This page is intended to help high school English teachers (especially Pre-AP and AP Lang) and homeschooling parents who are trying to wrap their minds around how to teach rhetoric and rhetorical analysis.
ELA Academy is no longer an active venture, but it’s being left up in case anyone finds these resources helpful.
For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, rhetoric is simply the art of communicating effectively. We all use it, usually without thinking! But the more we study rhetoric, the more tools we have for making our arguments more compelling.
See my video “Intro to Rhetoric and Rhetorical Analysis” to get started. The blog post includes links to other helpful resources.
I suggest starting with the rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, and logos) and using them to analyze persuasive texts/videos: advertisements, opinion articles, political speeches, etc.
I don’t have a separate video on rhetorical appeals, but you can watch my mini-lesson in this video below and see how I use the ethos, pathos, and logos to analyze Mark Antony’s funeral oration in Julius Caesar. A number of helpful resources are included in the blog post.
Here are some other good scenes from Julius Caesar that you can analyze for rhetorical appeals:
- Marullus’s speech to the commoners in the first scene, berating them for their fickle loyalties
- Cassius influences Brutus to join the conspiracy against Caesar
- Calpurnia tries to persuade Caesar not to go to the Senate
- Decius persuades him to go despite Calpurnia’s dream
- Brutus’s funeral oration
Antigone by Sophocles is another play commonly taught in the same year as JC. There are lots of great scenes to analyze for rhetorical appeals and other rhetorical strategies/devices, like:
- Antigone tries to persuade Ismene to help bury their brother against Creon’s orders
- Creon’s speech to the Chorus about his own kingship
- Antigone defends her actions to Creon
- Haimon tries to persuade his father to change his mind (with Creon’s retorts)
- Teiresias the prophet tries to persuade Creon that he is wrong
This is a very student-friendly version in modern English, easy to print:
Once your students are comfortable with the rhetorical appeals, you can start branching out into rhetorical devices. There are TONS of these, so I don’t advise trying to learn all of them. I would try to group a few at a time that go together, learn and practice those, then move on to another group. There are many websites that can help you, but here’s one to get you started:
NOTE: A common trap that AP students fall into with rhetorical analysis (especially RA essays) is playing “hunt the rhetorical device.” As this excellent handout states, “AP readers have consistently noted that students who go ‘device hunting‘ often produce lower-half papers.” Click here to read more:
Here is a good handout on how to write a solid intro paragraph for a rhetorical analysis essay and write body paragraphs about rhetorical appeals, diction, syntax, and tone:
Of course, we shouldn’t neglect what the College Board itself (maker of the AP tests) has to say about writing a rhetorical analysis. Click on the “Scoring Guidelines” documents (you’ll need to create a free student account):
In crafting a powerful argument, it’s important to avoid using logical fallacies. Then again, sometimes logical fallacies are quite effective, particularly with people who haven’t learned about them. Either way, it’s helpful to understand them.
Start by reading Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”: AP students are expected to be familiar with it, and it helps to illustrate many foundational concepts in persuasion, rhetoric, logical fallacies, etc.
Helpful TED-Ed animated video (comes with a whole lesson, very student-friendly):
If you want to go a little deeper, here is Plato’s theory of Forms:
Then here’s a great little story that can introduce students to logical fallacies in a fun way: “Love Is a Fallacy” by Max Shulman. It’s a little dated (written in the 1950s), but it’s hilarious.
My favorite text to analyze for logical fallacies is The Crucible by Arthur Miller (especially Acts 2-3). I’ll eventually get around to posting my LF materials here, but for now, here’s a link to the play:
I recommend finding/creating a handout with the most common logical fallacies, and any time you have your students read/watch/listen to something persuasive, have them consult the handout and identify any fallacies that are present. Here’s a nice poster: