Rhetorical Context Game

Class Activity                                     Rhetorical Context Game                                                            Ed Lessor

Preparation: We do this activity early in the semester after having read the critical reading material in Aims. Students will have prepared for the activity by reading a sample essay that they have generated a set of basic rhetorical context information for:  Who is doing the writing, to whom are they writing, when is the writing taking place, where is the writing published, what is the purpose for the writing. Students have done a short summary of the essay, and have made several response claims about the essay (before we have formally discussed response claims). I find the essay on tattooing by Martin on page 18 of Aims works well for this.

Objectives: The objectives of the activity are to demonstrate the importance of understanding the rhetorical context before making claims, and to conceptualize the interconnectivity of each component of the rhetorical context.

Activity: First we discuss the actual rhetorical context for the sample essay at length. In our specific example it would be important to note that Martin is a professor as well as a practicing clinician in adolescent psychiatry. He is writing to his peers in order to keep them from overreacting to tattooing and piercing behavior, and to encourage them to use discussion of tattoos as a means of establishing rapport with a difficult group to reach. The essay was published in a peer reviewed academic journal in 1997. After our discussion we turn to the responses that the students prepared for class. Several students share responses that are inappropriate after thinking through the context information—for example, responses that suggest that Martin is encouraging kids to get tattoos.  The class is then broken into four teams. Each team challenges the other teams by suggesting different components of the rhetorical context. Team A, for example, might suggest that instead of a peer reviewed journal that the article was published in a parenting magazine. The group that has been challenged must suggest how the other components of the rhetorical context would shift if this one element were changed. Each group gets to challenge at least once, and the conversation tends to get interesting as the challenges push further from the original context for the writing.

Unit Goals:
To develop critical reading skills.
To gaining understanding of the basic components of rhetorical context.
To understand the impact of the rhetorical context on the writing situation.
To recognize the relationship between rhetorical context and appropriate responses to arguments.

Course Goals:

Extend knowledge of rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Analyze texts reflecting disciplinary/professional/specialized discourse

Extend experience in composing processes, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Hone strategies for generating ideas, revising, editing, and proofreading mono- and multi-modal texts in disciplinary/professional/specialized discourse
  • Evaluate sources for accuracy, relevance, credibility, reliability, and bias

Extend mastery of argumentative conventions, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Adapt genre, mode, and other compositional choices to meet audience and purpose
  • Select, evaluate, and integrate appropriate evidence for multiple genres, modes, and rhetorical situations
  • Use audience appeals, including pathos, ethos, and logos
  • Anticipate and address audience questions and objections

Extend the application of advanced rhetorical concepts, demonstrated by a student’s ability to:

  • Compose arguments in different modes for specific audiences and purposes
  • Adapt content and style to respond to the needs of specific audiences and rhetorical situations