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End of Semester Reflection on Political Rhetoric

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

Students consider an ostentacious example of political rhetoric, then consider the other side's analysis of said rhetoric.

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Rhetoric: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

This lesson plan is well-suited for a class period near the end of term, when students have started or nearly completed end of semester work. It encourages students to reflect upon what they've learned, how it's useful, and why a public university might require basic composition courses.

Media Requirements: 
Required Materials: 

Printouts of articles (if not in an electronic classroom), rrelevant URLs to bring to class and show on room's projector.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

Start by breaking students into small groups and asking them to reflect upon why the university feels it's important to require that they take the course. Give them 10 minutes or so and move from group to group while providing a little coaching or feedback. Once everyone comes back together, ask them what they came up with. You might consider having something prepared to say about how basic composition courses have been a feature of American public universities since their inception. Once they've said all the obvious things, ask them to highlight how these things are particularly relevant to the 21st-century American experience.

Play for them a recent political TV advertisement. When I used this lesson plan, I played Mitt Romney's latest shtick, the motto of which is "Obama Isn't Working." The advertisement is much like a trailer for new cheap action movie, and the sense of impending doom it gives for the upcoming Democratic National Convention is scary. Have the students discuss the rhetorical strategies at play in the advertisement. Ethos, pathos, and logos are all relevant, and as a group they should be able to nail down which stases are coming into play.

Next, have them watch a recent campaign speech of the same candidate. Ask them to think about how the candidate used the different medium (a public speech) to advance a now familiar argument. (What's helpful here is that as a group, the students now have some context for the argument being made and are able to discuss it on equal footing. Often what happens in composition classes is that students are all writing on very different topics, and it's hard for them to see how another's question is relevant to their own.) Faulty logos will probably be apparent no matter which candidate one chooses to examine, so be sure to press students on whether or not the arguments are successful.

Finally, provide students with the other side's rebuttal. As them to think about the way the left is challanging the right's rhetoric (or vice versa), and how this complicates the things being said. Also, ask them if there's any suspect rhetoric in the rebuttal. Ask them to reflect about how what they've learned in the course is informing how they're consuming this public content. Ask them to think about the ways in which rhetorical invention and rhetorical consumption are related.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

When I did this lesson plan in my class I strove the appear bipartisan. This involved researching how various criticisms could be applied to both sides of the political spectrum.

Instructions For Students: 

The basic instructions for this assignment are implicit in the "Full Assignment Description" above. One thing I found myself reminding them of is that they should be thinking out of the box in this activity. It isn't always apparent how rhetorical training relates to civic discourse -- esp. for 18-year olds who don't read the paper every day -- and it takes a little imaginative thinking to get them thinking in this way.

Evaluation Suggestions: 

This assignment wasn't graded. Rather, it works really well for a day late in the semester when students are turning in work, or when they're in the final stages of completing a major assignment. It's a productive way to get them thinking about class content on a day when they haven't done any specific reading for the course.

Course Description: 

RHE 306 is a course in argumentation that situates rhetoric as an art of civic discourse. It is designed to enhance your ability to analyze the various positions held in any public debate and to advocate your own position effectively. Your work in this course will help you advance the critical writing and reading skills you will need to succeed in courses for your major and university degree.

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