11th Grade AP Language students were tasked with identifying & researching a community issue, creating an advertisement campaign to raise awareness of the issue, and writing articles that incorporated their research and Aristotle's rhetorical strategies. Student work was published in our school newspaper & displayed around the community.
Introduction and Context
When I was a senior in high school, I debated whether I should pursue mathematics education or English education. Ultimately, I decided on English because I thought I would have more freedom with the curriculum, and a relatively easier time integrating creative projects into my classroom. Looking back, I realize that this most likely was not the case and that mathematics does lend itself well to real-world learning. However, my own high school experience and the way I was exposed to each discipline as a student led me to believe that English was more “creative.”
This desire to teach without a constricting environment is something I struggled with my first year teaching AP English Language and Composition. Feeling pressured by the idea of a rigorous exam attached to the course, with an excellent score potentially saving my students thousands of dollars in college, I taught the course the first year relatively traditionally. In other words, I would introduce certain rhetorical strategies, students would analyze various speeches or literature, write an essay, receive feedback, and repeat the process. While this method of instruction was effective, and students performed well on the exam, I didn’t feel like “myself” in the classroom. I felt the material remained in the walls of my classroom and that students didn’t truly recognize how applicable it was to their lives.
I spent time reflecting on my experience teaching the course last year, and set out to develop a more innovative, meaningful curriculum that would greater impact my students while retaining the same level of rigor that is necessary in an AP course.
Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle and the appeals to logos (logic), ethos (credibility), and pathos (emotion) in relation to purpose, audience, and speaker are important terms for analyzing argument. Identifying the strategies is particularly important for the AP English Language Course, but is also a generalizable skill of which I felt students should have a deep understanding.
The driving question for this project was, “How can we use Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle to effect change in our community?” Students were tasked with identifying a current, social, community issue, researching the issue in groups of three, and creating an advertisement campaign to raise awareness of the issue using the rhetorical strategies. The advertisements were displayed around the school and community. In addition to the advertisement, students wrote 3-5 page articles that incorporated their research and each of the rhetorical strategies, that would be published in our school newspaper with the intent to effect change in our school community.
Project Details, Descriptions, and Student Work
Entry Event: On the first day of the unit, students walked into the classroom and were met with a gallery of striking advertisement campaigns posted around the room. Students were asked to write on post-it notes whether they were intrigued by the advertisements, what they felt the message was, and whether or not they felt the advertisements were convincing. This gallery walk served as an entry to a discussion about the purpose of advertisements, leading to Aristotle’s Rhetorical Triangle.
Learning about the details of the rhetorical strategies would apply to the first level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, “Remember.” Students had to learn the material, be able to recall the strategies and their purpose, and identify audience and speaker. Students were also asked to list various community issues that they felt should be addressed in this project. To reach the second level of Bloom’s Taxonomy, “Understand,” students were given various speeches and arguments within our class context and asked to identify the rhetorical strategies. Here are some sample assignments: Mr. Rogers / Challenger Explosion
Once the students demonstrated an understanding of the strategies, they were tasked with keeping a running “commercial journal” throughout the unit where they would identify how the strategies were being used in the world around them. On their daily commute, while using the internet, or watching television, they were required to pay attention to the advertisements that were being shown, identify the purpose, audience, and strategy, analyze whether or not they were effective, and explain why. Here students moved on to “Apply” in Bloom’s Taxonomy, because they were beginning to take the strategies outside of the classroom and apply them to the world around them. The journals were collected at “check-in points” throughout the unit, and returned with teacher feedback to help students further make meaning and clarify their understanding of the strategies. Here are some sample student entries: Sample 1 / Sample 2
Soon, students were placed in groups of three based on what they identified as the important community issues they wanted to address. There were four groups in total (a class of 12 students): Eating Disorders/ Body Image, Phone Addition, Substance Abuse, and E-Cigarette Addiction. Again, these issues were identified by the students. At this point, each group member received the project sheet which outlined the steps they needed to take to complete the unit. Each student was asked to complete a personal contract, and each team was asked to complete a group contract.
The next point in the project required students to identify the various subtopics within their general topics, and research. Each student was required to bring 5 different credible articles to class so that each group would have a total of fifteen to work with. The students then began to analyze the information they found, filling out a Google Doc that identified what each had to say, the strategies used, and how the article could help the team’s work. The groups then discussed their findings, and narrowed down their topics to specific subtopics based on their research. Here is one group’s completed document.
