Monday, October 11, 2010

Rhetori-WHAT?: Teaching Rhetorical Analysis to High School Juniors

Those of you who teach AP English Language are probably not impressed with the title of this blog. Rhetoric is the heart and soul of our curriculum. The juniors I speak of are not AP students. Rather, in this post, I will outline a method I developed for teaching my students in standard English about rhetoric and how to analyze its use in writing.

I spend about a week introducing the terms and having students identify how and where the terms can be used. You can really play with this portion of the unit depending upon how you teach new concepts and terms. I use a combination of graphic organizer and PowerPoint presentation. The real fun happens after I get through the basics, when i am ready to tackle the actual analysis.

First, I hand them one of the "Nacirema" lectures. In particular, I hand them the one on the "Body Rituals among the Nacirema" by Horace Miner. The real fun in using this piece is the reaction the students have. Usually, about half way through, portions of the class are fighting off sleep. Until, suddenly, one student begins to laugh and shake his or her head. The heads pop up like gazelle who have heard a lion nearby. Laughter? With this boring lecture. But then, another student starts laughing, as though the laughter from one was enough to help others that this piece is not to be taken seriously. Suddenly, everybody is trying to figure out what they missed. We finish that lecture and move on to the "Sacred Rac." Again, students frantically try and discover why their classmates are laughing (some so hard they've fallen on the floor--not really). Finally, we throw out the big reveal. "Nacirema" is American backwards. These crazy rituals? You did about half on your way here. Suddenly, they want to know how they were fooled.

Here's your moment. Reintroduce the rhetorical terms. Have a discussion about some examples of the terms in the text. Come up with a main idea. Model a think aloud wherein you link the examples to the main idea. Show the students that analysis has a function. They get into this discussion, throwing examples out right and left. Then, break their hearts.

When you say, let's write, they'll be upset for a minute, but they'll get over it. I write up the following criteria on the board:

"Your analysis will...
___ Discuss the use of 2-3 rhetorical terms

___ Define each term

___ Provide an example for each term from the text

___ Explain how the example is representative of the term"

This brief analysis hones the students' skills in selecting the correct term to describe an author's style and it pushes them to choose good examples and then justify them. Win-win all around.

But wait...they didn't explain how the example shows an author using style to support a main idea?

Slow down.

After students have written the analysis and turned it in, we move on to another challenge. Now, we read a piece of more traditional satire: Larry Doyle's "The Babyproofer." They love this one. The jokes are in your face and the ones who babysit/have younger siblings really identify with the message. Once we read it, students are asked to identify the author's main idea. They spend time doing this in groups, discussing their ideas and trying to find a common idea. Then we spend time refining this idea using evidence from the text. Then, I write the following criteria on the board:

"Your analysis will...
___ Explicitly state the author's main idea

___ Discuss the use of 2-3 rhetorical terms

___ Define each term

___ Provide an example for each term from the text

___ Explain how the example reinforces the main idea of the text"

By the time the students finish this analysis, they've done all of the steps from the first and then supported the main idea. The main idea portion of this analysis helps students pick out examples that specifically focus on support for the main idea, rather than just a grab bag of quotations that may or may not support the main idea.

After these two, I assign a piece of their choice. They then perform all of the steps on their own and explain how they went through the process. The students really seemed to enjoy the process this year and their scores on the Unit I Test were appreciably higher because of it.

1 comment:

Kristi said...

Great ideas! I really enjoyed reading how you led your reluctant followers into writing analyses. I am trying to figure out what to do on Monday, and this helps!