Teaching Rhetorical Analysis: How to Plan your Rhetoric and Persuasive Unit

Teaching Rhetorical Analysis: How to Plan your Rhetoric and Persuasive Unit

One of my favorite units to teach in my classroom is rhetorical analysis because students learn the power, beauty, and effectiveness of language. When teaching rhetorical analysis, we teach our students to analyze how the author writes rather than simply looking at what the author writes. We teach our students to look at the author’s effectiveness. We teach our students to look at which strategies an author uses and why those particular strategies are so effective.

Teaching our students about rhetorical analysis helps them not only in the classroom setting but also in the real world. Knowing how and why people, corporations, and advertisements can effectively convince and persuade people to take actions, purchase goods, or hold certain values and beliefs play a critical role in informed decision-making skills.

And while it may sound like teaching rhetorical analysis might be a bit dry and mundane, that could not be further from the truth. Teaching rhetoric and rhetorical analysis can be both exciting and entertaining.

Getting Started with Rhetorical Analysis

When I introduce rhetorical analysis to my students for the first time, I always start with direct instruction and I use this rhetorical analysis unit to introduce the content. By introducing and teaching students about rhetorical analysis, rhetorical appeals, and rhetorical devices, they become familiar with the subject. Furthermore, providing students with examples helps them grasp the concept.
rhetorical analysis teaching unit
Rhetorical Analysis with Sticky Notes Teaching Unit

Once students have a basic understanding, I then teach modeled annotation and analysis. I teach students how to annotate text, and as we class, we annotate the same text together. To help students gain confidence in their annotation and rhetorical analysis skills, I first have students annotate with me as a whole class. Once they branch out, I have them annotate in pairs and share their annotations with another group and then with the class. By practicing annotations in this scaffolded way, students learn how to annotate the text and identify rhetorical devices and appeals in a manner that helps them build confidence in their skills. 

When beginning to plan your rhetorical analysis unit, it is always good to use a wide variety of texts that represent a diverse group of people, and with teaching rhetoric and rhetorical analysis, there are so many speeches to choose from. Here is a list of my favorite speeches to analyze.

Rhetorical Analysis Student Practice 

Once students have a basic understanding of rhetoric and rhetorical analysis, I move on to independent practice. By doing so, I can use small classroom assignments and activities as formative assessments to gauge student understanding. 

One way to move toward independence is to ask your students rhetorical analysis questions that get your students thinking critically. In a blog post, I've compiled these 15 rhetorical analysis questions to use when analyzing a text.

Another way that you can have students move toward understanding and independence is by having them complete a rhetorical triangle analysis of your selected text. In doing so, students demonstrate their understanding of the text. You can download a free rhetorical organizer HERE!

free rhetorical analysis graphic organizer download for secondary ELA

Engaging and Fun Rhetorical Analysis Activities

Toward the end of my rhetorical analysis unit, I incorporate more fun and engaging activities that allow students to demonstrate their understanding. In a previous blog post, I share my favorite historical and political speeches that are excellent for a rhetorical analysis unit.

When analyzing rhetoric, my students love watching commercials to see which appeals and devices companies use as marketing strategies. Since commercials are usually thirty seconds to a minute in length, this makes a great warm-up activity. I like to show a commercial right after the bell rings at the start of class, ask students to identify which devices and appeals they find, and explain why those devices and appeals are effective.

A couple of years ago I had my students complete collaborative rhetorical analysis poster projects. Each group of three to four students received a different political or historical speech to analyze. Students read, annotated, and analyzed the text. Then, they identified various appeals and strategies that the speaker used and wrote a summary of the speech. This project took two fifty-five-minute class periods to complete. 

I wrote more about this project on my website: Collaborative Rhetorical Analysis Poster Project.

Another one of my favorite rhetorical analysis projects is the artistic PAPA square. PAPA is an acronym that stands for Purpose, Argument, Persona, and Audience. Using this acronym for rhetorical analysis, students create an artistic square that has two requirements: visually, it resembles the topic; and it also analyzes the text for its use of appeals and devices.

Usually, I have my students complete this project for one of their sources during our big research unit. You can read more about this project and sign-up to receive a free assignment handout on my website: Artistic PAPA Square.

