New Rhetoric Instructors

Welcome to the Writing Center's help site for new Rhetoric Instructors. This site will tackle a couple of the most common questions we hear from those new to teaching undergraduate rhetoric courses:
  • What I am supposed to be teaching?
  • How am I supposed to teach THAT?

The short answer to the first question is that rhetoric instructors teach college-level reading, writing and speaking skills.  For a longer explanation of the goals of rhetoric courses, keep reading.  To jump straight to the nuts and bolts of how you might go about teaching these skills, click the links in the sidebar. 

The "What" Question

Teaching rhetoric is not like teaching courses in other disciplines, where the idea is for the students to engage with and understand a particular body of knowledge. The goal of is for students to learn basic academic skills.  Take, for example the description in the Rhetoric Handbook: “Rhetoric courses help students develop skills in speaking, writing, listening and critical reading, and build competence in research, analysis, and argumentation…these skills are basic to the rest of a student’s study in the College of Liberal Arts and Science…”

To this end the Rhetoric department describes undergraduate rhetoric courses as “introductions to college-level reading, writing and speaking.”

The objective, in other words, is for students to develop a set of TRANSFERABLE SKILLS– skills that will be useful to them in other classes, as they go on through college and in other spheres of life, as they move into the wider world of work and civic life.

Because of this emphasis on skills, instructors have some leeway to develop their own content.  The curriculum is structured around the analysis of controversies – students are expected to begin by learning to analyze an argument, move on to mapping out the various positions in a controversy and eventually reach the point of being able to advocate a position of their own on an issue.  Instructors, however, can decide which controversies they wish to use as models for their students and, by the end of the semester, students choose their own topics.  This is one of the real strengths the general education rhetoric courses at Iowa: instructors can individualize their particular sections by selecting material and shaping their syllabi to reflect their own interests and expertise – a valuable teaching experience.  (To get a sense of the wide range of approaches possible see the Department of Rhetoric's website for examples of assignments, exercises, lesson plans and even entire course packages created by previous instructors).

Ultimately, however, each instructor is guided by the goals set out by the Rhetoric department and evaluates each exercise, lesson plan and assignment in terms of how effectively it works to help the students master the key academic skills of reading, writing, speaking and researching arguments.  This section of the Writing Center website offers some suggestions for how to go about teaching reading and writing skills to rhetoric students.  (See the speaking center for suggestions on how to teach speaking and presentation skills)

Handbook Guidelines

The Rhetoric Handbook further elaborates the course goals as helping students develop the ability to:

  1. Use flexible appropriate processes for writing, speaking and reading
  2. To understand and use basic rhetorical concepts
  3. To write and speak analytically about controversies

(For a more detailed description of these three related objectives see the Handbook, p3-4)