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Enjoy Teaching Rhetorical Analysis (with these Strategies)

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This week on the podcast, let’s talk about why rhetorical analysis is actually a blast. Sure, it sounds complicated to students at first. Ethos, pathos, and logos? Rhetorical situations? Logical fallacies? Rhetorical techniques? Phew! But soon enough all these bits and pieces combine into a really interesting way to see how the songs, conversations, commercials, and speeches in our lives are persuading us to change how we view the world.

In today’s episode, we’re talking about creative, engaging ways to get students thinking about these different elements and how they relate to each other.

You can listen in to episode 173 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.

Rhetorical Situations are Everywhere

So first things first, it’s nice to teach students to look at the big picture before diving into the gears and levers that make up a rhetorical strategy. They need to understand rhetorical situation. Who is the speaker talking to? What do they want to do? Why?

A speech about TikTok springs to mind as a fun example. What’s the difference between a speech about the future of TikTok for business when given to a board room of marketing executives who don’t have TikTok on their phones, versus the “same” speech at a Youtube creators conference? The topic might be the same, but the content sure won’t be.

There are a LOT of fun examples online that you can share and talk about, for example…

Consider this scene from Frozen, when Anna thinks she’s falling in love with Prince Hans, and Hans (spoiler alert) is looking for a quick marriage and a lot of power. Looking at Hans’ words as an extension of the rhetorical situation really changes the feel of this chirpy little song.

How about this song from Aladdin, in which the genie tries to convince the people of the city that “Prince Ali” is a rich, famous guest who deserves a chance to marry the princess. That’s a lot of work to do with a song, but the Genie is up to the challenge. After all, he’s got a reason.

Here’s one more from Disney, in which Moana’s father sings to her about how wonderful her island is and how much she’ll love being its leader. Of course, the underlying situation is that she wants to hop on a boat and head for the horizon, and he’d like her to stay.

I bet you can think of lots more great Disney songs! If you and your students are looking for something a bit more mature (and can handle a swear word or two), “My Shot” from Hamilton (along with many other songs from that musical) or “The Other Side” from The Greatest Showman provide intriguing options too.

Let Students try Ethos-Pathos-Logos in their own Elevator Pitches

Ethos, Pathos, and Logos are pretty fun to play around with. One quick and easy way to practice using (and understanding) them is to have students create their own mini elevator pitches around any topic that would interest them.

For example, they’ve got 60 seconds in an elevator with the president of the school board, and they need to convince them to add a new course to the district offerings. How can they use the three strategies to bring the president on board fast?

Or maybe they’re trying to convince their parents to let them go on a three week school ski trip.

Or a candy store owner that making them a “brand ambassador” by sending them to school with bags of candy to eat and share every week will benefit everyone.

The more fun the prompt, the more fun the practice. Let students make suggestions, then practice with a short writing, a partner switch to search out the three strategies, and a chance for a few volunteers to read out loud and get feedback from the class on their use of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.

Try a Super Bowl One-Pager

Once you’ve taught rhetorical situation and Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, you can start combining the two. I shared in the last podcast episode about this rhetorical one-pager. It asks students to combine their understanding of the context (situation) of a Super Bowl performance with their analysis of the rhetorical appeals and strategies being used.

The two combined make for such a bright example of how effective a speaker/singer/poet/marketer can be when they really understand their audience, their purpose, and the tools they have at their disposal to be convincing.

This activity is all ready for you – you can sign up for the free download right here.

Let your Environment be the Third Teacher

In the Reggio Emilia system of early childhood learning, environment is referred to as the “third teacher.”

Carefully considering our learning spaces is something I think we, as educators of older children, can really learn from the primary world. Flexible seating, well-stocked classroom libraries, pleasant lighting, plants, beautiful bulletin boards – why wouldn’t people of all ages thrive in an environment like this?

I can’t help but notice how carefully highly successful companies like Apple and Google curate the spaces their employees work in.

ANYHOO, a bit of a tangent there. Let me just push my stump over into the corner.

One way to use environment as the third teacher is to create compelling displays related to what we’re teaching. OR, we can invite students to help, assigning, in this case, individuals, pairs, or groups to design posters or other types of displays around key rhetorical analysis concepts that can then live on the walls, reinforcing those concepts.

Use Game-Based Learning to Review and Remember

Last week I walked you through how to create a board game to review big concepts, and shared this one I made for rhetorical analysis. So there’s that option! But there are so many ways you could bring some play into the teaching of rhetorical analysis.

You could try a “Crumple and Shoot” game on rhetorical analysis, giving groups copies of any text and asking them questions about the strategies, appeals, or fallacies in it.

You could Kahoot it up, if you haven’t lately.

You could put up a Jeopardy Board with categories like rhetorical situation, ethos, pathos, logos, and logical fallacies. (“I’ll take Logical Fallacies for 500!”)

A Final Challenge

I hope you’ve found a new strategy to complement the wonderful ways you’re already teaching rhetorical analysis. There are SO MANY possibilities when it comes to rhetorical analysis.

I’d like to leave you with a final challenge. My friend Angela Stockman shared the most interesting video with me last year, called “This is a generic brand video.” I feel like it’s a fantastic springboard for some kind of project or activity for rhetorical analysis, and how persuasion is also influenced by multimedia elements, but I just can’t quite put my finger on how to use it! I’d love for you to share an idea in the comments below.

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I'm Betsy

I’ll help you find the creative ELA strategies that will light up your classroom. Get ready for joyful teaching!

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