The Rhetorical Situation: An Interactive Classroom Activity

The concept of rhetorical situation is not easy to grasp for even the most advanced ESL writers. Even when they seem to understand it conceptually, they still may have a hard time applying it to their own writing. The interactive classroom activity that I include in today’s entry provides examples and application of purpose, audience, genre, stance, and media, and it can also serve as a great review of material that you addressed in class about the topic.

The following is the description of the activity. However, you can modify it as you see fit.

Reorganize the desks and chairs in the classroom so that each desk represents a “station” that the students will work at. The names of the stations are Purpose, Audience, Stance, Genre, and Media. Each desk has a pile of worksheets (see below). Divide the students into five groups. Each group starts at one station and works for about 5-7 minutes (or more if needed) on their worksheet. After the students are done with their first station, they move to the next station (clockwise, for example). Here is an outline of what students do at each station:

Station: Purpose
Assignment 1: In your group, discuss the following questions:

  • Why is the concept of purpose important in writing?
  • What are some of the writing purposes that you can think of?
  • How does the purpose influence other elements of the rhetorical situation?
  • What are the best ways to achieve your purpose

Assignment 2: What could be the purposes of the following writing pieces?

  • A thank-you card to your neighbor
  • A wedding invitation
  • A letter of complaint to an airline company
  • A book review for an academic journal
  • A personal ad in a local newspaper
  • An annotated bibliography for a research paper
  • An email to your parents telling them about your recent test

Assignment 3: Write a short note to the president of your country (your school director, etc.). Read your note to your group members and let them identify the purpose of your note.

Station: Audience
Assignment 1: In your group, discuss the following questions:

  • Why is the concept of audience such an important component of the rhetorical situation?
  • How does your audience influence what and how you write?
  • What do you think is important to know about your audience? How does it help you as a writer?
  • What should you do if you don’t know who your audience is?

Assignment 2: Who could be the audiences for the following writing pieces?

  • A thank-you card
  • A wedding invitation
  • A letter of complaint to an airline company
  • A book review for an academic journal
  • A personal ad in a local newspaper
  • An annotated bibliography for a research paper
  • A college lab report
  • A resume/CV/cover letter

Assignment 3: What content and genre(s) would be considered inappropriate for the following audiences?

  • A 10-yeard old child
  • A university professor
  • Readers of an academic journal
  • A potential employer
  • A newspaper editor
  • A classmate

Station: Stance
Assignment 1: In your group, discuss the following questions:

  • What is stance?
  • How does your stance affect the way your audience perceives your writing?
  • How is your stance affected by the relationships with your audience?
  • How is your stance affected by the genre? By the purpose?

Assignment 2: What stance would you take when writing in the following genres?

  • A college application
  • An email to your boss
  • A grant proposal
  • An argumentative paper
  • A humorous story
  • A cover letter

Assignment 3: What stance would be considered inappropriate when writing to the following audiences?

  • Your grandparents
  • Your academic advisor
  • A reading committee of grant proposals
  • Your younger colleague
  • An unknown audience
  • A group of people who disagree with your position

Assignment 4: For one of the audiences from the previous activity, write a very short example that illustrates an inappropriate stance. Discuss it with your group members.

Station: Genre
Assignment 1: In your group, discuss the following questions:

  • What are genres?
  • What kind of information does a certain genre give to the reader?
  • How does a genre influence the other elements of the rhetorical situation (medium, stance)?
  • How does a genre influence the language you use?
  • Does your choice of the genre depend on the other elements of the rhetorical situation? How?/Why?

Assignment 2: Match the following audiences with the genres. One genre can be appropriate for multiple audiences, and several genres can be applied to the same reader.

Audiences: college students, professionals from your field of study, general public, your professor, your aunt, members of your family, your classmates, a potential employer, your close friend

Genres: a thank-you card, a wedding invitation, a book review for an academic journal, a personal ad in a local newspaper, an annotated bibliography for a research paper, a college lab report, a resume/CV/cover letter

Assignment 3: What are some other genres that can be considered appropriate for the types of the audiences from the previous exercise? What can be inappropriate?

Station: Media
Assignment 1: In your group, discuss the following questions:

  • What is medium?
  • How do the media you choose affect the way your audience perceives your writing?
  • How are the media affected by the genre? By the audience? By the purpose?

Assignment 2: Which types of media would you choose when addressing your writing to the following audiences?

  • Your grandparents
  • Your academic advisor
  • A reading committee of grant proposals
  • Your younger colleague
  • Your classmates
  • Readers of an academic journal

Assignment 3: Which types of media would you NOT choose when writing to the audiences from the previous activity? In other words, what would be inappropriate? Why?

_______________________

I hope you have fun with this activity. If you have other ideas for teaching rhetorical situation, or ways to modify this activity, please leave a comment!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is originally from Russia and has been in the United States for 7 years pursuing her education, most recently her doctorate in second language studies at Purdue University. Elena received her master's in TESOL from Brigham Young University and has taught various ESL classes both in academic and community settings. Currently, she is an instructor of first-year composition courses in the English department at Purdue University.
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