Students Teaching Rhetorical Strategies (6 Days)

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SWBAT recognize a key rhetorical strategy utilized by an author by preparing a lesson on the particular strategy and teaching it to their peers.

Big Idea

A great way to deeply learn a topic is to prepare to teach it. . . and then teach it.


I remember talking with a couple teachers who had taught AP English Language and Composition who said that toward the end it gets a bit long, particularly in block schedule, since at a certain point it starts to become reviewing and practicing skills over and over again.  And the students lose momentum.  I was certainly noticing that in my class, so in the past month or so I changed plans and started doing more project-based learning activities that got students looking at texts in different ways.  Since we are now a couple weeks away from the AP Exam (and less than that from our spring vacation!) and felt like they needed to continue to review their rhetorical analysis skills, I decided to have students do it in a way that I think is one of the best for really learning a skill or concept—trying to teach it.

To do this, I will put students in pairs (based on their comfort level with each other and also with interests, so I can give them a text I think they’ll be able to work well with) and assign each pair a particular essay from The Language of Composition 2e textbook.  They will have two days in the library to work together to decide on a specific rhetorical element or concept to focus on with the class (one that seems prominent in the text) and develop a lesson plan (including homework for students to come into class with) to teach the concept for the day (the particular requirements are here:  Teachers for a Day.docx).  When I introduce the task, I will encourage them to think of a lesson as a rhetorical situation—they have a topic and a particular audience, and have to design plans that create certain appeals so the class is interested.  So, this activity not only has them practicing close reading of a piece and how it is constructed (since they are evaluating what element to teach, they will actually be considering lots of different strategies and devices), but it also has students working on all of the Speaking and Listening standards (though I am not requiring a digital media component as suggested in standard 5).  The fact that they are the teacher (I have told them that I will be a student in the class) will hopefully give them a jolt for really digging into the material.

The first two days in the library I will circulate to learn what they have come up with as a main teaching moment and listen to their ideas for a lesson.  I will not dictate any lessons, since I really want them to have the full experience (including things that may not work as well—those are valuable learning moments!  Also, students will write reflections on the experience, including what they would change or do differently--if I dictate what they do, they won't think about that all that much).  I will, however, act more as a coach, making suggestions based on their ideas that may make the lesson more effective, or ask probing questions to help students arrive at stronger ideas.  After the two days of preparation, we will have a couple days of doing some other work in class (Desert Solitaire Socratic Seminars, which will act as a nice primer for the students to work together on rhetorical analysis and thinking deeply about topics) before the lessons begin!

Day 1: Testing a Central Idea by Chris Hedges

70 minutes

I chose a challenging piece by Chris Hedges called “The Destruction of Culture” for two boys in class that I know are strong history students, knowing that they would have some knowledge of the middle-eastern political situations the essay refers to.  They certainly found deciding on a topic for class a challenge because Hedges writing is so dense, so decided instead to focus more on exploring the central idea Hedges expresses about how cultures are intentionally manipulated during wartime to generate strong nationalism, at the expense of authentic culture.  Since they have to go first (therefore having less time to prepare), I thought this was fine to do, and having students simply have to read this dense text and address the questions the students wrote (WorksheetfortheDestructionofCultureLesson.docx) would be enough practice on that end.

The students chose to first have a class discussion on the questions they wrote so everyone could have a context of the central idea before moving to the main part of their lesson, which is to have students work in groups to evaluate the rhetorical impact of wartime propaganda images.  Each group will have two or three (PropagandaPictures.docx), and have about fifteen minutes to evaluate the rhetoric of the pieces before talking about them with the group.  When they are presented, the images will also be shown on the Smartboard so everyone can see them and participate in the discussion.

Day 2: The Rhetoric of Letters in "The Apology: Letters from a Terrorist"

70 minutes

In choosing essays for the students to work with, I was trying to find some that have unique rhetorical devices that we haven’t really covered in class up to this point so the students experience the challenge of analyzing these without my guidance.  The essay Apology:  Letters from a Terrorist by Laura Blumenfeld certainly is one of these essays, because the author uses complete letters as a major part of her narrative (apologymp4.mp4). 

The two students working with this essay had students step into the shoes of the writer’s father (who had been shot by the terrorist who is the main subject of the essay thirteen years prior) and write a letter back to the terrorist in response to the one written by him to you that appears at the end of the piece as a way for the students to consider the specific writing elements of a letter.

In class, they chose to first have us (the class) work in pairs to talk about our writing and the essay itself.  After that, we will be broken into two groups, and each group will be assigned one of two “sides”—either the author’s or Omar Kamel Al Khatib (the terrorist).  The idea is that using evidence from the text we will debate which writer makes a more convincing argument based on their rhetoric.  After that debate, they will ask the class to re-write their letter, given what they learn from the debate.

Day 3: The Rhetorical Effect of Second Person Point of View

70 minutes

Today we are working with Joy Williams’s essay “Save the Whales, Screw the Shrimp” that has the unique characteristic of using the second person voice throughout the piece.  I partnered my two creative writers in the class for this one, knowing that they would appreciate this interesting point of view (Save The Whales Explanation-1.m4v).

They asked students to write a paragraph or so in the second person for homework (they were a bit too vague in their topic, so I amended this by saying to "make a brief argument about a topic of their choice" to provide some structure); this homework assignment will then be part of their lesson today.

