You can sell this activity to your students as “How to strengthen your ethos.” Together, look at page 108-109 of Everything is an Argument (or the slideshow called “Everything is an Argument”) to see how Swarthmore professor Timothy Burke used reflexive statements to underscore his right to speak on a particular topic.
Then divide the class into groups of 4-5 and give them 30 minutes or so to work on the following assignment.
Situation: You just met your idol—someone who is at the top of your chosen field and has a career you’d like to emulate. This person went to a CUNY school for undergrad, but it’s a different CUNY school than Lehman. In passing, she mentioned that she would like to see more CUNY graduates succeed and that you should look her up when you graduate. However, you’re only a sophomore. What do you do?
Purpose: Write an email to this person in which you capitalize on your brief encounter and attempt to make more of a connection. Endeavor to begin a relationship so that she’ll remember you when you graduate, three years from now.
After you’re finished writing your letter, underline any reflexive statements.
Whole class 10 minutes Have students write the reflexive statements they used on the board. Have one person from each group read their “emails” out loud. Talk about the strategies they used and which were most effective.
On the board, rewrite one of the reflexive statements as an appositive, and give the students time to rewrite the other reflexive statements as appositives. Discuss how appositives can be used to strengthen the credibility of someone you’re introducing, particularly when you’re introducing a source in an academic paper.
Materials: Questions to Ask When Conducting a Rhetorical Analysis, list of cognitive biases. YouTube video
With the whole class, watch the first three minutes of the video, which show the Nike ad without the analysis. Ask them how the commercial makes them feel before you begin analysis of how these feelings are created.
Pass out dialectical notebook style handouts with image stills from the advertisement in the lefthand column. Give students time to write their thoughts about how the advertisers are using these images to connect with their audience. How do the advertisers employ ethos and pathos? Remind students to use the rhetorical questions as a guide.
Divide students into teams of 5-7 people. Have students pool their thoughts and keep track of all the rhetorical strategies they noticed.
Watch the rest of the video as a class, and have students give themselves a “point” every time the narrator identifies a rhetorical “trick” they noted themselves. The team that scores the most points wins a prize.
What rhetorical strategies (if any) did they note that the narrator didn’t mention?
Review the list of cognitive biases. How did the rhetorical strategies the advertisement used exploit those biases? Which biases did they exploit?
Optional Activity: (This connects with the Reflexive Statement Exercise) Ask students to respond to the following question: “If you were going to write Nike to complain about the advertisement, what reflexive statement would you use to make them value your opinion? (Example answers: “As someone who uses your products frequently . . .” “As a female athlete who admires Sydney Leroux . . .”
Materials: Official music video of Nas’s “The World is Yours,” slideshow “The World is Yours.”
The slideshow will give students essential backstory on this video, including the fact that “the world is yours,” is a recurring refrain of Tony Montana, the violent protagonist of the movie Scarface, who was willing to attain power and privilege by any means, and that in the video, when Nas is in the bath with a woman behind him, it’s a recreation of a scene out of Scarface in which Tony Montana is feeling dissatisfied with his lux life.
Watch official video of “The World is Yours”
Have students make a dialectical notebook out of the quotes that evoke an emotional response or that strike them as important. Have them copy these quotes onto the lefthand side of a piece of paper. Then have them draw a line and write their thoughts, questions, and associations to the right of those quotes.
Have students share their interpretations, then have them watch the video again.
This time, have students isolate certain aspects of the video’s visuals to analyze. They can write about them in a separate dialectical notebook or they can use them to add on to what they’ve already written about the song.
Have students share their interpretations.1
- What do you make of Nas’s contradictions—the expressions of triumph juxtaposed with the expressions of disenfranchisement?
- Should we ask different questions when conducting rhetorical analyses of artwork than we ask when analyzing advertisements? Afterall, isn’t art supposed to be more than the sum of its parts?
- Regarding the references Nas makes to the musician T-La Rock and the movie Scarface. Why does he make them? Do they make “The World is Yours” better or worse in your opinion?
