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Analyzing Rhetorical Appeals: A Lesson for College Students

By Ruth Li

Lesson Plan

Grade Levels

Undergraduate and AP English

 Objectives

  • Students will gain skills in analyzing rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, and pathos).

  • Students will glean insights into the rhetorical appeals in Mike Bunn’s essay “How to Read like a Writer.”

  • Students will learn about the elements of text (argument, evidence, and appeals) and context (author, audience, and conversation) in the essay.

Background and Context

I taught this lesson as part of a rhetorical analysis unit in a first-year college writing class, though the activities could also be adapted for a high school class, such as the AP English Language and Composition course.

Total Estimated Class Time

A single class period (approx. 45 mins.)

Sequence of Activities

1. Journal (10 mins.)

Students independently respond to a journal prompt:

What persuasive strategies do authors, speakers, advertisers, and others use to convey a message to an audience? (Please write 5–8 sentences.)

After offering students time to reflect and respond to the journal prompt, the teacher should ask students to share their journal responses with a partner sitting near them. The teacher should then ask a few volunteers to share their ideas with the class.

2. Rhetorical Appeals in Super Bowl Commercials (10–15 mins.)

The teacher should show the class the following Super Bowl commercials and ask students to consider the appeals and strategies each commercial employs to advertise the product: 

Amazon Alexa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D6Brirt4mvk

Mercedes-Benz: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sgF4jj2FGlw

Google: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXfJc8up6cM

The teacher should engage students in a class discussion of the appeals and strategies used in each commercial. For example, the teacher could ask questions such as: What do you notice about how this commercial appeals to an audience? Who might the intended audience be? How would you compare and contrast the appeals and strategies employed in each commercial? Which commercial is most effective and why?

3. Rhetorical Appeals: Logos, Ethos, and Pathos (5–10 mins.)

Following this commercial activity, the teacher should ask students to assess their prior knowledge of rhetorical appeals (logos, ethos, and pathos). In pairs, students could brainstorm what each term might mean and draw on their prior learning and associations with each term.

Then, the teacher should lead the class in collaboratively constructing definitions and examples of each term. The teacher could explain the etymology and root forms of each word (for instance, logos relates to logic, ethos relates to the ethical character of the author or speaker, and pathos relates to the word pathetic and deals with emotion). In connecting this activity to the previous one, the teacher could ask students to generate examples of the rhetorical appeals present in the Super Bowl commercials. The teacher could also show different versions of the rhetorical triangle with students.

4. Small Group and Whole Class Discussion of Mike Bunn’s Essay “How to Read like a Writer” (15–20 mins.)

The class should then transition into a discussion of Mike Bunn’s essay “How to Read like a Writer” (wac.colostate.edu/docs/books/writingspaces2/bunn–how-to-read.pdf), which shares an approach to reading with a careful attention to the construction of a text. Students should form small groups of 2–3 members each to discuss the following questions, with attention to the elements of the text and context. 

Context:

  • Who is the author and what is his background on the topic?
  • Which audience does this essay address?
  • What larger conversations or debate does this essay address?

Text:

  • What arguments does Bunn convey? How does he develop the arguments?
  • What types of evidence does Bunn incorporate?
  • Identify rhetorical appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos.
  • In what style does Bunn write the essay? What is the effect?

The teacher could circulate around the classroom, listen in on conversations, and offer help as needed. Following the small group discussion, the teacher should ask groups to share their observations with the class.

Possible Follow-Up Activities

As a way to connect rhetorical appeals and text or context concepts to other readings, the teacher could ask students to identify rhetorical appeals and elements of the text and context in future assigned essays and articles. In the class that I taught, this lesson was the introduction to the rhetorical analysis unit; each lesson supported students in writing rhetorical analysis essays that analyze the appeals in a text of their choice. Scaffolding activities for essay writing could include thesis-statement drafting, essay outlining, peer-review workshopping, and revising and editing.

Possible Alterations

Having taught English at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, I have noticed that while AP English classes tend to focus on the analysis of individual rhetorical appeals and literary devices, first-year college writing classes place greater emphasis on the larger context of a piece, including the rhetorical situation and the debate or conversation to which an argument responds and contributes. When you are considering these differences in emphasis, introducing students to the elements of the text’s larger context and to possible connections between the text and contexts could offer one way to bridge high school and college writing pedagogies.

In addition, while teaching this lesson, I introduced the class to the concept of discourse communities and asked students to choose a text to analyze that addresses an audience in a particular discourse community they are familiar with or interested in studying. To help make this concept more accessible to students, I incorporated a journaling activity that asked them to consider the communities to which they belong: “What is a community, group, or organization that you are a part of at school or at home? How do the members of this community communicate with each other through writing or speaking or both?” I also engaged students in a mapping activity (provided below) in which they brainstormed examples of the different discourse communities to which they belong, including academic, extracurricular, and personal communities.

Lesson Materials

Discourse Communities Mapping Activity

 

 

 

Published 24 March 2020

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