To demonstrate their complete understanding of their research and the strategies, and a way to “marry” the two components of the unit, each student in the group was required to write a 2-3 page article on their topic, focusing on a different rhetorical strategy. For example, one student in a group wrote an article using mostly an appeal to ethos, another student in the same group focused on an appeal to pathos, and the third student in the group wrote an article on the same topic that focused on an appeal to logos.
After reading one another’s articles and providing feedback through peer-review, students were required to decide as a group which strategy they felt was the most effective and who they might target as an audience in their advertisements by filling out a brainstorming graphic organizer. At this point, students moved on to “Analyze” in Bloom’s Taxonomy. They examined what they had and broke it down to analyze what they could use for their real-world campaign. Here, the two aspects of the project, rhetorical strategies and community issues, became fused together. Once the students decided on their strategy and target audience, they were asked to create a formal proposal that outlined their assertion and the reasons for choosing their audience and strategy. Students also submitted a revised draft of their articles based on the feedback they received from their peers and a self-reflection. Here is each group’s formal proposal: Substance Abuse / E-Cigarettes / Eating Disorders / Phone Addiction
Upon approval of their proposals, students then had the opportunity to chat with a focus group from their targeted audience. Students prepared for this interview by participating in a short workshop where they reviewed effective questioning techniques that would be appropriate and useful, generating responses that would help them develop their advertisements. They then practiced with students in the other groups to see if their questions were useful and eliciting the responses they hoped to receive. After reworking their questions, the focus groups came in and students had the opportunity to learn more about their topics directly from their target audiences. Students were required to submit a reflection following the meetings. Here is a student sample.
At this point, students moved up Bloom’s Taxonomy to “Evaluate,” as they got together as groups to create a mock-up advertisement based on the research, reflections, and feedback they’ve received so far. The mock-ups were created using Adobe Photoshop and In-Design in our school’s Mac Lab. I had many of these students as freshmen and had taught them an introduction to Adobe Suite with a prior project. They were able to use, and build upon, those skills to design the drafts of their advertisements. Here are some photos of students working on the mock-ups: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3
The school’s administration was then invited to our classroom for a gallery-walk where the mock-ups were posted around the classroom, and each participant was asked to provide specific feedback, explaining his/her initial thoughts, positive feedback, and something they wonder. The classroom was silent as each participant evaluated one another’s work with the intent of improving the advertisements. Here are some more photos from this event: Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3, Photo 4
The students at this point were invited to watch Austin’s Butterfly, a meaningful video that explains the importance of drafting. The students then entered Phase Two, and reflected upon the feedback they received to make changes and improve their advertisements. While some groups received minor feedback, others were encouraged to completely scrap their initial ideas. Students struggled at times deciding which feedback they should receive and which feedback they didn’t feel was helpful- especially the groups that were encouraged to drastically change their advertisements. Then, it was back to the lab and students had the opportunity to create a second draft.
For a second round of feedback, various teachers, rabbis, secretaries, and students around the school were invited to the classroom to hear each group provide a short presentation in which they showed both drafts, explained the changes they made, and asked specific questions to the audience. The audience then had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and provide feedback. Many students felt this was the most helpful part of the process, and were excited to work on their third and final drafts.
At this point, the students moved on to the “Create” aspect of Bloom’s Taxonomy, where they were able to confidently create their final advertisement campaigns based on the information they remembered, understood, applied, analyzed, and evaluated with each step of the project. Here are the final advertisements next to the first drafts:
In addition to their final drafts of the advertisement, each group was also required to combine the three separate articles into one 5-page article per group that would seamlessly and effectively incorporate all three rhetorical strategies. Here is one group’s final article. The articles are being printed in our school newspaper throughout the school year, and the final drafts of the advertisements are on display around our school community.
This project was one of the most exciting, meaningful projects I have ever taught. It was a beautiful feeling to be able to develop this over the summer, without knowing my students, and to facilitate a successful implementation of the project. The students worked– they truly seemed to understand the importance of the project and that what they were creating would be valuable to our community, raising awareness on important teenage issues. There were points where I was almost afraid to tell students about the next step, such as completing another draft or writing another reflection, because I knew that they were working so hard and I was worried about burn-out. While I did hear the occasional, over-exaggerated sigh that teenagers know how to do really well, the students were generally eager to complete each step of the process.
