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Using Facebook to Review Local & Global Argument Types & Rhetorical Appeals

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Brief Assignment Overview: 

In this lesson students review the basics of argument types & rhetorical appeals.  Working in groups, they look for examples of several argument types in facebook status updates.  As a class we review the examples, evaluate their classifications, and discuss the rhetorical appeals at play.  

This lesson is particularly useful for articulating arguments that may be implied by the text but not directly stated and for differentiating between local and global arguments (since nearly all of the pages in question share the same global proposal argument – that viewers should support their institution or product – it’s useful for students to see how different types of local arguments work together to support that claim).

Type of Assignment: 
Assignment Length: 
Pedagogical Goals - Writing: 
Pedagogical Goals - Digital Literacy: 
Additional Pedagogical Goals: 

Reinforcement of the idea that “everything’s an argument”

Review of argument types

Review of rhetorical appeals

Review of audience

Practice identifying local vs. global arguments

Required Materials: 

Outside of a technology classroom, this exercise could be used with printouts of the pages, or it could be adapted to be a whole-class activity.

Timeline for Optimal Use: 
Full Assignment Description: 

After a brief review of the various types of arguments & rhetorical appeals, students are asked to go to the UT rhetoric facebook page.  Together we read through the first few status updates and discuss what arguments are being made, to whom they’re being made, what types of arguments they are, and what rhetorical appeals are being employed.  Then students are asked to divide into groups of three or four, and read through the facebook page of a national figure, television show, corporation, or governmental department.  They're asked to find in the status updates examples of various types of local arguments:  definition, evaluation, causal, rebuttal, and proposal.  When they find an example, they make a note of the status update and raise their hand.  Once three or four groups have found examples of a particular argument type, we come together as a class to analyze one or two of them.  We identify the audience, decide what type of argument each represents and how it might work to support the global argument, and discuss the rhetorical appeals being made.  Then students return to their groupmates to identify the next argument type.

Suggestions for Instructor Preparation: 

Because these pages change daily, it’s worth checking them a day or so before the assignment & possibly altering the list.  I decided on a list of nine or ten sites, including this year’s presidential candidates, some sites for television shows  (The Apprentice, The View, and Deadliest Catch) several commercial sites (Starbucks, Home Depot, Taco Bell) and a few others (City of Austin, NASA). 

Instructions For Students: 

[The following instructions are communicated aloud]

Today we’ll be testing the idea that “everything’s an argument.”  We’ll look at Facebook status updates to find examples of different types of arguments.  We'll begin by looking at the UT rhetoric facebook page.

[have students access page on their computer, and in group discussion identify the global argument and the audience.  Then read through a few status updates and discuss the local argument types, how they support the global argument, and what rhetorical appeals they use to do so]

Please divide into groups of three or four and choose one of the facebook pages on the board.  Call up the page and read through it for a few minutes to decide what you think the global argument is, and who the audience is.

[allow students five minutes or so to read and then discuss]

Now we'll turn to local arguments.  Read through the status updates on the page.  When you find an example of a [definition, or causal, or proposal] argument, please make a note and raise your hand.

[The assignment proceeds as outlined above.]

Evaluation Suggestions: 

There is no formal evaluation, but the exercise itself will allow instructors see who may be having trouble identifying argument types, and to check for understanding with these students during the larger class discussion and analysis.  

Notes on Reception, Execution, etc.: 

This is a revision of a lesson I taught using the biography section of five or six different celebrity websites rather than facebook profile pages.  That lesson generally went well; students were engaged and having them pick the arguments was useful practice for rhetorical analysis.  I’ve revised this lesson to use facebook pages rather than celebrity websites because I hope that this exercise will produce a more interesting discussion about the role of audience.  I also think that this will be more difficult for students than it may seem; the arguments implied by status updates are frequently pretty buried, and taking the time in class to model and practice how we might draw such arguments out will be useful preparation for students moving toward rhetorical analysis.   I’ll be sure to update this section after I teach the revised version. 

Course Description: 

Rhetoric 306 is a course designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of research and argumentation.  They are asked to research a controversy, summarize and analyze the arguments of the major stakeholders in that controversy, and then develop their own arguments.

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