Developing Citizenship Through Rhetorical Analysis
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In this lesson, students learn basic principles of rhetorical situations. Using online editorials featuring opinions about local and national issues, they learn to recognize the issue, the intended audience, and the author's purpose. Students explore to the rich source material from online editorials, identifying and explaining what devices writers use and how effectively they use them. Moving from analyzing editorials to writing their own develops students' rhetorical skills and at the same time, prepares them to be informed citizens.
- Sample Editorials Handout: Students analyze these editorials for effective use of rhetorical devices.
- Rhetorical Situation online video: Show this video as part of a discussion of how speaker, topic, and audience work together in the rhetorical stituation.
- Rhetorical Devices Handout: Use this list of devices to introduce students to the strategies of rhetoric and as a tool for analyzing the effectiveness of a persuasive piece.
From Theory to Practice
To become informed citizens, students must learn to think critically and “read” the world around them. Non-fiction texts such as news editorials can aid students’ abilities to break down and understand real-life rhetorical situations. Stephen B. Heller writes: “A natural byproduct of reading rhetorically is that students become enabled to enter into contemporary conversations about relevant issues” (14). Once students understand the strategies writers use to address an audience and the subject, they can better situate themselves as participants in that dialogue and prepare to engage in civic-minded conversations with their peers. As Heller contends, “Understanding the how enables students to apply the skills of reading rhetorically to their own arguments” (15).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Materials and Technology
- Access to Internet for online editorials (Consider using local sources as well as the national ones linked below)
- Projector with video and audio capabilities
This video from the University of Maryland-Baltimore Writing Center offers a concise (6 minute) review of audience, writer, and issue and how they work together to form the rhetorical situation.
The Chicago Tribune features multiples editorials on topics of interest related to local and national issues.
The New York Times features multiples editorials on topics of interest related to local and national issues.
- Print all necessary handouts for the lesson.
- Print the provided Sample Editorials or prepare two other sample editorials to share with students.
- Arrange for projection of sound and audio for the video in Session Two.
- Arrange for student access to computers for Sessions Four through Six.
Students will be able to:
- review editorials to identify topic, purpose, audience, and rhetorical strategies used.
- analyze editorials to understand the connection between rhetorical strategies, audience, and purpose.
- demonstrate ability to critique editorials for degree of effectiveness in use of rhetorical strategies.
- Begin the lesson by helping students think about subjects, audiences, and different genres (or ways to structure/present writing). Discuss the process/planning a writer goes through when writing a text. Consider asking students to record their answers in a writer’s notebook. Questions to ask include the following:
- How does a writer choose a subject?
- How does a writer know what to write about that subject?
- How does the writer identify who is going to read their writing?
- How does the writer choose a genre/forum for their writing (such as a newspaper or magazine article, editorial, essay, paper, letter, etc.)
- Distribute the Writing Genres Handout. Explain how writers select a genre for their writing and how doing so helps them get their message out to a particular audience. Review with students the different writing genres listed and how each is used for a different purpose.
- Explain to students that for this assignment they will focus on one particular genre – editorials – and learn how writers craft language to communicate their ideas in this form.
- Arrange students into pairs or small groups and provide each group two sample editorials. You can use the Sample Editorials Handout or provide two of your own.
- Pass out the Responding to Editorials Handout. Tell students to read the first editorial and write their group’s responses to the questions on it. Each student should record answers on their handout.
- Allow time for groups to complete this activity. Bring the class back together for group discussion.
- Ask students for their responses to the questions. Record their responses on the board, overhead, or using another format. Consider using the Literary Elements Map to break down the editorial and the author’s argument (characters, conflict, proposed resolution, etc.)
- Discuss why the writer chose to write about the topic using this genre. Why would an editorial in an online (and printed) news source be the best way of communicating about this issue (or not)? How else might a writer address this topic? (For example, a blog or a poem.)
- Assign students to read the second editorial and answer the second set of questions on the Responding to Editorials Handout for the next session.
- Review with students the second half of the Responding to Editorials sheet reviewing the content of the second editorial. Discuss the article’s topic and purpose, as well as the degree to which the genre of editorial is appropriate for the task.
- Make connections between the writer’s topic, purpose, and genre choice to the editorial and its audience. How is each related to the other? Draw the rhetorical triangle for the students as a to see how Speaker/Writer, Topic/Subject, and Audience connect to one another.
- Explain how an understanding of the editorial’s purpose and its audience can reveal how a writer is trying to persuade that audience to do, think, or feel something.
- Show the online video The Rhetorical Situation.
- Explain how understanding audience is an important step in the process of analyzing a piece of writing. There are many ways to determine who the writer’s audience might be, such as looking at the language and word choices the writer uses, the types of examples the writer uses, and what the writer wants the reader to do as a result of reading the piece. A very basic way to begin analyzing the audience of a text is to ask questions about the age and gender of the reader. (Note: a more thorough analysis of audience would involve deeper questions about race, sexuality, class, abilities, and so forth. However, since this is a lesson on beginning to understand audience, it will not focus on those issues at this time.)
- Ask students to comment on who they think the audience(s) is/are for the first editorial and why. Use the questions on the first half of the Analyzing Audience Handout to guide the discussion. Students will fill out the first half during class discussion.
