Analyzing Rhetoric with I Love Lucy

I recently shared about how I incorporate The Dick Van Dyke Show into my lesson about Evaluating Reliability in Historical Accounts.  Today I want to share another of my favorite shows, and how I use it to introduce or review Rhetorical Appeals – I Love Lucy!

I begin the lesson by showing my class the famous Vitameatavegamin scene, where Lucy films a commercial for a health product.  Most of my students have never seen it before, so I let them know that they will be seeing a commercial, and I want them to jot down all of the ways she tries to convince her audience to buy the product (if you are using this activity to review, you can specifically ask students to identify rhetorical appeals).

Students typically love the video – it is truly timeless!  After watching, I give students a few minutes to write down their ideas and share with a partner before discussing with the class.  As students call out their answers, I write them on the board, and somewhat sort their responses based on the three rhetorical appeals (without explaining what I’m doing).  If students make a comment like “the product is healthy,” I ask them to provide evidence from the commercial.  Once we finish making the list, I ask students to look for similarities between each of the groups and come up with a title.  Here is what my board might look like once students come up with groupings:

PRODUCT MAKES YOU FEEL GOOD

  • “Are you tired, rundown…popular?”
  • “It’s so tasty too…it’s just like candy”
  • “…join the thousands of happy, pappy people”

SHE IS FRIENDLY

  • she smiles
  • she is dressed nice

PRODUCT IS HEALTHY

  • contains vitamins, meat, vegetables, and minerals
  • “spoon your way to health”
  • 1 tablespoon after every meal

At this point, I explain to students that our objective for the day is to identify the different techniques people use to persuade, and that these techniques are called Rhetorical Appeals.  I introduce the terms ethos, logos, and pathos and help the students identify which of their three groups fits with each term.  Then I either define the terms or show this quick video.

By the time that I am using this lesson, I have already introduced the Rhetorical Triangle  (as seen below) as a way of dissecting an argument.

rhetorical-triangle

For this reason, I then adapt the Rhetorical Triangle to demonstrate how each appeal coordinates with each point of the triangle.  I also might introduce kairos as an additional appeal.

rhetorical-appeals-triangleThe next step is to read a persuasive text and have students practice identifying and analyzing different appeals.  You could use any argumentative text, but some texts that I have used this with in my American Literature class include “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” “Speech in the Virginia Convention,” Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, and “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”  For homework, you could require students to find examples of more contemporary commercials and identify the appeals used.  I also always ask my students to evaluate which appeals were most effective based on the different aspects of the Rhetorical Triangle (intended audience, context, purpose, etc.).

Now that students can list the different types of rhetorical appeals, understand their definitions, apply the definitions to identify examples, analyze different types of appeals and their purposes, and evaluate their effectiveness, the next step is to synthesize and create to ensure that students are utilizing high-level thinking according to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  One fun way to do this is to have students create their own product and produce a commercial for it, including an analysis of which appeals they used, why they used them, and how effective they were.

I hope you enjoy these activities as much as my students do!  What resources do you use to teach rhetorical appeals?  Which areas do your students find challenging, and which areas do they succeed in when studying this topic?

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