I recently found myself in the position of having to teach AP English Language for about five weeks. I won’t get into why that happened. I have never taught AP Lang. I think I’ve taught just about everything else! I decided it would be a good opportunity to do a quick unit on rhetorical analysis, which I have at least taught in the past.
For context, my classes are 70 minutes long, and typically meet three times per week. What follows below is a day-by-day plan for my unit. Feel free to use any of this. I borrowed very heavily from others and acknowledge or link to their work where I was able to do so.
I used a lesson from Jennifer Fletcher’s book Teaching Arguments: Rhetorical Comprehension, Critique, and Response. For reference, it’s the Parlor Conversation Metaphor/Learning to Pay Attention lesson in which students examine a painting for ten minutes. I used the same painting as Jennifer and followed her lesson instructions exactly. Because her text is copyrighted, I cannot share the materials here, but I urge you to purchase her book.
I introduced students to rhetoric. First, we journaled on this topic: Think of a time someone talked you into doing something or believing something. How did they do it? What tactics did they use? Students may share out journals. I gave students a graphic organizer with a PAPA analysis (purpose, audience, persona, argument) and picked a speech. Frankly, the speech I picked, which was Samwise Gamgee’s speech to Frodo Baggins in The Two Towers, failed spectacularly since students had no frame of reference. Note: that movie is old now. I know. It makes me sad, too. So go cautiously if you use this, but maybe pick something else. You can find a massive list here.
To be honest, I didn’t have time to make my own, so I bought a bunch of graphic organizers from Teachers Pay Teachers. Students worked with a partner to fill out the PAPA graphic organizer. Then we shared out to the class.
For homework, I assigned students an article from Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week website. Pick one you like! I picked this one about food deserts because our school is located in one. I asked students to prepare to have a fishbowl-style discussion on the article using the questions on the article (see the end). Before we ended class, I set discussion norms with the students.
Students engaged in a fishbowl discussion of the article they read for homework. If you are new to fishbowl discussion, essentially, you divide the class into two groups. The first group is the “inner circle,” whose job is to begin the discussion. It should be student-centered, and the teacher should listen and take notes. I track discussions like this using an iPad app called Equity Maps. The second group is the “outer circle,” whose job is to listen to the first group and take notes. I set a timer for 15 minutes for the first group. Then the groups swap positions and the second group has a discussion while the first group listens and takes notes. After both groups discussed the text, we debriefed the discussion experience:
- What did you observe during the discussion of the text?
- What is one thing you heard that you agree with?
- What is one thing you heard that you disagree with?
- How did you feel while on the outside of the fishbowl?
- How did you feel while on the inside of the fishbowl?
For homework, I assigned students to write a reflection on their learning. I have used the same template for seminar reflections for years. I stole it from Greece New York Public Schools well over 15 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s no longer available on their site, so I’m going to try to link it below.
I introduced students to ethos, pathos, and logos. Because students had read Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy over the summer, I returned to his work and shared his TED Talk with them.
As students watched, they took notes on a graphic organizer:
- Speaker: Who is the speaker?
- Audience: Who is the intended audience for this speech?
- Subject: What is the speech mostly about?
- Context: What was happening in history at the time this speech was given (Stevenson discusses some of this in the speech)?
- Why do you think the speaker gave this speech?
I drew a triangle on the board and asked students to tell me which of the questions above related to who the speaker was and how he established his credibility. I wrote “ethos” next to the top corner of the triangle and defined it as an author or speaker’s credibility on the topic. Is the speaker or author reliable or credible? Is the speaker or author knowledgeable? Does Bryan Stevenson establish himself as credible? Why or how?
Next, I asked which of the questions above were related to how the audience feels when listening to the speech. I added “pathos” to the triangle on the board and defined it as an appeal to emotions. How does the text make the audience feel? What emotional appeals does Stevenson make? How does the speech make you feel?
Finally, I asked which of the questions above has to do with research, evidence, or facts (this might be a good time to point out that some areas overlap; context, purpose, and subject might appeal to both pathos and logos). I added “logos” to the triangle and defined it as an appeal to logic and reason. How do the facts and evidence support the claim? What appeals to facts, logic, and reason did Stevenson make?
Following this introduction, we discussed the speech using these questions as a guide:
- What do you think would happen if these three different kinds of appeals were unbalanced? For example, what if the speech had no appeals to emotions? No facts, research, or evidence?
- What if it were someone else besides Bryan Stevenson (feel free to play with different celebrities here; could Taylor Swift deliver this speech believably? Kanye West?
- How well do you think this speech balances the three types of appeals?
For homework, students read Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
I shared the background context (but not the Call for Unity letter… yet) as seen in slide 1 below. Then I posted the questions on slide 2 and asked students to get in small groups to discuss.
We reconvened as a class, and groups shared out the highlights of their discussion. Then I shared the Call to Unity letter so students could check their speculation about question 3 on the slide deck.
I introduced a one-pager assignment on Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
I gave students this class period to work on their one-pagers. I supplied paper and colored pencils for students who wanted them.
