Rhetoric and Composition/Teacher's Handbook/Rhetorical Analysis

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Designing a Unit of Study for Teaching Rhetorical Analysis

Have you ever planned a trip to a new destination? If you have, you know that it requires having some knowledge of where you are going, what you would like to do when you get there, where you will stay, and how you will get back home. Designing a unit on teaching rhetorical analysis is not so different from planning a trip. The assignment you give your students plots out the destination at which you want your students to arrive and this becomes their initial "map" for the task. Understanding the rhetorical vehicles of logos, ethos and pathos assists students on their way to analyzing a text. The critical thinking process students engage in to analyze a text results in the ability to focus on specific aspects. For example, determining textual citations and maneuvers of logos, ethos and pathos allows students to rhetorical analyze to determine which textual "souvenirs" might be effective in persuading an audience and which may not. Overall, though the student is given the tools to embark on their own analytical journey, this process can be fraught with obstacles and difficulties. Included here are some ideas for using this handbook, as well as ideas that may help you guide your students along their individual paths.

The Planning Stage

Guide Questions to Design the Unit (Samples)

Creating a Unit Timeline:

The key to teaching rhetorical analysis is to start small. Students need to understand the "building blocks" of ethos, pathos, and logos before analyzing text. Some helpful methods to include in a unit timeline are:

  • Visual Analysis

Just a few of the mediums to consider using here include magazine advertisements, commercials, films, and news clips.

  • Close Reading

To prepare students to analyze a large piece of text, it is helpful to start with small pieces of text, such as poetry or song lyrics.

  • Practice, Practice, Practice

Now that your students have a grasp on the concepts of analysis, it is time to practice these skills on large pieces of text, such as newspaper editiorials, magazine articles, etc.

Sample Lesson Plans With the above mentioned units to cover, there are many different ways to tackle teaching them.

Teaching Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Lesson One

Knowing the ways in which these rhetorical stepping stones work in texts and visuals is key to being able to analyze any kind of rhetoric. Students should read the definitions of these terms located in an earlier section of this book. In order to make these terms "come to life" for the students, some sample lesson ideas are included here:

Visual Analysis Sample One

One of the first concepts to teach in rhetorical analysis is that rhetoric exceeds the boundaries of the written text. If "Everything is a text," as Derrida insists, students foremost should be instructed pay heed to the very things they may have previously, habitually overlooked. An effective method to bring students awareness and sight to things they may have been blind to is advertisement analysis.

Lesson: From a brief collection of magazines, allow students to individually choose advertisements that intrigue them. (This is the first step of the day's lesson--a coy mask should be donned in order that students' choose ads which compel them without knowing what the lesson will after entail). Upon a volunteering of an ad for class analysis, ask student(s) the following questions:

  • Who is the target audience of the ad?
  • Is it effective? (Do you/would you buy this product?) Why? How does it do what it does to enact this effectiveness?
  • What is the tone of the ad?
  • What does the ad seem to be selling (other than the product)?
  • What else might you (the students) evaluate about the ad?

After this preliminary reading (in which the students' might feel they have exhausted analysis), attempt to interrogate the ad further through the following question prompts:

  • What is the overarching rhetorical appeal utilized in the ad? How does the text move you? Through Logos, ethos or pathos? Why? What can be cited in the ad that demonstrates all three? Can you find an example that might, at first glance, be cited as demonstrating logos, but upon further inspection may instead be imbued with pathos? Can the same be done for ethos?
  • How are the above complications involving logos, ethos and pathos accomplished in the ad? Here typical "things unseen" can be brought to attention: What is the appearance or absence of space, color, language, font, affect, clothing, skin, sex, gender, race, ect. doing and saying in the ad? What does it mean?
  • Most provocatively, how does the ad portray a certain set of values? What are they? Do these values confirm or repeal the status quo? What connections or associations is the reader supposed to make through this ad that is not apparent through the text of the ad itself, but the common, social knowledge that the ad must be operating from? In other words, how can the ad be held up as a social artifact? (A successful lesson may be determined by student resistance, oftentimes heard as such, "Do we have to analyze everything to death?").

Finally, students might write a brief, one page, in-class response that addresses their primary, superficial analysis at the start of class vs. their final analysis. An attached assignment to this lesson might be to write a 500-750 word rhetorical analysis of an ad that mimics the formula conducted in-class.

