Tag Archives: rhetorical analysis

I Prefer a Community of Confident Writers — Our Jump into Understanding a Writer’s Craft


Before spring term was over, I’d written two pages of notes in the back cover of my writer’s notebook. I titled it “Remember to Do Things to do Differently.” I’m a bit ambitious — and I realize, often, too hard on myself. Although I knew my students learned last yearemember-to-do-things-differentlyr, I wasn’t confident that they couldn’t have learned more.

I imagine you’ve been there, too. Always second guessing.

One of the things I knew I needed to improve was my relationships with students — I needed them to be good and strong, faster.  I also needed to help students jump in quicker to the complexities of craft analysis without scaring the poor little dears.

So last week, the second week of school, I did what Lisa just wrote about yesterday. I “Encourage[d] Students to Start Sharing Who They Are,” and I did it by sharing a favorite poem by Wislawa Szymborska: “Possibilities.”

I asked students to study the poet’s language in each line and then write their own “Possibilities” poem, imitating the poet’s sentence structure and word play. I gave them a copy of my annotations and wrote my own poem as a model.

This proved to be an excellent lead into the rhetorical analysis students must be able to do in AP Language. I was able to see which students quickly understood how to look closely at an author’s craft — and which ones did not.

The best part though was what I learned about my students. All their preferences!!

Last Friday, when their poems were due, we did our first Author’s Chair share in class.

First, to help students build confidence, they read their poems to a partner.



Then, volunteers sat in our Author’s Chair and read their poems to the class.

While the student read his poem, everyone else sat with sticky note and pen in hand ready to offer “blessings,” things they liked about the author’s use of language, or connections they could make to his ideas.


After each writer shared, the class flooded him with “blessings.” Smiles grew wide, trust blossomed, and the community that I felt was missing for too long a time last year took root.readingblessings

Bonus:  When students read their little notes, carefully crafted by peers who listened to
their writing, their confidence as writers grew. Too bad we ran out of class time. I might have run out of sticky notes if all students would have felt the desire to share.


I wouldn’t have minded.

I would not have minded at all.


I would love to hear your ideas on building community and/or introducing students to rhetorical analysis. Please join the conversation and share in the comments.

Choice Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Personal Connection: A reflection for a do-over


I have started this post four times, and I cannot think of a pithy way to begin. You know, some clever opening, some hook to get the reader’s attention — some startling statement.

My creativity got swallowed by analysis. Well, kind of.

I figure I must be doing something wrong because my students cannot analyze to save their lives. They can talk around a text and say absolutely nothing quiet well though.

So all afternoon and into the evening I’ve thought about thinking. I’ve thought about my students’ thinking.

And I’ve determined the problem: Many of my students are not doing it.

They sit and wait, looking around the room, waiting for someone else to speak up and do the thinking for them. It’s like a Mexican standoff, and something’s gotta give.


Last week I listened to Dr. Margaret Hill talk about the importance of connections and how standards must include opportunities for students to make both efferent connections and aesthetic ones. The only way to truly learn is to make personal connections, Peg reminded me, citing Louis Rosenblatt’s Transactional Theory.

How can I provide more opportunities for students to connect to the learning?

Yesterday I read an article about mindfulness and how when it’s practiced in schools it is helping children’s well-being. Some experts say the practice of mindfulness is even an essential —  a way to reduce depression, extend focus, truly learn.

How can I help students get and stay in the present?

This morning I watched the TED Talk by Shonda Rhimes “The Year I Said Yes to Everything,” and how playing again has helped her find “the hum,” the thrill and joy in her life and in her life’s work.

How can I introduce more play into my classroom?

Today in class most of my students crashed into a brick wall of higher-thinking they could not go through, over, or around. Many didn’t even try. I came home from school worn out and weary.

Then I read this post by Tricia Ebarvia, and I stalked her blog until I read the post “Steps toward an Inquiry-based Classroom,” and a missing piece walked right into my puzzle.

Tricia made me think about the on-going need for curiosity and student-generated questions. The ongoing need for purposeful and personal inquiry. She shared the chart below, citing the work of Christenbury and Kelly, NCTE, and Jeff Wilhem. And I got it.

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 7.18.15 PM

My students do not care enough about the books they’ve chosen to read. They do not care enough about the topics they’ve chosen to write about. I haven’t been paying enough attention, or I would have realized this sooner:  Choice does not necessarily mean personal connection.

I am glad I have time this year for do-overs.

It’s time to back up a few steps, so we can step into better opportunities for engagement, growth, and learning.

Maybe we’ll mediate.

Maybe we’ll play.

But we will certainly play with developing effective questions.