For this lesson, I owe everything to the #TeachLivingPoets crowd. They created the whole lesson and shared it at NCTE in 2018. We read Clint Smith’s poem “Playground Elegy” from the collection Counting Descent. We discussed the following questions:
- What do you notice?
- What words and phrases stand out?
- What patterns do you notice?
- What is the argument?
Next, I asked students to work with a partner or group of 3 to create a rhetorical triangle analysis of the poem. It’s fun to use big sticky poster paper and markers, which I provided for students. You might want to display a rhetorical triangle for students as a reminder. Students should include the following:
Students put their large sticky posters up and did a gallery walk. I made them spend two minutes on each poster so they would really read it. I set a timer and everything! Then I asked them to share something interesting they noticed on another group’s poster.
The one-pagers were due for the next class, so I reminded students to finish them for homework.
This lesson was also stolen from the #TeachLivingPoets presentation from 2018. I displayed the slide deck below.
I went through slides 1 (with Fatimah Asghar’s biography) to 5. Then I posted slide 6 and handed out copies of Asghar’s poems “Microaggression Bingo” and “Partition” from their collection If They Come for Us: Poems. Students discussed these questions in relation to the two poems in groups. Then the groups shared with the class.
I wrote SOAPSTone on the board and gave students a SOAPSTone graphic organizer with a chart on both sides of the paper. They analyzed each of the poems using the graphic organizer as a class, but you could easily have them do it in small groups.
I introduced an out-of-class rhetorical analysis essay and gave students a list of speeches from which to choose. I said they might also pick another speech, and one student did. I also brought in some essay and poetry collections, but all my students opted for a speech. I asked them to fill out a SOAPSTone graphic organizer on their selected speech. Then, I suggested they examine appeals to ethos, logos, and pathos with examples of each, identify style choices and details and build an analysis:
- What is the writer’s intention?
- Who is the intended audience?
- What is the argument?
- What is the writer’s strategy to make that argument? Why?
- What appeals does the writer use to persuade the reader? Why
- What kind of style does the writer use?
- What effect does this work have on the audience?
Students had time in class to begin all this planning work.
I decided to introduce rhetorical analysis of a film by screening Ava Du Vernay’s 13th, which is available on Netflix or free on YouTube.
As students watched the film, I instructed them to take notes on the following aspects:
- Appeals to ethos
- Appeals to logos
- Appeals to pathos
This film is over 1:40, so we didn’t finish in one period and carried the film over to the next class.
Students continued working on drafts of their rhetorical analysis for homework.
We finished the film and discussed it using the Thoughts, Questions, and Epiphanies method I described in this blog post. Credit for this strategy goes to Marisa Thompson. Here is what I posted for students to guide their discussion:
Students were in groups of 3 or 4, and I gave them 15-20 minutes to talk. Then they shared their top 2 thoughts, questions, or epiphanies on the board, and their ideas guided the rest of our class discussion of the film.
For homework, students finished a first draft of the rhetorical analysis.
Writing workshop. Conference with students on their drafts, give them time to read and edit each other’s work, or work on their drafts.
Ugh. The test. Most of our students take AP Lang exams, so I gave them the 2021 AP Lang rhetorical analysis (Sonia Sotomayor’s speech) as a timed writing practice. We debriefed the prompt after the timed writing. I gave them a copy of the AP rhetorical analysis rubric and went over it. Then I asked them to score themselves on the rubric and add a sentence to the end of the timed writing explaining how they scored themselves and why.
We examined the College Board’s sample essays on the rhetorical analysis for the 2021 prompt on Sonia Sotomayor’s speech and scored them. Then I revealed the scores the essays earned and explained the rationale for the score. My students nailed it. They scored each essay exactly as the College Board did! We also discussed how they feel about their timed writing from the previous class now that they’ve seen models, and most students indicated they feel pretty good. At this point, I was preparing to hand the class over to their new full-time teacher, so she took some time to get to know the students with some games.
We played rhetorical analysis Jenga. I decided to have them examine a short piece by Temple Grandin from This I Believe. I introduced students to Temple Grandin by showing this short video.
I owe Melissa Smith and Joel Garza for the idea for the Jenga game, which I adapted from literary analysis. Here is a list of questions I used.
Thanks to @MelAlterSmith for turning me onto this Jenga book club activity — worked SOOOO well with my freshmen reading groups
— Joel /hō•ÉL/ Garza is cofounder of #THEBOOKCHAT 📓 (@JoelRGarza) March 30, 2022
You will need enough Jenga games for students in groups of 3-4. Number the blocks from 1-22. You will repeat numbers, and that is okay.
I also collected final drafts of the rhetorical analysis essay.
The graded assessments in this unit were the fishbowl reflection, the one-pager, and the rhetorical analysis essay. I do not believe in grading timed writing or participation. I think it puts too much pressure on students to grade timed writing when it is practice and should be a formative assessment. I have moved away from grading participation because it is difficult to assess what students are learning. Students may dominate discussion without really learning much to rack up participation grades, or they may be introverted and struggle to speak but still learn a lot, so I just don’t do it. I grade reflections on discussions instead.
That’s it! I hope it’s useful.