What students have to do to write a rhetorical analysis

For their first major project next semester we are supposed to have our students perform a rhetorical analysis; so my version of that is doing what I call “Facebook in slow motion.”  What I want the students to do is to take a facebook conversation and take it slow motion the way sherlock holmes does in the new movies. What we see on facebook is the last part of this clip where we see the fight play out in real time, and the slow motion breakdown before hand is the rhetorical analysis students are supposed to produce after the fact.

The idea behind it is that in order to slow things down like that, you have to understand the rhetorical situation. You have to make assumptions about what people are trying to accomplish when they say what they do. I am hoping that each student is going to be able to find an exchange on Facebook and slow it down the way sherlock holmes does.

I have two examples that we are going to look at, both are heated exchanges I participated in on Facebook. My hope is that we can use these two examples and move step by step through each comment and flesh out the subtext. By doing this we can start to understand what kinds of arguments people are using and why the are working or aren’t working persuasively.

So my plan is to do this: Spend a class period looking at the first example of mine in class and watching the Sherlock Holmes clip as inspiration. Then have them to do the same thing by themselves for homework with another example that I will provide. Then they have to find their own example and do the same thing with that. This will be their rough draft. (I need to do something to get out of the rough draft/final draft paradigm, maybe I’ll call it the working draft.)

During the revision stage will try help them to push the analysis further. There are a few chapters in our text book that do a pretty good job of explaining how to identify certain types of arguments. I am going to use that during the revision stages of the essay writing process. My thinking is that the students need to get their initials thoughts about the exchange down on the page and through their heads before they’ll even begin to be able to identify that argument is happening, let alone identify types of arguments, let alone evaluate the arguments on their capacity for persuasion. So what I am thinking of doing is getting them into what I will call “Information Extraction Groups.” Their job will be to get as much out of the textbook as possible that will be of benefit for the other students in the class, make something other students can use (a website, a handout, a video, whatever), and present it to the class. (This will be especially cool because I will let the students from both sections have access to the materials. This will motivate them to produce something of higher quality because they have an unknown/unseen/not immediately present audience that will be able to give them immediate feedback.)

I will have to work with them to use the materials presented in the Info Extraction groups to improve their working drafts.

At the end, we will have one final class to talk about final polish, which mostly consists of taking about audience awareness. I have an activity I’ve created that teaches about the importance of responding to particular rhetorical situations that I will use for that class. (Maybe if enough people request it, some day I’ll write up how to do that activity.)

Then the final draft will be due and we will begin the next unit.

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