Mini-lesson Monday: Moving Past Identify

When my students and I talk about reading, we talk about writing.  If they pay attention to not just what the writer means in the words on the page, but how the writer crafts that meaning with words on the page, they move much quicker into the rhetorical analysis they must do on the AP Language exam in the spring.

But it is not easy. So many of my readers read below grade level. They struggle with fluency, so their reading is slow and laborious, and as a result, they miss out on much of the flow of the language that leads to constructing meaning as they read. If they cannot comprehend, how can they analyze craft?

They are pretty good at identifying devices and figurative language and the like though. They are pretty good at identifying structure. They’ve learned writers have different ways of approaching a topic, but they are not so good at discussing why. Why did the writer craft the text that way? What does that move do to further the writer’s message? What effect does it create? What is the tone?

So, this lesson came about as a way to help my students practice some critical thinking about how writers make choices with language — and as a bonus, introduce my readers to four new book titles.

Objective:  Using the language of the Depth of Knowledge levels, students will recognize a variety of structural and craft moves in fiction and non-fiction texts.  They will identify patterns and compare effectiveness through discussion. They will analyze the tone. They will summarize their discussion in their writers’ notebooks, and apply their understanding to future reading and writing assignments.

Lesson: Introduce three new titles as choices for independent reading by providing copies of the first few paragraphs of The Other Wes Moore, Nothing to Envy– Ordinary Lives in North Korea, and The Dog Stars. In small groups, giving each group one (or more of the passages depending on the time you want to take for the lesson) instruct students to read the passage and determine the structure and the craft moves the writer makes to begin the books. Ask:  Why do you think the writer chose to begin the book this way? What does that beginning do to capture the reader’s attention? Why might it be an effective way to do so? What is the tone of the passage? How do you know?

Help students recognize the effect of beginning a text with a passage of dialogue versus startling information versus first person narrative. What are the similarities? What are the differences? What structure do you find the most engaging? Why?

The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore

Nothing to Envy, Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

Follow-up:  Students will apply their understanding to their independent reading books, and as homework will write a one-page response that analyzes the first few paragraphs of their books.

#FridayReads — Oh, Mercy! Have I got a plan for this mentor text

Usually I read about four books at a time. This makes for a mess on the bedside table, the coffee table, the kitchen table. I rarely use bookmarks, which is a shame because I have quite a lovely collection.

I end up leaving books split open and sound asleep right where I left them –sometimes just so I can remember the parts I know I want to use in class. I refuse to read on until I capture the sentence or passage that gives me pause. Such is the case with my new now bent-spine-copy of Just Mercy, a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. I’ve been stuck on page 18.

Here’s a portion of the passage I will use with my AP Lang students. You will, of course, find the rest of it when you buy the book, or here.

     When I first went to death row in December 1983, America was in the early stages of a radical transformation that would turn us into an unprecedentedly harsh and punitive nation and result in mass imprisonment that has no historical parallel. Today we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The prison population has increased from 300,000 people in the early 1970s to 2.3 million people today. There are nearly six million people on probation or on parole. One in every fifteen people born in the United States in 2001 is expected to go to jail or prison: one in every three black males babies born in this century is expected to be incarcerated.

     We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row. Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we’ve sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve. For years, we’ve been the only country in the world that condemns children to life imprisonment without parole; nearly three thousand juveniles have been sentenced to die in prison.

     We also make terrible mistakes. Scores of innocent people have been exonerated after being sentenced to death and nearly executed . Hundreds more have been released after being proved innocent of noncapital crimes through DNA testing. Presumptions of guild, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.


     We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and — perhaps — we all need some measure of unmerited grace. 


Before we ever read the text, and I did pull much more of it than I’ve posted here, we’ll spark our thinking with an image like this, posted at The Sentencing Project, and then write our initial responses in our writer’s notebooks:

Next, we will TALK. I know my students will want to share what they think about this graphic. Many will identify personally with it because they know a family member or a friend who’s served prison time.

When I introduce them to Stevenson’s text, I’ll give them a purpose for reading — besides just comprehending the message (identifying the purpose is a breeze since he tells us the reason he writes the book) — I want my students to notice the structure, the progression between ideas, the repetition and patterns they will see in the language. All the clues that build the tone.

I will ask them to mark the text, noting their thinking about these things. Without a purpose for reading, too many of my students struggle with the stamina they need to make it through even a page when I ask them to read critically.

Next, we will TALK. Talking will help some students understand what they read. It will help other students clarify their understanding. Some students will have noted what I asked them to notice as they read. I will rely on them to help the others — skill level is just one way my students are diverse.

