Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why rhetoric matters to the modern student

by Derek Spencer

Rhetoric is an ancient art, one whose roots reach farther back in time than the Ancient Greeks, widely considered the culture that codified the techniques that would help a speaker make a clear and powerful argument to his audience.

Good ideas can last for thousands of years — so it is with rhetoric, the study of which can impart some valuable lessons to the modern student.

Students encounter persuasive messages every day, many of them in the form of advertisements. If students understand the techniques used by the authors of these messages, they'll be better equipped to judge the messages' contents on their own merits.

Understanding how arguments are structured can help students dissect informational texts such as newspapers, websites, and television news reports (which are still texts — just texts that also incorporate visuals and sounds) to determine which side of a given story has more merit.

Further, the AP* Language and Composition exam requires students to understand several aspects of rhetoric in order to succeed:

  • how to shape the writing persona they create in their essays by carefully examining their subject and audience
  • the differences between appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos — and when to employ each
  • how to analyze a text in context to determine why the author made the choices he or she made
  • the effects of several rhetorical devices on the persuasive power of a text
  • how structure can affect the way a message is interpreted
Students don't need to know everything about classical rhetoric to do well on the AP exam, but specific instruction about the function of rhetorical devices, techniques, and structure can improve not only students' writing abilities but also their abilities to dissect a text and quickly determine truth from falsehood, the author's purpose, and more. Performing these challenging tasks quickly is key to success on the exam.

If you're interested in teaching students the techniques of Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation, go ahead and click that link — we have a great book that will help!

* AP and the Advanced Placement program are registered trademarks of the College Board, which is not affiliated in any way with Prestwick House. The College Board was neither involved in the production of nor does it endorse Prestwick House products.

Derek Spencer is a Marketing Communications Associate at
Prestwick House.

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