Rhetorical Teaching

Making class material appeal to students is something English teachers frequently strive towards. Using rhetoric effectively can enhance both the teacher's and student's experience in the classroom when new material is introduced. For this type of rhetorical teaching to be effective the teacher needs to have a firm grasp on what rhetorical devices are most used and how they can be effectively be used while teaching.

Understanding what is a more rhetorically effective use of writing and being able to analyze why it is effective is definitely helpful in this process. A rhetorical analysis provides a good breakdown of the rhetorical devices of a presentation and helps to identify what might be rhetorically effective in similar situations.

See also: What is rhetoric?

For example, one rhetorical analysis discusses whether a written article that mainly uses logos and ethos or a picture advertisement that use pathos, logos, and ethos is more effective in addressing a complicated issue within Mormon history. While it is unlikely that many English teachers would need to address this particular topic, knowing how a picture opens up more avenues to handle pathos, logos, and ethos than a text article could definitely bolster one's own teaching style.



Logos is "the rational principle that governs and develops the universe."[1] Simply put, logos is a method by which one can appeal to the logical reasoning of an individual. Any attempt to persuade or inform is based upon logic and rationality.

One example of material that could be taught using logos heavily would be a resume. Logically speaking, most people are going to need to write a resume during their life. Knowing how to write one would be very beneficial and a rational individual should have that kind of skill in their arsenal before heading into the work world. Here is an example of a website that can show online resumes that can be shown to provide visual examples of how different resumes appeal to logos in different ways.

Both logical and rational are the key words. By making a conscious decision to appeal to students on this level, a teacher would be using logos in their own teaching style.

Using the words logical and rational aren't necessary when using logos to get a point across. In fact, to do so would almost appear punitive and wouldn't be the greatest decision when it comes to a student-teacher relationship. Students will unconsciously make the connection themselves if the information is laid out for them. Simply saying, "In life, it would be very beneficial knowing how to write a resume since almost all high-paying jobs will require one when applying," would place students in the position where they could see how logical and rational it would be to pay attention and take this lesson seriously, because it is applying to the students directly.

In the case of the Mormon race analysis, the written article used logos with a specific audience in mind: individuals who hold the Bible as an authority. In that same way, it is important to keep the students in mind when it comes to exactly how one will use logos. Though a seventh grade audience would eventually benefit from knowing how to write a resume, this kind of knowledge would benefit an audience of freshmen or higher level students more who are just a short step away from being able to legally enter the workforce.



Pathos is defined as "the quality or power in an actual life experience or in literature, music, speech, or other forms of expression, of evoking a feeling of pity or compassion." [2] As a rhetorical device, pathos is used to appeal to someone's emotion. Charities, civil rights groups, and fundraisers commonly use it to invoke an emotional response and connection in their audiences to material presented.

For teachers, establishing an emotional connection between material taught and the students learning it would definitely help the teaching process. People will want to learn more about material that they care about on a personal level. Teachers can help make this connection by using pathos to appeal emotionally to students.

The definition mentions evoking a feeling of pity. A good chunk of American literature taught in schools will revolve around issues of race. Students are much more likely to care about American literature if a teacher can use pathos to evoke pity or compassion concerning the plight of African-Americans.

For example, a teacher might introduce To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee with, "A young white girl, almost stabbed because a black man is accused of rape and her father defends him. The same black man is ostracized due to his race for a crime he never committed." With the right tone of voice, attitude, and word choice, such an introduction could help establish a sense of pity and compassion among students listening and make them care more about the material.

This could be likened to modern day inner-city crimes where racial violence at the hands of the law often still occurs. Creating this kind of connection is using pathos to make students care and get them emotionally invested in American literature.



Ethos is typically understood to be "the underlying sentiment that informs the beliefs, customs, or practices of a group or society." [3] Understanding ethos is tantamount to understanding how the speaker or author of material is qualified and knowledgeable about the subject he/she is presenting. Someone who uses ethos effectively will be convincing their audience that they are very qualified on the topic and that listening to them would be very beneficial.