I will also hand them a stack of questions that prepare them to write. They will read something like this:

What do you know about the writer based on what he writes?

What is the Stevenson’s purpose? Why does he come out and tell us so plainly?

What are the facts in this piece? What are opinions? How do you know?

What do you notice about the structure, any patterns, repetition? What do they do for the message?

How does Stevenson move between ideas?

And then we will write. Maybe I’ll give a prompt like this: Based on the text, and our discussion, is Stevenson’s opening argument effective, why or why not?  Maybe I’ll ask students to come up with their own analytical-style question to respond to. (I like this idea a lot.)  [see Talk Read Talk Write]

That’s probably enough for one class period, but my mind is still stirring:

  • What if I ask students to problematize the issue? Who are the stakeholders? Think all the way around the issue. Why do they care? Why do we care? What kinds of questions do we have about the claims Stevenson makes? What kinds of evidence do we need to convince us they are valid? How and when could anything regarding this issue change?
  • What if I ask students to identify just one of Stevenson’s claims and then research it? I assume the author provides support throughout the book. I’ll know when I keep reading. But what if students did a bit of research and then collaborated on substantiating Stevenson’s claims. Collaborative writing can be a powerful learning experience.
  • What if I ask students to brainstorm other issues Stevenson’s text suggests? We could probably create a pretty elaborate bubble map of ideas. These could lead to student choice in research topics.

What do you think? Any other ideas?

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

See the #Storify of #engchat March 23, 2015 — Fantastic Resources for Poetry

Thanks to @Drama_Chick for this Storify.

For one very fast hour this evening, Twitter blew up with the talk of poetry as English teachers near and far shared ideas for immersing their students in the beauty of words. So many fantastic resources and such great thinking! Thank you to everyone who participated, and thank you for taking a look here even if you didn’t.

I remembered one thing I wanted to share and didn’t. It comes from the book  A Surge of Language–Teaching Poetry Day by Day by Wormser and Cappella. I modify this list a bit and use many of these questions with my AP Language students as we look at non-fiction passages for rhetorical analysis.

Ten Questions to Ask About Words

1. What word intrigues you most?

2. Is there a word that confuses you?

3. What word surprises you?

4. What word seems most metaphorical?

5. Is there a word that seems unnecessary?

6. What word is most important?

7. What is the most physical word in the poem?

8. What is the most specific word in the poem?

9. What is the strongest sound word in the poem?

10. What is the most dynamic verb in the poem? (12)

I believe that poetry can make us better humans. If every person immersed himself in beautiful language, we’d all find much more peace. Be more kind. Loving. Genuine.

Let’s try it.

Challenge on.

AP English: Improving Our Rhetorical Analysis One Quickwrite at a Time

I’ve mentioned that I am working on finding a way to be more efficient in my writing workshop. I want to expose students to beautifully written language that we can study together, and maybe learn a little grammar, but I also want to use these pieces of text for quick writes. I know that the content (or at least my questioning) has to be compelling enough that students will have something that makes their fingers itch to pick up their pens.

When I read I find myself dog-earing pages and book-marking passages that have been crafted with many rhetorical devices and/or literary elements. By helping students recognize how these strategies, used deliberately by the authors, create meaning, my students’ rhetorical analysis timed writings are scoring higher than they have at this point of the semester in years past.

I love it when my ideas work.

This is the passage we will read and respond to this week:

From An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff and Alex Tresniowski p4

And so, when Maurice spoke to me, I just kept going. Another thing to remember is that this was New York in the 1980s, a time when vagrants and panhandlers were as common a sight in the city as kids on bikes or moms with strollers. The nation was enjoying an economic boom, and on Wall Street new millionaires were minted every day. But the flip side was a widening gap between the rich and the poor, and nowhere was this more evident than on the streets of New York City. Whatever wealth was supposed to trickle down to the middle class did not come close to reaching the city’s poorest, most desperate people, and for many of them the only recourse was living on the streets. After a while you got used to the sight of them–hard, gaunt men and sad, haunted women, wearing rags, camped on corners, sleeping on grates, asking for change. It is tough to imagine anyone could see them and not feel deeply moved by their plight. Yet they were just so prevalent that most people made an almost subconscious decision to simply look the other way–to, basically, ignore them. The problem seemed so vast, so endemic, that stopping to help a single panhandler could feel all but pointless. And so we swept past them every day, great waves of us going on with our lives and accepting that there was nothing we could really do to help.

Write about a time when you encountered a homeless person or a beggar. How did you feel? What did you do?

I am still working on the questions. Sometimes I think it’s best to say, “Just respond.” Other times I think students need more direction.

What do you think?

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