Visual Analysis Sample Two

To prompt students to practice their ability to analyze a variety of visual rhetorics, it can be helpful to have students work with non-static images that engage dimensions beyond fixed pictures and words . For this lesson, conduct a viewing of a short (2-4 minutes) video (or clip [SNL is especially ripe for this type of analysis]). This lesson is most effective when a song is chosen that may have a deeper read than what can be garnered superficially, especially in relation to a discordance between the audio and visual tellings of the song. (I favor and find effective "Get Down" by P.O.S.; though, to be warned, this is a song for a class that will not be ill-moved by raw language). This viewing should be conducted in four parts:

1) Audio only: Play the video using a muted screen. Students note reactions and observations while listening. Discuss briefly: What is the tone of the song? Can you dance to it? Cry to it? Run to it? What can you decipher of the lyrics? What might the song be about? What is the refrain? Who might listen to this song? Might you? Why or why not? Begin prompting associations here that will fruit in the remaining two reads.

2) Visual only: Engage the aforementioned questions from the ad analysis. Also: What does the visual reveal that the audio does not? Does the visual betray or align with the associations you might have made while listening (only)? Is there discord apparent between the two mediums of text? Say more.

3) Audio and visual: Reiterate prior questions. What now arises? What analysis can you make in this double reading about how logos, ethos and pathos are being engaged?

4) Lyric analysis: Display song lyrics. Analyze collaboratively. How does this fourth step yet further shift our understanding and ultimate analysis of the song?

Post-lesson: Brief, one page, in-class response, answering the following prompt: What distinctions can you make between simple analysis and rhetorical analysis after the last two lessons? Explain and demonstrate.

Assignment: Again, students may conduct a similar rhetorical analysis of a song following the above steps. Briefly discuss what a thesis in such a rhetorical analysis might look like--collaborating on a thesis for the class lesson analysis might be an effective way to demonstrate and prompt this goal for students' own work.

Close Reading (Sample Assignments)

  • Bring samples readings of poetry to the class. As a class or in groups, have students conduct a line by line analysis of the poem. What does each line mean? How does it contribute the the poem as a whole? Are there any words/phrases you do not understand? Are there any double meanings to any of the phrases or the poem as a whole?
  • A similar way to conduct a close reading is through isolating song lyrics for rhetorical analysis. Bring examples to class, or have students bring their own examples for a close reading. Analyze the piece line by line and also as a whole.

Practice, Practice, Practice (Sample Assignments)

  • Create an ad or logo for a company or product you admire. Keep your audience in mind and include visuals and text that they would find appealing. Attach to this visual a description of how you use each of the rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, logos) in this ad to get your ideas across and persuade your audience. The descriptions for each appeal should be at least one paragraph in length.
  • Split students into groups and have each group create an ad for the same company or product, but each will target different age groups, categories, etc. For example, have each group create an ad for Nike. How will one group appeal to teens, middle-aged people, men women, etc.? What can students glean from the distinctions between age brackets? What can be inferred about assumed and enacted behavior patterns of each group? Are these accurate? How might ads, in addition to selling us products, prescribe us "how to be"?
  • Practicing rhetorical analysis with the class as a whole is important. Using editorials from newspapers and magazines, discuss as a class or in groups the elements of the piece. What is the author's message? What is the author's purpose? What rhetorical devices does the author use? What kind of language? Is the author successful in relaying his or her message? Continue engaging these rhetorical questions throughout the semester, for every assignment and every text (which is every thing--even the classroom. In fact, what might a rhetorical analysis of your classroom evaluate?).

Sample Rhetorical Analysis Assignments

Sample One

Rhetorical analysis is a way of understanding and interpreting texts by examining and interpreting rhetorical devices used in a piece of writing. You are to find a piece of published work that is persuasive in nature; in other words, it argues a point. Editorials and pieces from opinion/commentary sections of magazines or newspapers will generally work the best. You may find these online at sites such as startribune.com or sctimes.com., or in an actual publication. The piece you choose should be at least 350-500 words in length. Choosing an article that is too short may result in not having enough to write about in your paper, choosing something too long may not fit the parameters of this assignment. Write an essay in which you in which you ANALYZE the author’s rhetorical effectiveness/ineffectiveness. How does the author appeal to ethos, pathos, and logos? You will need to consider the points we have discussed in class, as well as the strategies discussed in Chapters 10 and 11 in your book.

Primary Audience: Educated readers who have not read the text you are analyzing.

Point of View: Objective

General Purpose: To help your readers understand the connections between purpose, audience, subject matter, and rhetorical techniques.

Things to consider when writing the rhetorical analysis:

  • Take the time to find an article with a topic you can relate to. Don’t just choose the first article you find.
  • Photocopy the article, because it will need to accompany all drafts.
  • This paper is NOT a summary. One will be included, but it should be no more than one paragraph in length.
  • Your focus is not to agree or disagree with the author’s article, but to analyze how effective or ineffective the author is in presenting the argument.
  • Sample Peer Review For Rhetorical Analysis