When teaching, an overuse of ethos could be a bad thing. While students should definitely know that the teacher is the qualified adult who is in authority, overstating this would tend to alienate them and prevent a good rapport. It would also make pathos difficult to use later on due to their emotional distance from the teacher. However, at the right time, ethos is a valuable contribution to the classroom atmosphere and can definitely help students get more engaged with the course and coursework.

A good way to use ethos effectively with students would be in the first day of class. First impressions truly do last a lifetime and a first impression that is one of knowledge and qualifications is not bad provided it is coupled with an approachable atmosphere. If a teacher is teaching an American literature class to sophomores stating that they majored in English literature with a minor in composition would never be a bad thing (provided it is true). That would let students know from the beginning that the teacher is in control of the subject material and is qualified to teach it.

In a high school setting, it's also very important to remember that the audience that's being taught. A remedial English class full of inner-city kids who are only at school because it's compulsory isn't likely to respond very well to hearing a list of majors and minors that they may not have any ambition to obtain one day themselves. Instead, a more tactful approach might be to discuss ways in which the teacher relates to the students. If the teacher grew up in an inner-city school, that would definitely be the time to mention that. Ethos requires a sense of the audience just as much as it does a sense of the qualifications of the instructor.

Critical Thinking

Ethos, pathos, and logos are invaluable as persuasive tools to both grab and hold the attention of students. In each section, the application of these appeals was explained in the hopes of improving teaching methods, but rhetoric is also important as a subject for teaching. Simply using these persuasive tools in lessons is not enough. Students are persuaded and lessons hold their attention more efficiently, but they don't understand why, and without understanding why, students cannot use or identify rhetorical tools for themselves. As they use these persuasion tools, teachers should strive to explain to students what they are doing and why. The example of appealing to pity for a lesson on To Kill a Mockingbird might be improved by the teacher explaining to students that he/she is using that as a device to evoke their compassion. The attention of students is not only grabbed, but their eyes are opened to how literature can be used to persuade emotions. In the following sections, the rhetorical tools are necessary subjects for lessons on persuasive writing. Only select English classes are typically distinguished as persuasive writing courses, but every type of writing can fall under this category in one way or another. Therefore, a discussion of rhetorical devices should be breached to some degree in every English classroom. This will enable students to think critically not only about the material taught but also the lesson teaching it.


Developed examples of how an English teacher can use rhetorical devices to enhance specific lessons within the classroom. Open to changes or contributions for other lesson plans.

Example of Classroom Application

Digital Digs

The widget below contains links to websites with information pertinent to rhetorical devices in the classroom. This is a good place to begin exploring other places that have contributed to the world of rhetorical academia.

Persuasive Essay

Logos: approach students with the sense that knowing how to persuade others through writing is a valuable tool in getting what they want. Being able to lay out three well-developed reasons as to why their way is the right way would benefit them in the long run, so wouldn't it be logical to be able to write a thorough persuasive essay?

Pathos: start by asking students what their passions are. Perhaps one of them has a strong desire to end human trafficking, improve conditions in America's jails, fight against racism, etc.? A persuasive essay will be the groundwork of their work in the future because they will constantly be persuading people that their path is right, to donate money, and to spread the word themselves. If they can connect this tool to something that they themselves are passionate about then that will make them care so much more about the material.

Ethos: when applying for a job, we as teachers have to persuade the school board and principle that we are the best qualified and totally right for the job. Knowing how to write a persuasive essay and then knowing how to deliver that essay orally through a job interview was extremely beneficial and got the teacher the job they have now. By showing that the teacher has benefited from knowledge of a persuasive essay and that they are good enough at writing one to get a job from it this will make students appreciate the knowledge a teacher has on the subject even more.

To see how Rhetoric might be used in other ways in the classroom and a step by step guide on teaching many things about the tools of Digital Media in the classroom please visit the Wiki page Teaching the Tools of Digital Writing

1. "logos." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 04 Dec. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/logos>.
2. "Pathos." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 04 Dec. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Pathos>.
3. "ethos." Online Etymology Dictionary. Douglas Harper, Historian. 06 Dec. 2012. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ethos>.


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