Here are some more amazing resources and teaching tips for rhetorical analysis:
Persuasion Techniques Bell Ringers by Nouvelle ELA
Persuasive Essay Writing: Snowball Collaborative Activity by Presto Plans
Real Life Persuasion Lessons and Activities by Room 213

Teaching Rhetorical Analysis: How to Plan your Rhetoric and Persuasive Unit

Photo Analysis: Photography as Literature

If your students struggle with literary analysis or moving beyond a superficial reading, you can move their thinking to the next level with Photo Analysis. When students encounter literature (especially the classics!), they sometimes believe like the threshold of entry is too high–like they need a college degree to “get it.” But when it’s a photograph? A song? A painting? An unconventional road to analysis convinces them you really will accept more than one right answer.

Once you’ve convinced them of that, it’s all about support.

You can integrate Photo Analysis into any unit. It validates visual learners and develops your students’ media literacy. Students can begin with historical perspectives and research before translating their skills to analyzing advertisements. This makes it a versatile type of analysis!

And it’s fun.

That’s right. If you’re looking for a last unit before holiday break, Photo Analysis is great for maintaining student engagement. Also, if you let them become the photographer, they’ll channel their winter excitement into art.

Before students learn the “lingo” for Photo Analysis, have them write quick responses to photos. You can choose anything (I love the site Pixabay for this!), but remember: you’re seeking to activate their critical instinct. What stands out in the photo? What do the colors make them feel? How does the photographer guide their eye?

You know how students need to learn the terms “foreshadowing” and “mood” before they can explain how an author develops these in text? Photographs are the same way! Our students are more sophisticated amateur photographers than any generation before them, but they still need the domain vocabulary. After you introduce saturation, they’ll understand how the filters on their phones or on Facebook manipulate it. Moving beyond just choosing a filter, they’ll articulate formal elements like line, texture, and movement.

In my unit, I also share two nonfiction readings to build foundational knowledge: The Psychology of Color and The Psychology of Perspective. [Here’s a FREE copy of The Psychology of Perspective–thanks for being a loyal Coffee Shop reader.] These two ideas are foundations of media literacy. I aim to transition students to analyzing advertising and propaganda, so understanding these ideas is crucial. As a quick research project, have students discover how (and why!) theme park designers use forced perspective. What a fascinating topic! This example clearly shows how we’re influenced by design.

I have students brainstorm broadly about things that stand out to them in a photo. We close read photos as we close read literature: What captures your attention? What aspects do you like best? Are there any elements you don’t understand? Students may need to research the photographer or time period to truly understand what’s happening in a photograph.

Once they’ve brainstormed, students pick one idea and transform it into a claim. 

For example, observe the following photograph. Students may claim that the girl climbing on the netting represents the child’s quest for independence from the parent. 

Once students have a claim, they go back and look at what they’ve noted through brainstorming. What formal elements support their claim? How can they ground their interpretation in the Elements of Art and the Principles of Design?

We can imagine that the texture represents difficulties and obstacles she may face. Additionally, the girl's line of sight leads us to believe she's more interested in the netting itself than looking at the photographer. Perhaps this signifies her desire to concentrate on her achievements, rather than her parents' perspectives on her achievements.

Students need practice and feedback. Luckily, this is an excellent opportunity for some collaboration and peer feedback. Also, collaboration means students keep more responsibility for their learning. Have students brainstorm about photographs in groups and present a group analysis. Or, have students complete independent analyses, but then exchange with a partner to discuss how to strengthen their claims.

If you're looking for a flexible unit to work in, you can find mine here. If you don’t have time to do the whole unit, you can still integrate Photo Analysis throughout the year. You can incorporate it as your students research–maybe they find a photograph from a historical era under study and analyze it as art. You could also have students find a photograph and write an analysis showing how it illustrates the themes of their independent reading. The possibilities are endless!

Here are some other resources from Coffee Shop Teachers that focus on out-of-the-box ways to help get students into analysis: 

Using Art to Analyze and Teach Literature (a blog post by The Daring English Teacher)
Photo Prompt Cards (using photographs to inspire creative writing by Addie Williams)
Video Analysis: This is America (by Tracee Orman)
Analyzing a Music Video FREEBIE (by Stacey Lloyd)

Happy teaching!

