Rhetorical Awareness is at the center of all my classes when we talk about writing and communicating. Today, writing goes beyond a memorization of formulae in which students fill pre-designed containers or resort to structured modes of discourse. Instead, students can better understand their roles as communicators when they realize that composing is more complex and always situational and dependent upon the shifting variables of rhetoric: purpose, audience, subject, and context.
As teachers we can introduce rhetorical awareness in many ways in our classrooms. We can have students analyze artifacts through rhetorical lenses and introduce them to classical rhetorical appeals and devices. Additionally, multimodality offers ways to easily recognize the ways we shift our language and approaches in relation to visual rhetoric, genre, and medium. I enjoy helping students realize that these concepts move quickly beyond the classroom as we are influenced by communication artifacts throughout our everyday lives. Although this seems simple and somewhat obvious, it takes an interesting twist when paired with a multimodal assignment.
This assignment is also an opportunity for students to understand the impact of visual rhetoric and the ways images and text work together to create rhetorical arguments that communicate meaning. It is important for students to understand that no communication is a-rhetorical and that there are messages and artifacts all around us -- demanding our attention, seeking our engagement and working to persuade.
- To increase students’ understanding of rhetorical awareness.
- To introduce students to some classical rhetorical terms and devices.
- To understand the ways rhetorical devices manifest themselves in visual artifacts.
Background Reading for Students and Instructors
Acts of textual and visual design using multimodal elements are on-going learning opportunities for instructors. Below, I have listed a few background readings and helpful links. I encourage teachers to add to and enrich the list.
- The St. Martin’s Handbook: Ch. 2: Rhetorical Situations; Ch. 16: Design for Print and Digital Writing
- The Everyday Writer or Writer’s Help 2.0 for Lunsford: Ch. 5: Rhetorical Situations; Ch.9: Making Design Decisions
- Writing in Action: Ch. 4, A Writer’s Choices; Ch. 8, Making Design Decisions
- EasyWriter: Ch. 1, A Writer’s Choices; Section 2f, Designing
- Everything's an Argument: Ch. 1, Everything Is an Argument
The Assignment: Exploring Everyday Rhetoric
First I introduce students to basic rhetorical terms and devices to give them the language they need to understand the history and currency of the rhetorical strategies they already use. Then, students complete the following steps:
- Research: Definitions and Visual examples.I start by introducing Aristotle’s appeals: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. The concept of Kairos is also important to understanding the context and timeliness of communication. I have students research other specific terms, such as Analogy, Metaphor, Enthymeme, Motonymy, Anchorage and Relay, Juxtaposition, Connotation, Denotation, Synecdoche, Polysemy, etc. In addition to finding these definitions I ask them to conduct online image searches to identify visual examples for each of the terms to accompany their definitions.
- Capturing Everyday Rhetoric. Over the course of a day or two, students seek out on a journey to photograph at least 10 images/examples of everyday rhetoric. I encourage them to work to get a variety of images – signs, scenes, symbols, instructions, billboards. They can walk around campus, drive around in their cars, observe their workplaces, and basically immerse themselves in their worlds and spaces to see the ways rhetoric speaks to and influences them in their everyday lives. I ask them to look for images at work, at school, home, medicine cabinet, backpack, public places: malls, department stores, convenience stores, grocery stores. . . . the list goes on.
- Write an Analysis. In a blog post, students discuss and analyze their rhetorical journeys. In this analysis they must go back to the definitions and connect their everyday rhetorical artifacts the researched terms and strategies.
- Create a Digital Slideshow. For the last part of this assignment, students use their images and ideas to create a digital or video slideshow – a digital story, a visual narrative – in which they use text and image to share their experiences with their everyday rhetoric. They embed the slideshow in their blogpost and it acts as a stand-alone, multimodal piece and an extended visual example that accompanies their writing. I give students the option of using any online presentation and slideshow tools with which they are most comfortable.
Reflecting on the Activity
Students enjoyed this assignment and came to understand the impact of the many messages in our lives. By researching and analyzing the artifacts through the lens of classical rhetorical devices it helped them realize that even the smallest visual message is strategically planned. This kind of analysis and understanding obviously helps them improve their own writing as they gain a stronger sense of rhetorical awareness as composers and designers.
I have included a couple of sample reflections from my students:
Caitlin’s journey, titled What Lies Beneath, used a Prezi presentation to represent and discuss her visual artifacts. As she says,
These images are items that I see or interact with on [a] regular basis without giving much thought to the intent and the rhetoric that lies beneath. These artifacts include magazine articles, advertisements, car interiors, and even clothing. I have compiled my visual journey of everyday rhetoric into a slideshow that offers 10 images and 10 revelations of what lies beneath some of our everyday encounters.
Jordan, in the Signs and Sights of Everyday Rhetoric used a free, online slideshow creator, Powtoon. He started his journey with the informational signs he uses while driving. He says,
Some informed me that the road was one-way-only, while others dictated handicapped or reserved parking spaces. Others grabbed my attention with glaring messages over red backgrounds that signaled “Stop” or “Do Not Enter. Traffic lights, turn lanes, crosswalks, traffic cones, emergency vehicles with sirens blaring, the list goes on and on.
Interestingly, he extended his journey on foot (accompanied by his dog) to walk through a park and analyze the signs and paths (defined and undefined) that literally led him on his journey. He explains,
Together my dog Annie and I traveled to the park, where we sniffed out additional examples of visual rhetoric that were maybe less apparent. I found several examples of what I’ve personally dubbed “desire-paths,” where people forego regular paths and instead make their own, thus creating an apparent trail.
Britany, in her work Visual Rhetoric: On a Daily literally follows the unfolding of her day and through an environmental rhetorical approach she analyzes her living space, incorporates online communication, and recognizes unintentional rhetorical messages such as “dirty dishes in the sink.” She set her images to music in short video.
All of these students approached the assignment differently –using varied approaches and tools to create their multimodal presentations to recognize the presence and impact of Everyday Rhetoric.
Guest blogger Kim Haimes-Korn is a Professor in the Digital Writing and Media Arts (DWMA) Department at Kennesaw State University. Kim’s teaching philosophy encourages dynamic learning, critical digital literacies and focuses on students’ powers to create their own knowledge through language and various “acts of composition.” She likes to have fun every day, return to nature when things get too crazy and think deeply about way too many things. She loves teaching. It has helped her understand the value of amazing relationships and boundless creativity. You can reach Kim at email@example.com or visit her website Acts of Composition.
Want to collaborate with Andrea on a Multimodal Monday assignment or be a guest blogger? Send ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org for possible inclusion in a future post.