Labour and the Greens visit Paris (or a debating rhetoric lesson)

This post may be of interest to debating courses, and in particular those wanting to introduce a bit of rhetorical analysis.

First off I used a photo prompt to get students to come up with a debating point. I would normally use a video but finding decent videos takes time. Finding a photo is faster and leaves room for more interpretation, for this class I used a photo of people camping outside an Apple shop.

The students produced three topics – brand addiction, consumer society, power of advertising. They then formulated “This house believes/would” sentences such as This house believes that society suffers from brand addiction. The class then broke into groups, picked a formulation, they had 5 min preparation time and debated for some 10-15mins (timings will vary according to student level and emergent issues).

Rhetorical analysis

I showed the class the Veni, Vidi, Vici quote along with the English equivalent (I came, I saw, I conquered) pointing out that this was one kind of rhetorical technique that repeats some language structure (technically called a tricolon though I did not use this term with students). I also noted that this kind of pattern tends to come near the end of a sentence or clause.

I then showed them an extract from the Martin Luther King I have a dream speech and pointed out the repeated use of the same words – I have a dream, one day. Adding that this repeating device often comes at the beginning of a sentence or clause.

I also took the opportunity of highlighting an example of a repeating structure (every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight).

Next I mentioned the upcoming UK elections and that they were going to analyze two introductions from the election manifestos of the Labour party and the Green party. Letting them know I picked these two parties due to the text all fitting on one side of A4 paper :).

In groups of two I gave them three tasks:
1. count the words in each sentence and plot the number of words vs sentence number
2. identify repeating words
3. identify repeating structures

Once they had done this they were asked to find another pair with the same text and compare notes.

As I saw pairs finishing I went round and asked them questions about the shape of the graph and why the writer would want to use such a pattern, on the repeating lexical and structural patterns they identified and the possible effects of such usage on persuading a reader.

Finally pairs did the same with the second manifesto introduction.

For the next class they were told to rewrite their arguments from the earlier mini-debate using the information they had gained from their rhetorical analysis.

Thanks for reading and roll on Thursday May 7 2015.


American Rhetorics: Rhetorical figures in sound

The forest of rhetoric

UK 2015 manifesto forewords

UK 2015 manifestos venncloud

Wmatrix corpus analysis of UK General Election Manifestos


3 thoughts on “Labour and the Greens visit Paris (or a debating rhetoric lesson)

  1. Hi Mura,

    1. Nice idea to use a prompt to get learners to come up with a debating point.
    2. I’m a bit surprised that “the class broke into groups, picked a formulation, they had 5 min preparation time and debated for some 10-15mins”. So you had 3 debates going on at the same time? And all done in 20 minutes? How did that go?
    3, Got goose bumps reading the Isaiah quote – makes me think of Handel.
    4. Great way to get them to focus on the rhetoric.
    As for Thursday, I like the slogan “Don’t vote: it only encourages them!”

    1. Hi Geoff

      Thanks. I should maybe have added that this is an advanced class and we are nearing the end of a dedicated debating course so they have had a lot of practice in short form and long form debates

      I agree that the vote does not mean much in the current set-up :/

      edit/ amended post with note on timings, thanks Geoff

Penny for your thoughts

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