- How do the references Nas makes to Scarface make his work richer?
Optional: Have students write back to Nas. How does the song and video make them feel? What do they think of it? Have there been moments in their lives when they felt as though the world was theirs? If so, who were they with and what were they doing? What contributed to that feeling?
Optional materials: PPx “Everything is an Argument,” Understanding Analysis handout. I use the actual textbook, Everything is an Argument, but it’s not necessary to do so as you can discuss the book’s essential argument without reference to the book itself.
The first slide in “Everything is an Argument” lists artifacts and asks students to explain what arguments they make. Ask students to do a pair and share in which they contemplate the question on the second slide, which can be summarized as, “What do we lose by not analyzing cultural phenomena?” You’ll find potential answers to this question on the next slide. You may want to expand the breadth of this question by asking what’s at stake in considering everything an argument? In other words, if we fail to consider everything an argument, what do we lose?
In referring to the handout “Understanding Analysis,” emphasize that analysis is what students already do, in the everyday, as they navigate every element of their lives. The reading selection “Backpacks and Briefcases” may be useful in emphasizing this fact, as will the activity of analyzing the difference between “lol,” “haha,” “lmao,” “hahaha” and other common text abbreviations.
As a class, analyze the advertisement on the last page of the Understanding Analysis handout, using the “Questions to Ask for Rhetorical Analysis” handout.
As a class, do the exercises on slide 7, slide 8, and slide 9 of “Everything is an Argument,” borrowed from the Everything is an Argument textbook.
Encourage rhetorical awareness by asking students to introduce themselves twice, adjusting their introductions for different audiences. For the first introduction, they’ll follow standard protocol, introducing themselves to their actual peers. They’ll give their pronouns, say where they’re from, what their interests are, what they’re interested in studying, etc. For the second introduction, they’ll pretend they’re introducing themselves to the producers of a survival reality show. For this second introduction, they’ll be attempting to present themselves as “survivors,” highlighting the mental toughness, specialized knowledge, and physical skills they believe will help them survive while abandoned in harsh wilderness conditions. You may choose to assign a particular wilderness condition in which a variety of aptitudes and knowledges may be rewarded, or you may choose to come up with one as a class.
Objective: Students get to know one another while also gaining awareness of their rhetorical decisions.
Everyone takes a few minutes to write a paragraph that describes two things they want (anything from a mocha Frappuccino to a specific career is fair game) and one thing they definitely don’t want but that their peers might think that they want. They should try to make it as difficult as possible to determine which are the truths and which is the lie.
Materials: Slideshow titled “Contemporary U.S. Advertisements.” YouTube video of Japanese advertisements. You may also want to provide students with the handout “Questions to Ask When Conducting a Rhetorical Analysis.”
Objective: Students make connections between what an audience values and the rhetorical strategies rhetors use to appeal to them.
Whole class discussion: Think of the national myths we’ve discussed and what they suggest about American values. Individualism, racism, sexism, technical chauvinism, and heteronormativity are all strong American values.
Go through the slideshow titled “Contemporary U.S. Advertisements.” What values does each advertisement appeal to and how do you know? Who is their target audience? What assumptions undergird them?
Next, watch a compilation of Japanese advertisements from YouTube. What do these advertisements suggest about Japanese culture? How would you change them to make them appeal to a U.S. audience?
Your students will likely surmise that the Japanese value characteristics like sweetness, vulnerability, and childlike innocence. This is nearly the opposite of the values showcased by many ads in the U.S., which tend to prize toughness, independence, and masculinity. The Japanese also value fantasy, as reflected in their appetite for animation and manga. Japanese advertisements also often mention national holidays, in part because Japan is a more homogenous society in which holidays are more universally celebrated.
You may ask students to find an advertisement from another country or culture with which they are familiar and to do a presentation in which they explain how the country’s or culture’s values are reflected by the advertisement’s rhetorical choices.