Five Active Learning Strategies

Here's the big question I ask myself when I'm planning a new lesson or activity for my students: will it allow each one to be an active learner or just a "passer-by"? If the activity will not provide opportunities for everyone of them to engage in the learning, I go back to the drawing board.

When I say active and engaged, I'm not just talking about activities that get them up and moving around my room (although I do love those); I'm referring to ones that require all students to think, rather than passively absorb - or ignore - information.

So here are five things I try to include in my lessons and activities to make it more likely that my students aren't just "passing by" the learning:

1. Critical Thinking Activities
When I was a student, and even in the first part of my career, English class was all about chapter questions. We would read a section of the novel or play and the teacher would provide us with questions that focused on important elements of the text.  The problem with this approach is the onus is on the teacher to do all of the heavy thinking; by providing guiding questions, teachers are telling students what is important and what they need to think about. This might seem like the right thing to do, but it relieves the student of the responsibility of figuring things out for themselves. 

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.

So, how can we get kids more actively engaged in a text? My favourite strategy puts the responsibility on them to decide what is important and worthy of discussion. After they've read a short text or a section of a longer one, I ask each student to choose five elements from the text that they believe are most important to understand the story. Then, they work in groups to come to a consensus on these five elements. Once they do, they find evidence to support their choices, choices they will have to defend when we have a full class discussion. I love this activity because the kids are forced to take a close look at the text without me showing them where to look. It takes a bit of training and modelling the first few times you do it, but once the students get a handle on it, the discussions about text become very rich.

Grab this free organizer if you'd like to try the activity with your students. I also have several other critical thinking activities that can be used with any text. Check them out here.

2. Discussion
Speaking is a very important component of active learning, so I build in opportunities for discussion in every lesson, whether it's sharing with a partner, a group or the whole class. If I want students to explore an idea, we begin with individual reflections or brainstorms, so everyone has to think and engage before we discuss. Then, I use a variety of strategies to attempt to engage all students, not just the keen ones.

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.

There are many ways we can get our kids talking, from chat stations to Socratic seminars to formal debates, but some of the richest talk I've ever heard among students comes from daily chats and informal discussions. Unless you have a special group of kids, though, these don't always happen without some guidance from the teacher. If you'd like some ideas for facilitating meaningful class discussions, grab this freebie.

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.
When students work together to figure out a complex text or a problem, deep learning can occur. When students are taught how to listen to and question each other, they learn skills that they can use long after they leave our classrooms. 

For these reasons, collaborative work is a staple in my classroom. My go-to activity involves chart paper, sticky notes and markers because it can be applied to so many situations. I simply assign kids a critical thinking task, give them their stickies and markers and let them go to it. 

I use this strategy a lot because it allows students to see their thought processes. For example, last week we were working on our first major essay, and I wanted my students to create an outline before they began. I also wanted them to work on idea development and organization, so I created a group activity that would give them some practice and a better understanding of the outlining process. I projected the thesis: smoking is a terrible habit on the screen and had them brainstorm topic sentences. Each group was assigned one and given chart paper and markers. They brainstormed ideas to support their topic sentences and then we did a quick gallery walk to get some more details on each paper. Finally, a rep from each group came to the front of the room to hold their chart paper or potential "paragraph."  

First, we discussed whether or not each paragraph should go into the "essay" we were planning. We decided to omit the one on the cost of smoking because it didn't really fit with the other points. Then, we debated the best order to present the others. For example, should smoking can kill you go last, or should smoking can harm those around you be the final pointWe had a great discussion about the merits of each and physically moved the paragraphs around as we did so the kids could see the organization. In the end, the kids had a much better idea of the thinking process that should go into outlining an essay because they were actively involved in the outlining process rather than just hearing me drone on about it at the front of the room. You can get the lesson plan here.

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.

I use chart paper, markers and stickies in a variety of ways to engage my students in active learning. For example, I might ask them to come up with a title that captures the essence of a chapter. They would write the title on the chart paper and then list examples and quotations that would illustrate why their chosen title is a good one. If they are working on showing rather than telling in their writing, I write phrases on the top of each paper and have them brainstorm descriptive details to bring each phrase to life. All of these activities can be turned into a gallery walk, with each new group adding more detail to the info on the chart paper with sticky notes. You can grab over thirty of these activities right here.

