ENGL 250 – Rhetorical Analysis

CATEGORIES: Foundation Courses
Lesley Erin Bartlett (Christopher Gannon/Iowa State University)

To introduce the rhetorical analysis assignment, Lesley Bartlett recommends a learning activity that helps students understand “everything’s an argument.” The activity also aims to help students see they already read rhetorically in their everyday lives, and the rhetorical analysis unit builds on those skills. After ENGL 250 students have read the first chapter of Everything’s an Argument, Bartlett brings a University of Kansas t-shirt and asks students, “What does this shirt argue?”

Invariably, students start the discussion by saying that the shirt argues that the wearer is a KU fan. Bartlett then asks how the argument changes if

  • the wearer is in the student section at Hilton on the night ISU plays KU.
  • the shirt is smaller and being worn by a toddler who they spot standing alone in the student section of Hilton.
  • the wearer is attending a black-tie wedding.

By considering different variables, students are able to discuss how the context in which an argument exists changes its meaning. Because of so many student perspectives, this discussion can quickly become a fun way for students to see how they already read rhetorically in their everyday lives. A University of Kansas t-shirt is not required for this activity (though Bartlett decided on this object because students told her during her first semester teaching at ISU that KU is our rival!). Instructors may choose any number of ordinary items from their homes or offices to discuss with  the class. It’s also engaging and effective to invite students to bring items to the next class to analyze.