Using Pop Culture to Teach Rhetorical Analysis: Song, Movie, and Modern Speech Recommendations

Using Pop Culture to Teach Rhetorical Analysis: Song, Movie, and Modern Speech Recommendations

Hi, everyone! The Daring English Teacher here! Today, I am sharing how to teach rhetorical analysis using pop culture.

As a high school English teacher, I love teaching rhetoric and rhetorical analysis to my students. Not to totally geek out over here, but I love how words have so much power and how speakers and authors can purposefully craft their arguments to enhance the meaning behind the text.

I live for that moment when students have that ah-ha moment and see just how powerful words, word choice, and syntax can be, especially when used together intentionally.

So, before I dive in and share how to teach rhetorical analysis to your students using the nontraditional route of incorporating pop culture into the classroom, I’m first going to share a little bit about how I teach rhetorical analysis in my classroom.

What is rhetorical analysis?

When I introduce rhetorical analysis to my students, one of the first things I do for them is define rhetoric and rhetorical analysis. While this seems so simplistic, words and phrases like “rhetoric” and “rhetorical analysis” are a part of academic vocabulary that many students might not be familiar with.

  • Rhetoric: the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the use of figures of speech and other compositional techniques
  • Rhetorical Analysis: analyzing the effectiveness of the written and spoken word

How to Teach Rhetorical Analysis

Teaching rhetorical analysis
rhetorical analysis unit
When introducing my students to rhetorical analysis, I start with direct instruction and use this rhetorical analysis unit

In addition to providing students with definitions, sharing plenty of examples with them and walking students through a class rhetorical analysis activity is essential.

This unit familiarizes students with the subject by introducing and teaching them about rhetorical analysis, rhetorical appeals, and rhetorical devices. Furthermore, providing students with examples helps them grasp the concept.

It is helpful to teach students about rhetorical devices and appeals in teaching rhetorical analysis. When introducing rhetorical devices, I like to stick to a few, like anaphora, parallel structure, and figurative language.

Key elements in teaching rhetorical analysis

Another helpful way to help students gain confidence in their rhetorical analysis skills is to use helpful acronyms that give students an order for analysis. In addition to teaching ethos, pathos, and logos, there are three very common rhetorical analysis acronyms are great to use in middle school ELA and high school English classrooms: PAPA, SOAPStone, and SPACEcat.

  • PAPA rhetorical analysis stands for persona, argument, purpose, and audience. With this acronym, students analyze a text those four elements. When my students analyze text rhetorically, one fun activity I like to have them complete is the artistic PAPA square.
  • SOAPStone stands for speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and tone. My rhetorical analysis task cards utilize the SOAPStone acronym as rhetorical analysis method, and rhey work great with any text.
  • SPACEcat stands for speaker, purpose, audience, context, exigence, choices, appeals, and tone.
Rhetorical Analysis Task Cards
rhetorical analysis task cards

Regardless of which rhetorical analysis method you choose is best for your classroom, each one provides students with a consistent framework with which to use.

Lights, Camera, Rhetoric: Integrating Pop Culture into Rhetorical Analysis

Once students have a fundamental understanding of rhetorical analysis, it is now time to weave in pop culture to make the unit more engaging and relevant. You can easily integrate pop culture into any part of your rhetorical analysis unit. You can use an example from pop culture as a whole class example, as independent practice, or as a group project.

Songs from Disney and Pixar Movies

Believe it or not, Disney and Pixar songs are excellent texts for students to analyze rhetorically. Typically, these songs come at pivotal moments in the movie where an established argument is made and other characters need persuasion. 

Because, you see, even though the songs come from a fictional plot, students will be analyzing the words from the song.

Here are nine Disney and Pixar songs that work great for rhetorical analysis:
  • “Be Prepared” from Disney’s The Lion King
  • “Be Our Guest” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
  • “Friends on the Other Side” from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog
  • “Mother Knows Best” from Disney’s Tangled
  • “I’ll Make a Man out of You” from Disney’s Mulan
  • “Friend Like Me” from Disney’s Aladdin
  • “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid
  • “How Far I’ll Go” from Disney’s Moana
  • “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Pixar’s Toy Story
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    Movie Speeches for Teaching Rhetorical Analysis

    Another great way to teach and practice rhetorical analysis using pop culture is through the use of movie speeches. Afterall, many of these speeches were written by award-winning producers and screenwriters!

    Movie speeches are a great way to practice rhetorical analysis in the classroom because they entertaining, filled with rhetorical devices, and are relatively short. Their length, in particular, make them ideal for the classroom setting because you can show it, analyze it, and review it in one class period.

    Here are five movies speeches that are great for rhetorical analysis

    Modern Speeches

    Finally, modern speeches are a great way to also incoproate elements of popular culture into your rhetorical analysis teaching unit. I love mixing in modern speeches alongside the historical speeches that I include in my unit to show students that rhetorical analysis isn’t just for historical events that happened long before they were alive.

    By incorporating modern speeches, I connect more with my students and show them the relevance of this skill.

    Here are five modern speeches to include in your rhetorical analysis unit

    Rhetorical Analysis Activities for the Secondary ELA Classroom

    Now that you have a bunch of high-interest speeches to use in your classroom, it is time to plan that unit with fun and engaging activities your students will love. Here is a look at some of my favorite rhetorical analysis activities.

    Rhetorical Analysis Mini Flip Book

    Rhetorical Analysis Mini Flip Book
    sticky note rhetorical analysis mini flip book
    Make rhetorical analysis more engaging, hands-on, and fun with this sticky note rhetorical analysis mini flip book

    This project is ideal to complete as you read and after you read nonfiction texts such as speeches and persuasive letters. 

    Students work on pages within the workbook to identify, quote, and explain various rhetorical elements, appeals, and devices from the text.

    Rhetorical Appeals Stations

    I love getting my students up and out of their seats and moving around the classroom. One of the best ways to do that is by having students complete a rhetorical appeals stations activity. This activity works with any speech, and it can be used again and again all year long!

    Grab this FREE Rhetorical Triangle Graphic Organizer

    Engage your students in rhetorical analysis with this free rhetorical triangle graphic organizer. This handout works with any text for rhetorical analysis, and it is perfect for a sub day after you teach the basics of rhetorical analysis to your students!

    Additional Resources for Teaching Rhetorical Analysis:

    For more reading about planning your unit, be sure to check out this blog post about planning your rhetorical analysis unit. You can also read this post that includes 15 questions to ask in your rhetorical analysis unit.

    More Reading:

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