The feedback from teachers on my original “Three Ways to Persuade” mini-module was substantially negative. Most teachers liked the article and the first half of the module. However, the writing assignment dealt with issues of knowledge versus belief and whether rhetoric was good or bad. It also asked the students to paraphrase quotations from Aristotle. All of this turned out to be too challenging, as well as diverting students away from learning about ethos, logos, and pathos. A few teachers found that their students were capable of dealing with all of these challenging questions and activities, but most complained. I thought that these complaints were quite well taken.
I ended up moving most of that material to a new mini-module: “Knowledge, Belief and the Role of Rhetoric.”
That worked, but now I had to come up with a new writing assignment for the original module. I decided to have the class create an annotated list of rhetorically interesting websites that might be used to help outsiders understand what “rhetoric” is and how ethos, logos and pathos work together to persuade. Each student would create a paragraph for this list. Here is the assignment:
Many people don’t know what “rhetoric” is. Some people who do know have a bad impression of it. They think it is all about deception. However rhetoric is everywhere. It can be used for both good and bad purposes. You and your fellow students will create a list of rhetorically interesting websites that will help people understand how rhetoric works, or at least how ethos, logos, and pathos work together to persuade people to do or believe things. You will write a short paragraph that will become part of this list.
Choose a website that focuses on an issue, problem, or cultural trend that you consider important or interesting. Explore the website carefully. Then write a paragraph answering the following question:
How do ethos, logos, and pathos work together (or not work together) in helping to achieve the writer’s purpose?
Activity 8 contains some questions that will help you gather information and ideas for this analysis. Remember that you are doing a rhetorical analysis, not arguing for or against a position on the issue.
The next activity includes some questions to help students do this analysis:
The following questions will help you in your rhetorical analysis of the website. In answering the questions, in addition to the words and sentences, also consider images and other visual aspects of the site.
1. What is this document or web site about?
2. What is the writer of the document trying to accomplish? Why is he or she writing?
3. What kind of ethos or image does the writer project? What are some of the elements that create this ethos? Is it believable?
4. Who is the primary audience for this document or web site? What are their characteristics? Is the document well-adapted to this audience?
5. Who else might read this document? (This is called a “secondary audience.” If the website was not created with you or your classmates in mind, you are a secondary audience.) What are their characteristics? Does the document work for them too?
6. What arguments and evidence (logos) does the writer use to persuade the audience? Are the arguments convincing? Is the evidence true and reliable? Summarize the main points.
7. Does the writer try to create an emotional response (pathos), or keep the reader’s emotions in check? What are some examples? If the writer does not try to engage the reader’s emotions, what is the effect of this emotional neutrality?
8. Do all of these elements work together to achieve the desired response from the reader? Why or why not?