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Thinking as a Writer: Analyzing Rhetorical Situations through Authentic Writing

By Josh Green and Mary Ann Parker

Lesson Plan

Grade Levels

11–12 and English Composition I

Student Learning Outcome 

Students will appropriately and consistently address the specifics of a chosen rhetorical situation (the chosen genre, audience, and purpose). 

Total Estimated Class Time

90 minutes

Additional Outcome

Students will self-identify as writers through a metacognitive process, in which they critically analyze what it means to be a writer, while examining connections between sources.

Course Work or Assignment Underway

Students have analyzed readings from established authors such as William Zinsser and Stephen King focusing on the writing process generally but specifically highlighting nonfiction writing as a recursive process.  

Work Completed before Class

Students should have completed assigned readings and accompanying discussion boards focusing on analyzing rhetoric in each text.  

Sequence of Classroom Activities

  1. Writing into the Day: Who or what do you think of when you hear the word writer? Do you consider yourself a writer? Explain. Students will respond to the prompt in freewriting style (writing consistently for five minutes without stopping).  
  2. Students share their responses with a shoulder partner, then the whole group. 
  3. The teacher will read “The Transaction” from William Zinsser’s On Writing Well aloud to students. The teacher will facilitate a discussion, highlighting the juxtaposition of writing styles described.  
  4. Independently, the students will read “Toolbox” from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  
  5. Students will complete a gallery walk. In groups of four, the students will stand beside a piece of poster paper with various quotations from the “Toolbox” reading. 
  6. The teacher will set a timer for five minutes. In groups, the students will read and respond to each quotation. Note: The students must respond for the entire five minutes. Next, the students will move clockwise, responding to each quotation. In addition, students will respond to each group’s analysis. As such, subsequent rounds may need additional time. When the gallery walk is complete, student groups should be standing with their original quotations. Each group will then review all responses and discuss new perspectives. Finally, each group will present the quotations and responses to the class.
  7. The teacher will set a timer for seven minutes. Individually, the students will create a quotation in the voice of one of the authors—essentially a fake King or Zinsser quotation but something that could be in line with something the author would agree with on the basis of what the students have read. 
  8. Writing Out of the Day (five minutes): The students will come up with an original quotation that embodies some original view of writing. 

Lesson Materials

Suggested quotations from Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft (Scribner, 2010) and William Zinsser’s On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction (30th anniversary edition, HarperCollins, 2012):

  • “I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and immediately get to work” (King 114).  
  • “Common tools go on top. The commonest of them all, the bread and butter of writing, is vocabulary” (King 114). 
  • “One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you maybe are a little bit ashamed of your short ones” (King 117). 
  • “Even William Strunk, that Mussolini of rhetoric, recognized the delicious pliability of language. ‘It is an old observation,’ he writes, ‘that the best writers sometimes disregard the rules of rhetoric.’ Yet he goes on to add this thought, which I urge you to consider: ‘Unless he is certain of doing well, [the writer] will probably do best to follow the rules’” (King 121). 
  • “Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do” (Zinsser 9).
  • “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills, and meaningless jargon” (Zinsser 6).
  • “If the nails are weak, your house will collapse. If your verbs are weak and your syntax is rickety, your sentences will fall apart” (Zinsser 18).

Published 3 March 2020

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