4. Movement
In my classroom I like to get the bodies active along with the brains, so I work to find ways to get them moving at some point in each class. Seventy-five minutes is a long time to sit still, so even if I don't have an activity that requires students to move, I'll stop half-way through class and ask them to stand up to share something they've written or to discuss I question I pose. 

I use a lot of learning stations to get my students moving, but sometimes, I just put questions or quotes on the wall. Instead of working at their desks, students "go to the wall" to work. The pictures below illustrate an activity I did last week. My IB students needed to do some quotation analysis, so rather than giving them a sheet of quotations to work on at their desks, I enlarged them to create posters for the wall. You can read more about this activity here.

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.

There are many easy ways you can get your students up and moving during your class. Check out ten different strategies on this blog post.

5. Creative Assignments 
Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.
In the early part of my career I was a bit of an essay snob. Almost all of the writing that happened in my classroom was literary analysis or research. The five paragraph essay reigned supreme. Now, I provide my students with the freedom to write what they want during writing workshop. They still learn to write an essay (although I ask for a multi-paragraph one, rather than five), and we do a fair bit of literary analysis. 

However, I know that many of my students will actively engage with their writing and find their own voice when they have the freedom to experiment with a variety of genres. Some of them need inspiration to stretch their creative muscles and using mentor texts to show them what great writers do is a very effective strategy. Almost daily, I share a short passage that illustrates engaging writing. Usually these passages demonstrate specific skills we're working on, like word choice or sentence fluency. After students identify what makes the piece effective, they use it as a model to create their own. Since I began this practice, I've seen great improvement in my students' skills and their engagement.

Now, instead of only writing literary analysis essays, I give my students opportunities to illustrate their knowledge of literary techniques through creative writing. I also build in more opportunities for creativity with bell ringers and writing prompts, like the one below, or I assign longer creative pieces. For example, the image below is a prompt I use that allows kids to be creative while also illustrating knowledge of their novel. In the one above, students use excerpts from young adult novels as inspiration for their writing.

Five active learning strategies for middle or high school English class. Room 213 shares strategies for lessons that involve critical thinking, discussion, collaboration, movement and creativity.

Now, obviously, I can't include all of these strategies in every lesson I deliver. However, I do attempt to include at least two or three of them each time so that more of my students are actively engaged in what we are doing. 

You can read about other active learning activities I've used in my classroom on these blog posts:

Teaching Students to Find Evidence in Texts
Teaching Research Skills: Active Learning
Collaborative Poetry with "Where I'm From" Poems
Speaking and Listening Workshop

My friends here at the Coffee Shop have lots of active learning activities too. You can check them out here:

Collaborative Bell Ringers, Nouvelle ELA
Discussion Activity: What Would You Do?, Presto Plans
Encourage Creativity in Your Classroom, Tracee Orman
Novel Study Project for Any Text, The Classroom Sparrow
Eight Ways to Get Students Moving, The Daring English Teacher

5 Thanksgiving Ideas & Resources for your English Language Arts Class

Family. Parades. Pie. Football. Pie. Did I mention pie? Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I for one am excited! Thanksgiving is all about sharing, so I have compiled a bunch of Thanksgiving-related activities and resources to use the week before the holiday. If you're anything like me, you're running close to empty right now, so these lessons and ideas are designed to be as hassle-free as possible; no marking and very little preparation required. So, you can kick back, relax and look forward to a fun few weeks ahead!

Debates are a great way to channel a student's chattiness and enthusiasm into something worthwhile. Debates allow students to blow off some steam in a controlled manner, while also developing speaking, listening and critical thinking skills. First, choose a topic that relates to Thanksgiving. Some examples might include:
  • Some stores open on Thanksgiving to start early sales. Is this fair to the employees who now have to miss time with their family?
  • Is commercialism undermining the true meaning of Thanksgiving?
  • Should employees be given more time to celebrate Thanksgiving?
  • Is Thanksgiving offensive to Native Americans?
Choose a topic that would best work with your class. Split them into two teams, give them time to prepare their arguments, then let the debating begin!

