Friday, January 18, 2013

Intro to Rhetorical Analysis: Common Core-Style

In today's era of the Common Core State Standards, teachers all across the country are having to rethink how we deliver instruction to our students. The CCSS asks students to dig deeper into texts through close reading, written analysis and discussion. 

Our sophomore Pre-AP English team has worked to meet the expectations of the Common Core, while preparing our students for AP Language & Composition their junior year. Previously, I outlined how we introduce students to close reading and aligned our Julius Caesar unit with the CCSS.

We have developed a three day introduction to rhetoric that asks students to closely analyze a TV commercial:

Day #1:

When it came time to introduce rhetorical analysis in our Pre-AP Sophomore English class, we began by introducing the basics of rhetoric: the rhetorical triangle, appeals and fallacies. Check it out:

Day #2: 

We handed out the following graphic organizer that we adapted from Kelly Gallagher's fantastic new book Write Like This.  (If you have not purchased his book yet, go immediately to that link and buy it. It is a must-read for all Language Arts teachers serious about writing instruction.)
We performed a multimedia rhetorical analysis of this Chevrolet "My Truck" advertisement:

The first time students watched it to get a general sense of the commercial. After the initial viewing, each time we asked students to focus on specific aspects of the commercial:

1. Imagery
2. Printed Words
3. Spoken Words
4. Music

In other words, on the second viewing students only focused on the images on the screen. On the third viewing, they only focused on the printed words, and so on. By the end, they had closely read this "text" FIVE times. This forced the students to dig below the surface and develop a clear understanding of what the author was doing in the advertisement.

Note: As a modification, you can also turn off the sound for the first two viewings, so students are not distracted by the music or spoken words. For the last two viewings, turn off the video so students only focus on what they are hearing.

After each viewing, we asked the students to fill out each row, starting with the middle "Notes" column. We applied the close reading strategies that we employ when reading a written text, outlined in this blog post. 

In the left-hand margin, students summarized what the author was SAYING through the images, printed words, spoken words and music. In their own words, they summarized what each element was trying to accomplish.

In the right-hand margin, students analyzed what the author was DOING for each element. This is where we applied the appeals and fallacies from the notes over rhetoric. Students had to really dig in to get a full understanding of what the author was doing - how they were appealing to and manipulating their audience.

Day #3: 

Students analyzed the Chevy Truck ad using a rhetorical precis writing template.

I know what you may be thinking: template writing is rudimentary; nothing more than "Mad Libs" for English class.

While it may appear to be simplistic, these template are actually quite challenging to complete. We use these template often, especially when introducing new types of analysis to our sophomores. As the year progresses, we begin to take the templates away, but it is an essential part of our writing instruction at the beginning of a unit.

Student Example:
Click here to see a completed sample of the graphic organizer and rhetorical precis from a student.

Follow-Up Lesson:

As a follow up to this lesson, we asked students to analyze a political advertisement. However, this political ad had a twist: it was a biting satire of President Obama. At first glance, it appears to be a pro-Obama ad. Only close observers will begin to pick up on the fact that it is very critical of his presidency. The images and words say very different things. This sparked a great conversation about how the authors of this ad used images, printed words, music and spoken words to create a very specific message for their intended audience.

Final thoughts:

This three-day introduction to rhetoric served as a fantastic gateway to the rigorous analysis that students will be asked to do in AP Language & Composition, while integrating many of the Common Core State Standards for reading, writing and speaking. Students were asked to closely read the "text" multiple times, think about how the author used rhetorical appeals and fallacies, and analyze the text using specific evidence.

Please leave suggestions for how you introduce your students to rhetorical analysis now that we are in the era of Common Core.


  1. Hi! For some reason I can't see the follow-up lesson's video. Could you post up the link again?


  2. Diana: Argh! I am sorry. It looks like the video was taken down, and I can't find it on youtube.

  3. Darn! It's ok. I'm sure I can find something else I can use. I just started this lesson in my class today and so far it's going great. I'm going to connect it with the Animal Farm unit you have posted, but I was wondering if by any chance you have any student samples of Old Major and Squeeler's speeches? If so, can you post them?

  4. By the way, I LOVE your blog! I happened to run across it back in September when I was searching "Close Reading" on the web; I was very unfamiliar with the process and your post on it is awesome! I read your other posts and found them just as great. Please keep blogging! Thanks in advance :)

  5. Fantastic ideas and information! Please post every single thing you do! (That is a bit hyperbolic, but in all seriousness...I would read all of it.)