After introducing their topic of the second person voice, the first task for the class will be to work in small groups, read the homework pieces out loud to each other, then discuss the challenges of writing in the second person and what tone that point of view created.

When all three of the group members have shared, there will then be a ten minute writing time where everyone re-writes their piece in the third person, after which they will share again and talk about the differences (one of the facilitators plans to model this by reading the first few sentences of the Williams piece in the third person).

The second half of the lesson will be dedicated to sharing thoughts on the second person use as a class, with particular focus on the rhetorical impact of the piece itself (the students teaching will have a set of prompts for the class to discuss).

Day 4: The Rhetorical Appeal of Images and Text

60 minutes

Today the class will review how images and texts work together to appeal to an audience through the first chapter of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis (the chapter is called “The Veil”) which chronicles her growing up in Iran in a modern, progressive family as the government becomes more conservative (such as shifting to require women to wear veils).   Here are the plans for the day, as written by the two students (who did a nice job of writing these!):

Lesson Plan for “The Veil” by Marjane Satrapi

Purpose: Our purpose is to teach the class how to make successful appeals in the context of a comic. The text we were assigned is memorable for this reason.  We will analyze the various appeals of “The Veil” along with a few comics that we bring in.

Homework: For homework the students will free write on the relationship between the words and images of the comic, and then consider the emotional and logical aspects of the piece and it’s importance. The purpose of this assignment is to recognize the importance of the rhetorical appeals in the words and images, and prepare the students for the next day’s discussions.  

Part 1

There will be a brief class discussion about the comic and the homework assignment. Discuss how the pictures work with the words, and also which rhetorical appeals are the strongest within the piece.

Part 2

We will introduce a new discussion, specifically about the emotional appeal of the piece. Pathos is strong in the comic and is key to making it successful. We will discuss how the comic would be different without certain appeals, and how it would be different with a strictly logical appeal. Then we’ll bring in SOAPStone to show how the tone, speaker, and subject are incredibly strong—the speaker and tone of a young girl is extremely effective to appeal emotionally.

Part 3

After this discussion, we plan to show the class a few other outside examples of comics that we will all compare and contrast. We have a variety of comics that show successes and failures in creating strong appeals with and without words (autism cartoon.PNG). This may spark another small class discussion.

Part 4

Everyone in the class will make their own short comic. The goal here is to see how well everyone can incorporate pathos, ethos, and logos through words and images. We will be sure to emphasize the importance of making a strong main statement, in order to connect with the audience. We hope the students will realize the importance of creating a strong statement with both the words and images. 


Day 5: The Pathos of Terry Tempest Williams

70 minutes

Today two girls will tackle a rather emotional excerpt from Refuge:  An Unnatural History of Family and Place titled “The Clan of One-Breasted Women” by Terry Tempest Williams. The book is, at its core, a memoir of the history of breast cancer in her family who live in Utah, and that a very strong possible cause for this was the nuclear testing by the U.S. government.  It is hard to escape the emotion of this piece, given the topic and the author’s writing, and the students teaching today didn’t miss it.  However, they’ve decided to really focus on the emotional power of diction rather than evidence, and also focus more on the use of diction to create emotion in our own writing.

The homework was to bring in a picture of our “favorite place” and to write five words we associate with it.  As a warm-up for thinking about emotional words, we will be asked to tape our pictures on the board (names will be written next to them).  Then they will give each of us a sticky note, and we are to write one of our words on the “sticky” side, then fold it over so it can’t be seen before giving it back to them.  The activity will be that they will open each one, read the word, and ask the class whose picture we think it belongs with (in other words, who wrote it).  They will stick each one to the picture, then ask each person to confirm whether the class got it right (after they’ve all been done), and if not, decide where it should go.  The purpose of this first activity is to get the class thinking about connotations of emotional words and how personal they can be.

The next part of the lesson will be to re-read pages 931-933, a section where Williams writes a sort of dream sequence of women protesting the nuclear testing before transitioning to a narrative of her actually participating in an act of civil disobedience.  The discussion will focus on the emotional appeal of this section, and the specific word choices and imagery that leads the reader to that point.

After this discussion, they will then read (and ask the class to write down) 15 words from the text that they feel have an emotional connotation.  Our task will be to write a paragraph that uses all 15 words, then share these with the class.  The purpose in this part is to show how, with emotional appeals, the word choices kind of spiral around the topic to create a strong sense of emotion.

Day 6: The Rhetorical Power of Graphs

70 minutes

Today’s lesson will focus on an excerpt from Robert D. Putnam’s best seller Bowling Alone called “Health and Happiness.”  The piece is very analytical and academic in nature, and the particular focus of the lesson will be on the rhetorical use of graphs (Bowling Alone-1.m4v), another topic we have not spent a great deal of time covering this year.

The students of the class will come in with a drawing or illustration they’ve drawn that represents where they see themselves in ten years, where they were to do this first, then consider how the drawing compares to some of the data graphed in the Putnam piece concerning happiness.

In class, the first fifteen minutes will be spent sharing these illustrations as an activator for thinking about graphs (we will use the document camera to look at the drawings as a class).

After looking at the illustrations, we will re-read the piece, paying particular attention to the graphs, and then have a class discussion on the rhetorical appeals and effects these graphs have on our understanding.