- For the second part of class, students will respond to the second set of questions on the Analyzing Audiences Handout using the second editorial. Ask students to do this alone or in pairs/groups.
- Bring the class back together. Ask different students or groups of students to present their answers for the questions about the second editorial.
- Wrap up class by telling students how they will move from understanding audience to analyzing how the writer attempts to speak directly to this audience.
- Ask students to write briefly on what they learned last time about audience and how that is important during a rhetorical analysis. Put them into pairs to discuss what each person wrote and then ask groups to report back to the class.
- Help students make the connection between audience and purpose in an editorial. Ask students to think of a time when they needed to persuade someone about a topic. This might include asking a parent for money or asking a friend for a favor. Tell them to make a list of what they did to try to be persuasive, and then ask them if it worked. In other words: Were they successful?
- If students are having trouble, share this example:
- TOPIC: Persuading Your Parents to Let You Go to a Party
- AUDIENCE: Parents
- PERSUASIVE TECHNIQUES:
- Told them all of my friends would be there
- Pointed out that it was not on a school night
- Stated that the other student’s parents would be home
- Told them I’d been doing well in school and my grades had improved.
- DID IT WORK? WHY/WHY NOT?
- Yes, I got to go because they agreed with my points. OR
- No, they didn’t let me because the last time I went to a party I got in trouble
- Discuss what students were thinking about when they created their list of persuasive reasons from the earlier activity. Connect this to the various rhetorical devices that writers use.
- Share the Rhetorical Devices Handout. Explain how writers use different strategies to connect to their audiences. Brainstorm examples for each of them and find examples of each device using one of the sample editorials or find/create different examples as a class.
- Using the class example earlier in the lesson, show how the sample student used ethos to convince the parents to let him/her go to the party by stating how they’d been improving in school. This technique also shows the parents that the student had good morals/character and would also be responsible if attending the party. The student also used a bandwagon approach by claiming that others, including all of their friends, would be there. This was meant to show the parents that if this student couldn’t go, they would be an outcast for missing something everyone else was attending.
- Ask students to identify which devices they used when persuading someone as discussed in the opening activity. Teachers may assign students to do this alone or in pairs. Share ideas with the class and discuss.
- Divide students into small groups. They will use the second editorial from the previous sessions to locate and identify the rhetorical devices used by the author.
- Bring the class together for a whole group discussion on what they found. Make a list of strategies identified on the board/overhead/computer. Discuss each device and connect it to an example in the editorial.
- Ask students to use websites of national or local news agencies to find and print an editorial on a topic of interest to them. For more variety in topics and texts, ask each student to find and print two. Before students begin, identify ways they can begin searching the Internet for editorials using the topic plus the word “editorial” or by searching for the Opinion page on different newspaper websites.
- Once students have found, read, and printed their editorials, assign them to groups of three. Each student will read the editorial aloud to the group members. Once each person has read their editorial, the group will discuss the topic it and why the student chose it.
- Explain to the class that they will be analyzing the editorial they chose for its topic, purpose, audience, and rhetorical devices the writer is using. Their goal is to write this as an academic essay. Make a connection to the essay as a genre of writing that is often used by teachers to assess students’ understanding of content. In this assignment, students will demonstrate to the teacher that they know how to analyze an editorial for its use of rhetorical devices.
- Hand out the Rhetorical Analysis Prewriting Assignment and go over it with the students to help them see how to analyze their article in preparation for writing their essay. Assign students to complete the Prewriting Assignment and bring to the next session.
- Ask students to take out their Rhetorical Analysis Prewriting Assignment and go over any questions students have about their work.
- Form groups of four students and assign them to share their prewriting sheets with their classmates, discussing their editorials how successful the writer was at persuading the audience. While students work in groups, circulate to each group listening to students’ conversations, answering questions, and directing their attention to rhetorical devices students may have missed or asking them to clarify why they chose one device over another.
- Hand out the Rhetorical Analysis Essay Assignment and Rubric and discuss the task and expectations with students. Explain how the assignment asks them to analyze their editorial and explain its use of rhetorical devices. Note how they can use their prewriting sheet as a starting point for their essay.
- Assign students to begin writing their Rhetorical Analysis Essay and bring a draft to the next session. This should be a mostly complete first draft, but it does not need to be proofread for errors at this time.
- Explain to students that in this session, they will then exchange drafts with a classmate for peer review. Hand out the Peer Review Sheet and explain what students should look for. Connect this to the Rubric that will be used to grade the final essay.
- Tell students to take their time and be thorough in reading and sharing comments. When they have finished, they will return the draft and comments to the writer and discuss what they wrote. Students will turn in these drafts and the peer review sheet with the final essay draft due at the beginning of the next class.
- To deepen the process approach of this lesson, consider adding an additional session before Session Six for conferring with the teacher while students draft or work on other independent tasks. Also consider adding a session after Session Six for editing and proofreading final drafts of the rhetorical analysis essays.
- After completing the lesson, invite students to write their own editorials on a topic of interest locally or nationally and submit their editorial to a school or local newspaper.
- Help students create a class “Opinion Page” on a website or blog to showcase their writing.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Use the Rubric to provide feedback on student essays.
- Ask students to reflect on what they learned about the topics they encountered through the various editorials they read or heard about in groups, as well as what they learned about the art of rhetoric.