How Do I Create Rhetoric Lessons?

Lee Johnson

Create rhetoric lessons by exploring the ancient Greek concepts of “ethos,” “pathos” and “logos” and by showing students how these can be applied to written or spoken debate. Looking at the different techniques used in rhetoric and analyzing famous speeches for rhetorical devices are two other good ways to create rhetoric lessons. It is also important to foster positive attitudes towards debate in order to discourage people from abusing the practice of rhetoric to encourage people to accept flawed arguments. Get students to criticize different lines of reasoning to hone their ability at spotting flaws in arguments.

Rhetoric lessons should be tailored to the age of the students.
Rhetoric lessons should be tailored to the age of the students.

Rhetoric is basically the art of arguing through the written or spoken word. It was developed in ancient Greece, during the golden age of philosophy, and it is still used widely today by people such as politicians. Learning to present arguments and to deconstruct arguments in a logical and structured fashion can help people avoid accepting erroneous conclusions and work towards better ones. The three concepts of ethos, logos, and pathos — meaning projecting a positive and trustworthy image, logic, and appeal to emotion, respectively — are key to the practice of rhetoric.

Rhetoric formally began with Aristotle's treatise on the art of persuasion.
Rhetoric formally began with Aristotle's treatise on the art of persuasion.

A basic element of rhetoric lessons should be the three key concepts mentioned above. Teachers should ensure that their students understand each element, and could even create a lesson on each. The ethos lesson should focus on how people believe charismatic, authoritative, or trustworthy people and the fallacies that go hand in hand with that trust. The logos lesson should introduce students to elements of classical logic, such as syllogisms, induction, and deduction. Rhetoric lessons on pathos should show the different ways in which people can appeal to emotion during an argument and discuss the reasons for its effectiveness.

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Many great speeches throughout history have relied on rhetoric for their overall impact and can make great subjects for rhetoric lessons. A rhetoric lesson could focus on the different ways in which rhetoric has been used to encourage others to act in the name of the common good. This would be a good opportunity to analyze a famous speech which makes use of various rhetorical strategies. Students should be introduced to various rhetorical devices such as lists of three, rhetorical questions, and hyperbole. The teacher could then set the students a task of creating their own rhetorical speech.

Another possible way to create rhetoric lessons is to invent lines of reasoning around a particular subject and have students spot flaws in those arguments. The teacher should select an emotive topic and then present several different arguments on the topic with different viewpoints. Looking at the arguments in terms of the assumptions that are inherent in the points is helpful, as well as a basis in logical reasoning.

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