In terms of replicability, while I acknowledge that the content here derived from an AP English Language and Composition Course, the ability to analyze argument both within a text, speech, or an advertisement is an extremely important skill that can/should be applied in multiple subjects. The discourse of today’s politics is quite unsettling, on both ends, and it is important for students to be equipped with the tools to analyze what is being said, and how the arguments are being made. Additionally, this project is something that can be adjusted for multiple developmental levels. Elementary or middle school students can similarly identify community issues such as bullying, homelessness, tuition prices, etc. and raise awareness to the issues using the basic elements of argument. If using graphic design tools such as Adobe Suite is difficult for younger students, or if the teacher is not familiar with the programs, there are other applications that are more user friendly to design a more basic advertisement. Or, teachers could invite a graphic artist to come into the room to assist students and add a deeper layer to the project. I am in no way a graphic artist, and I think that I could have asked a designer to come in and work with students to elevate the quality of product. This is something I will consider adding to the project next year.
Lastly, I think it was important to take the time to have students reflect continuously throughout the project. It gave them a way to make meaning of the experiences they were having and truly see how much they were learning. The student reflections were quite honest, and I loved reading their thought processes as they progressed through Bloom’s Taxonomy. They began to enjoy the next challenges, they demonstrated confidence in themselves, and confidence in the goal of the project: to impact the world around them. I think showing the students Austin’s Butterfly helped them get through the drafting process because they knew that to get the best product, and effect the greatest change, they would need to be willing to make themselves vulnerable to feedback.
These student reflections were taken at the height of the drafting process, when students received the first round of feedback through the gallery walk:
“At this point in the project I feel very accomplished. It has almost been a month since we started, and there were so many dreadful steps and assignments I didn’t think I would want to do, but I ended up loving it.
“This is probably one of my favorite projects because I got to express my voice to other people about something I am passionate about and constantly think about. I loved making the actual advertisement and using Photoshop. I thought it was very necessary to do all the research beforehand so we all knew more about the topic. I liked how in the end I received everyone’s honest feedback and got to re-edit the assignment” –Leslie
“I enjoyed looking into our topic very much. I learned many new statistics, facts, and emotional stories/ challenges others have dealt with regarding cell phone addiction. When I found out who my partners were, I wasn’t thrilled. My initial reaction was, “Shoot- I don’t know them, I can’t give my ideas and opinions…” but I was wrong. We have been working all together. Everyone did an equal amount of work, and my ideas and thoughts were heard.
“It was very rewarding to read the feedback and hear what others had to say about our work. Regardless of the type feedback, our work was being viewed, and we got many positive comments. I hope our advertisement will inspires others like it did to me!” –Esther
“My one frustration with this project is that sometimes I feel left out because I’m not in [the top-level academic program]. Some of my ideas for the ad were ignored before, but now they are all in and that was a rewarding feeling.
“I am enjoying this assignment entirely. I enjoy it because it is a project that can possibly help real people with real problems in society. I also enjoy the fact that it is a group project so if I don’t have an idea, someone else can think of one.” –Gabriel
“As of now, we are deciding between keeping our original picture and slogan, or just erasing everything and starting over. I am a little frustrated that we got feedback to change the picture and slogan when that was what we spent so long on.
I really am enjoying this assignment and feel like I am learning how to receive feedback and use it to make my work better. I am now also a little anxious and nervous because we are now starting our ad again (maybe even adjusting our assertions) and the deadline is next week. I know that we will get it done, but I hope that we reach its fullest potential and make an ad that’s really effective and powerful.” – Sari
“I honestly like the assignment. I enjoyed researching about the topic I was interested in and interviewing people for their opinions. I was told some very shocking information that I didn’t know about.
Usually, I hate when assignments are dragged on and are prolonged. I tend to get bored and uninterested. However, for this assignment, I enjoyed doing all of the different steps that led up to the advertisement. I feel that I actually understand the strategies and everything I learned and I can use it in my life- not simply do the work, get a grade, and move on.” –Taylor
“Right now, I’m not even sure how I feel about it. We are changing our whole topic and idea- it’s so frustrating. Yes, I know it will be amazing in the end but I can’t look at it anymore! I’m sick of doing the same assignment but I guess that now that we are switching everything it will be a little more exciting to work on.
“The drafts are a necessary thing to improve, but it does not mean that I like them. The comments and critiques stress me out because what if we don’t reach our goal and the advertisement has no effect overall? The process has been frustrating, and annoying, but at this point I hope we will have a good outcome and reach our goal which will make everything worth it and finally finish this project.
“I do enjoy the group work, though- we’re all frustrated and it just becomes funny so I guess that’s a pro, but if you’re going to do this next year it definitely needs to be more exciting to get the students wanting to continue and improve rather than feeling frustrated and annoyed at their work!” –Rebecca
“One thing that is really frustrating in our ad is getting people to realize that the slightly transparent older people are the young people in the future. This is a huge part of our ad and many people we show don’t understand what we want them to. We want to find a way to make it easier to understand, but in a way that won’t be too obvious or look weird.
