A rhetorical analysis of a text aims to make visible the ways in which the writer attempts to persuade his or her audience. It includes a consideration of how the purpose and the occasion shape the text and of the ways in which the author attempts to persuade his or her chosen audience. The goal of teaching rhetorical analysis is to lead the students to a better critical awareness of how persuasive writing works, and a better understanding of how these strategies can be deployed in their own writing. If you’ve never taken a class in rhetoric it’s a good idea to analyze a couple of essays yourself to get a sense of how your students might begin to tackle it.
Recognizing the appeals
Learning what to say about the appeals
Some common student mistakes.
Students often don't know how to interpret their evidence. It is not unusual, for example to get a statement like this in a student paper: "Martin Luther King describes the conditions of African-Americans at that time period. This is an appeal to our emotions / an example of pathos" (with no further explanation). One way to avoid this is to explicitly describe this mistake, providing examples of it, and demonstrate and practice better ways to cite and interpret evidence. "Martin Luther King describes African Americans as 'crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of oppression.' This reference to "mangles" and "chains" vividly captures the pain and the burden of discrimination and also serves as a sharp reminder to listening white Americans of the history of slavery."
Students often do a psychological analysis, describing the feelings of the rhetor or the audience. "Martin Luther King is really angry about the conditions of African-Americans." Or "The conditions of African-Americans are shocking to listeners." Provide examples of this mistake, explain the problem and practice rewriting sentences like the one above. "Martin Luther King uses words like "crippled," "manacled" and "chained" in an attempt to shock the mostly white audience into a realization that conditions for African Americans have changed little since the abolition of slavery."
Here's a handout written by a UI instructor on psychological versus rhetorical analysis.
(Grammatical errors and sentence-level difficulties are also problems in some student writing. Rather than devoting a lot of time to grammar in class, it's usually better to do the occasional mini-lesson covering the most common mistakes and /or refer individual students to grammar handbooks)
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