section of text.

Shifting Appeals

50 minutes

For the rest of today I want to work specifically on the shift in rhetorical appeal from the fable to the second part of the text, called “The Obligation to Endure.”  Yesterday we spent a good deal of time addressing the rhetorical choices in “A Fable for Tomorrow” and how the fable form and imagery all contributed to draw the audience in with strong emotional appeal.  To further address the shift in Reading Informational text standard six which addresses how the style and content contribute to power and persuasiveness of a text, today we will look at the inclusion of logic and how this works to strengthen her overall argument.

When working on specific skills (and also to practice what they will see on the exam), short excerpts allow for deeper exploration in the time we have in class.  “The Obligation to Endure” goes on for about six pages in The Language of Composition 2e textbook (pgs. 889-895), a bit long for our purposes today, particularly since the shift in style and rhetorical appeal is very evident from the beginning.  So, I will have students read to the top of 992, where there is a double-spaced break, and jot down notes regarding how Carson shifts in style and appeal.

For continuity and time, I will then follow similar procedures as yesterday by having students get into their same small groups and share their observations.  Given their strong work yesterday, I feel confident that the groups come to the conclusion that there is a much stronger logical appeal in this piece, and all the specific scientific and historical evidence also contributes to a strong ethos.  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, and also how emotion continues to be present in this section through her language choices—asking students to specifically look for phrases that carry emotion and tone, and what that is.  Over the course of the semester the students have learned to recognize the different rhetorical appeals well, but some still find it challenging to see how they are all working together, and simultaneously, in some texts.  So, as we share out, I will have the text on the Smartboard so we can look specifically at the paragraphs the phrases they identify are in to analyze specific passages/evidence in a very close and specific way (carson day 2.mp4).  Additionally, I will ask students as a group if they think the book would have drawn as many readers if this section had been first, without the fable.  While this is a hypothetical question, it allows them to consider how important emotional appeal can be in more scientific reading.