“It was very rewarding when we added the new background because the old black and white background was not very aesthetically pleasing, and I didn’t like it. I really love the ad now, with the revised background. I do like this assignment because I enjoy creative assignments. Also, I think it is an important message about e-cigarettes that we need to spread. I enjoyed watching the ad come together, and think that now it looks very nice, and has the ability to spread the powerful message we had hoped it would.” –Joseph.
“The Photoshop aspect of the project should be causing a lot of frustrations for me, yet it isn’t. I think this has to do with the maturity I’ve gained over the years in high school- three years ago, I probably would be crying myself to sleep (not literally).
“I also think that the group I’m working with in general is optimistic and I really don’t think any of us are frustrated even though we are probably as far behind the objectives as possible. While it’d be expected for me to hate this project, I happen to really enjoy it. It’s interesting to work with a new group, especially because I’ve never worked with these people before. It’s providing a sense of interest to me and I think that’s what’s getting me through the project. Honestly, while it can certainly get burdensome at times, I’m enjoying this project and would like to see where it’s headed.” — Abraham
“I am a little frustrated that most of the project consists of using Photoshop, which is something that I am not so good at. As a result of this, there is a limit to how much I can help my group, which bothers me.
“I happen to like this project because it lets us be creative about serious things that happen around us. While having fun making this advertisement, we are creating it to help people with these addictions. It felt most rewarding when we were able to create our advertisement with the spotlight; I think this added a huge element to our project and definitely improved the project as well.” –Ezra
“Honestly, I am frustrated that we have to add a whole new person to the ad because it will take very long and may distract from the message a bit, since this problem is mainly for girls. It might also be very jam-packed with two people and will possibly make it look ugly. I’m also kind of annoyed that we did Photoshop on Taylor’s phone because she was not here one day so we were not able to fix anything.
“It was very rewarding to see the expressions on people’s faces when they saw our ad. Truth, I did not think it looked so good until I saw it enlarged on a poster. Also, I was happy to read the feedback and see that most of it was positive. Almost all the changes were technical, like to shift a letter to the right or left.
“I am liking the assignment in general. I just hate constantly fixing it in order to turn it into what everyone else wants. I love the way it is now and don’t want to ruin it or make it too much. I enjoyed the process up until now and I appreciate that you are giving us class time to work on the assignment.” – Sylvia
“There have been a few things I enjoyed, but like any other project, I had some difficulties. I actually enjoyed the interview because it gave us a chance to see what’s actually going on, allowing us to cater to those needs. Another part I enjoyed was researching whether to use logos, pathos, or ethos because it felt like a riddle. Lastly, I enjoyed the satisfaction of viewing the ad after its completion.
“Some difficulties I experiences along the way were not being able to contribute as much as I would’ve and the difficulty of meeting up at a house after school. For the first part, I felt like I was very capable of Photoshopping the ad, however one of my group-mates felt he was more capable and therefore took all the Photoshopping for himself. I certainly wish I could have done more by myself. The other difficulty I faced was meeting up with my group after school. Being that my other group members were already friends and lived on the same block, it is understandable that they would meet up. However, it happened twice that they met up without informing me of the meeting. They then FaceTimed me and let me know that they completely changed what we made in class. Naturally I was upset, but it is manageable.” -Charles
“I like this project very much because I feel its importance in my life. It teaches me how to communicate my ideas better and better. It’s kind of like art to me, in the way that ideas are communicated to others with my emotions and what I think is important shared with others.
“I am a little frustrated in the way that it takes a lot of effort to come up with an idea that would incorporate every group member’s ideas. I liked every aspect of this assignment. Even though at first I thought the interview was pointless for our group, I realized later that it did help me understand the issue even more and learn a lot about it. Even though my group and I had many challenges, from incorporating ideas to fixing what we have, I found that through it all this assignment brought our group together and made something amazing.” -Sammy
Rachel Harari is a PhD student in Education Leadership at Teachers College, Columbia University. Through her work as an English Language Arts teacher for ten years and Department Chair for six years at Magen David Yeshivah High School in Brooklyn, New York, Rachel was inspired to study adult development and leadership, wondering about the link between teacher growth and student work ethic.
Rachel received her M.S. in Special Education from Brooklyn College, and her B.S. in English Education from New York University, where she published her research on mathematics anxiety in elementary school students: “Mathematics Anxiety in Young Children: An Exploratory Study.” Rachel is also a 2016 recipient of The Covenant Foundation’s Pomegranate Prize, which recognizes emerging leaders in the field of Jewish Education.