Using PSAs to Practice Persuasion

This year in my English III classes, we focused a lot on argument and persuasion, so I quickly found myself trying to find ways for students to demonstrate mastery of writing strong position statements and using rhetorical appeals effectively without asking them to write yet another dreaded essay.  Fortunately, I came up with one idea that students really enjoyed!

I decided to ask students to craft an argument in a Public Service Announcement to persuade others to agree with their position on a given topic.  We first conducted research by reading articles in support of and in opposition to our topic.  Throughout our reading of these articles, I required students to identify the position of each author and evidence they used to support their position before ultimately developing their own stance on the debate.  I used a simple Tree Map (below) to help guide my students in their reading.

Once students developed their own position statement, I introduced the genre of Public Service Announcements, which are designed to change public attitudes or behaviors in regards to a social issue.  I shared several different examples of PSAs and asked students to identify the topic, the author’s position on the topic, and the rhetorical appeals the author used to persuade the audience.  By this point in the year, students were already familiar with the different types of rhetorical appeals from this lesson.

Next, I used the PSA below to model an example of what my expectations were of the PSAs students would create as well as the paragraph they would need to write to analyze their own PSA.

SAMPLE ANALYSIS PARAGRAPH
I created a Public Service Advertisement to support my claim that smoking cigarettes is a dangerous habit and should be avoided.  I used several rhetorical appeals to persuade my audience to agree with this position.  For example, I used an appeal to logos by listing facts about the negative effects of smoking to convince the audience that they should stop smoking to avoid experiencing these consequences.  I also used an appeal to pathos by depicting cigarettes as bullets in a gun and making the statement “Smoking Kills.” My goal was to make the audience feel afraid of smoking so that they will agree with my position that smoking is dangerous.

After students completed their PSAs, I posted them around my classroom and had students participate in a Gallery Walk to analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the PSAs their peers created.  I provided the following questions to guide their analysis:

  • Choose 1 PSA to analyze that agreed with your own position on the topic.  Identify which appeals they used and what makes them persuasive.
  • Choose 1 PSA to analyze that argued against your own position on the topic.  Identify which appeals they used and what makes them persuasive.
  • Which appeal was the most persuasive?  Why?
  • Did any of the PSAs change your perspective or make you think differently about the topic?
  • Which PSA (other than your own) was the most persuasive? Why?

I tallied the votes to the final question and announced the winners the following day.  Students who voted for the winner had an opportunity to share why they voted for that PSA and what made it effective.

I found that this PSA Project was both rigorous and fun for students!  What other ways have you come up with to make argument writing more fun?

Neven Krcmarek

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