This works great as a stand-alone activity or if you have more time, students can use the ideas from the debate to write a persuasive essay defending their point of view.

Advance warning: this activity will cost you delicious pie, but it will be totally worth it!

You know those food commercials that instantly stir up a craving? Well, your students will now have the opportunity to create their own commercial scripts, using delicious Thanksgiving pie!

First, show your students any food advertisements on YouTube that may stir up the senses. Here are a few links to videos that cater to the five senses. Grab this FREE Descriptive Food Advertisement planning sheet to use during this activity.
Next step, dessert time! Select your dessert of choice (if you decided not to go with the pie). Hand out a small piece to each student and ask them to write down on a planning sheet, descriptive vocabulary based on the pie's appearance. They will continue to do this with each bite of their pie.

When they've finished with the pie and you're their favorite teacher for 5 minutes for bringing in the food! They will then have to organize their notes into a script for a TV advertisement using adjectives, similes, sensory images and complex vocabulary to persuade viewers to buy their product. This does not necessarily have to be filmed, but it is definitely an option!

Without a doubt, one of the most popular activities in my class right now has to be escape rooms. In the past, I used to get nagged before the holidays for a movie, now they ask for escape rooms! Escape rooms are a much better alternative - they are interactive, team-building and yes, FUN!

In addition to the fact that escape rooms are a collaborative activity, escape rooms require students to use critical thinking and use literacy skills to solve challenges and learn more about a topic. Oh, and did I mention they do not need to be graded?

As you all know I love  incorporating holiday-related activities into my classroom, so you guessed it, I created a Thanksgiving Escape Room! In this escape room activity, students will work together to complete a range of tasks including: trivia, cryptograms, mazes and work puzzles to learn more about the history and customs of Thanksgiving.

You can use the challenges with one class over multiple lessons, mix-and-match the activities for different classes or even give out the challenge as extension activities (for students who finish their work early) or as fun homework activities.

Each escape room challenge includes detailed teacher notes and answer keys. Each challenge was also created as a print-and-go resource. No locks required! :)

I am a huge supporter of creativity in schools. Often, we are so busy trying to cram the curriculum into our planning that we forget the importance of just stepping back and allowing our students to be inventive. When was the last time your students wrote something for fun? Not for a test, not for a grade, just for the sole purpose of using their imagination and expressing their imagination and ideas.

The key message about Thanksgiving is being thankful and appreciative of what we have. Using this message as a starting point, ask students to plan and write a short story, script or narrative poem about a time someone learned to be thankful.

Good writing comes from the opportunity to practice and experiment. I bet that there are some budding authors in your classroom that will relish the chance to show you what they can do.

Tip: If you want to link this activity more closely to the curriculum, then provide students with a check-list of different grammatical features or writing techniques that you have covered over the semester thus far and ask them to include them into their stories. This way you can check their learning, while still allowing them the freedom to write.

In need of a slightly quieter, calmer classroom before the holidays? Try out a new form of writing and have students compose a newspaper article relating to Thanksgiving events.

I know what you're thinking. You're tired, the holiday is in sight, and planning for a new writing unit is going to take hours of work, right?

Wrong! My Thanksgiving Newspaper Article pack includes everything you need to teach article writing for an entire week leading up to the holiday. Students start by identifying the main features of a newspaper article, then plan their own shocking or funny Thanksgiving-related news stories using the news paper article template provided in the pack. Then, they will then write their own articles using the detailed, editable rubric.

The writing pack even includes practice worksheets for teaching dialogue and a peer assessment sheet to help you cut down on the marking, leaving you free the week after the holiday to relax and enjoy your time off!

Here are some Thanksgiving headings that you could have your students pick out of a hat to help them get started!
  • Turkey Turns on Thanksgiving Shoppers
  • Thanksgiving Dinner Cancelled 
  • Family Saves Turkey from Oven Death 
  • Turkey Shares its Last Thanksgiving Wish
  • Family Experiences a Strange Thanksgiving Dinner
Check out these other Thanksgiving resources:
- Thanksgiving Writing for Teens
- Thanksgiving Figurative Activities
- Thanksgiving Writing Prompts
- Thanksgiving Interactive Notebook Activities

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