Some Rhetorical Strategies MLK Uses

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SWBAT begin an examination of the specific devices that make writing powerful by learning a couple of devices and identifying examples of these.

Big Idea

In looking for examples of specific rhetorical devices in a text, students are essentially looking for the structural elements that hold up a powerful argument.


In the previous lesson, students read MLK’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Today, I want them to look into the rhetorical strategies employed in this speech. This lesson is one of many that are leading to the final assignment of the school year. These are the directions for the final speech/talk. We have watched a couple of TED talks and we are also reading a few speeches. Because of this, I am calling this final assignment a speech/talk.


10 minutes

I explain the assignment. Students are going to be working in pairs to create a booklet in which they keep track of rhetorical devices that they will identify in the speeches we are reading in the next few lessons. The purpose is to give them the opportunity to learn these devices and see good examples so that they may use them in their own speech/talk.

Students are going to be organizing these in a booklet. What I have in mind is the creation of a resource students can easily use once they begin to draft their own speech/talk. I give each pair of students two large pieces of drawing paper and show them how to make a simple 8-page booklet. Each pair will have a total of 2 booklets that they will glue together as we add more devices. It is not necessary to create these booklets as students can work with these devices in other ways. However, we are down to the last days of the school year, students have become more resistant to do work, so it is important for me to find interactive, nontraditional, quick activities to maintain student engagement.

There are several videos on youtube that walk the viewer through these simple steps. In this video, I go over these steps they way I showed my students


Explain Some Rhetorical Devices

20 minutes

I distribute list of devices I am interested in teaching students. These are device that are present in MLK’s speech, which will allow students to see the clear examples necessary to gain understanding of these. Today, I go over definitions of repetition, metaphor, and alliteration. These are not terribly complex so a brief explanation based on the definition provided is enough. Metaphor is the more challenging of the three because it requires that students think of language figuratively, but we have talked about metaphor in previous lessons so today’s explanation is mostly review. What I mainly do for students is provide examples of these to illustrate the meaning. We use the “I Have A Dream” speech to select examples. I want to give students the opportunity to practice identifying examples with my help so I ask them to look through the first few paragraphs to find the first example of each. I give them a few minutes and then ask them to share what they identified. Students are able to identify “one hundred years later” as an example of anaphora, “we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check” as a metaphor. Alliteration is surprisingly more difficult for the to identify. Students suggest things like “insufficient funds” because they hear the repetition of the letter f. I clarify that we are looking for the repetition of the first letter of a few words that are next to each other and that this repetition creates a rhythm in the writing. I give them an elementary school example such as “blowing up blue balloons” and ask them to go back and identify an example in MLK’s speech. After a few more tries they identify “the dark and desolate valley…” I write this example on the board for students.



20 minutes

I now give students time to work in pairs. The task is to use one page of one of their booklets to write the definition of the first device and include one example from the “I Have A Dream” speech. Students will be including examples from other speeches we will be looking at in later lessons. I also plan on asking students to use the remaining space to add examples of these devices that they formulate for the topic they decide to write for their speech/tallk. I tell students they have the option of handwriting the definitions and examples or cutting the definition from the list of devices and cutting out examples from their copy of the “I Have A Dream” speech. I give them this option because cutting and pasting will be faster.