Throughout the semester, as we’ve explored the various representations of rhetoric that shaped this year’s unprecedented presidential election and, more recently, the aftermath of the results, I have been forced to confront my own assumptions (and their limitations) about the American populace. In my exploration post, The Anti-Trump Endorsement, I made the following statement (that now feels all the more relevant in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss) about endorsements that sought to appeal specifically to the unsatisfied anti-Trump voter:

…it is with language that admits that she is herself a controversial and polarizing candidate that grabs these voters, before reminding them that she is (however unfortunately) the only option.

It was a moment in which I attempted to identify the target audience for these not-entirely-pro-Hillary Clinton endorsement articles. Once analyzed, the rhetoric betrayed the real purpose (or what I interpreted it to be in the above quote and exploration) behind this specific form of communication. That I missed what seemed like such an obvious focus, a clear appeal to persuade the undecided rather than state outright approval of Hillary Clinton, made me feel naive.

In my reflections, I’ve come to Image: Supporters of U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton hold a sign during a campaign rally at the Apollo Theater in New Yorkunderstand how, in many ways, my own New York City perspective is marked by liberal privilege – a deceptively insular community that can blind itself from the realities of the rest of the country. As a teacher in this city, I want my students to avoid similar pitfalls in their journeys to learning about the world, particularly in relation to our political system. I want them to study the language used in these arenas and to learn to predict the audience. Students should learn that in identifying the audience, we allow ourselves to better understand the position and intent of the speaker.

With all this in mind, I sought to construct the outline of a unit plan that broke down these complex questions and entanglements into more tangible understandings, with lessons focused on students studying the purpose and audience of presidential debates. The main question I was personally exploring in developing my final project was the following: how do we begin to understand the ways in which the rhetorical strategies employed by candidates and the media, respectively, betray their target audience? Who are the groups most likely to be influenced by various strategies and why? Essentially, and in a very idealistic way, in engaging my students in this conversation, I hope to discover the holes in my own knowledge about this year’s election results.

Misleading Statement

Unit: Media Literacy and the Election

The purpose of this unit is to educate students on different forms of communication in the age of technology, specifically during various election seasons. Students will work to apply critical thinking to messages in the media geared toward swaying voters one way or another. Students will focus on analyzing the political debates, considering rhetorical messages communicated through various forms of media. With a growing understanding and knowledge of the language used in the political arena, students will learn the importance of remaining vigilant and critical of the content they consume and, more importantly, the power of their voices and (future) vote.

Guiding Questions:

  • Who creates the debates and picks the questions?
  • Who is the audience and how are they involved? Who is left out?
  • Who benefits from the debates? Who advertises during the debates? Are there sponsors?
  • How have people, both in our past and present, successfully brought about change through persuasion?
  • How can we evaluate, interpret, and dissect information to determine our own thoughts and opinions?
  • What techniques do speakers and writers use to convince you of the validity of their positions?

172047134Enduring Understandings:

  • Media is a construction.
  • Media is created for commercial means.
  • Different mediums deploy different language techniques.
  • Rhetoric acts as a tool to persuade and share arguments through various media.
  • Rhetorical strategies and rhetorical devices effectively strengthen the impact of an argument on the intended audience.

Students will:

  • Read, analyze, and interpret meaning of rhetorical literature and speeches.
  • Use close reading strategies and annotation techniques.
  • Recognize intended meaning and rhetorical devices in debates.

Prior Knowledge:

  • Students will have just completed the bulk of a unit on debates.
    • Students will have learned how to argue by supporting their claims with reason, evidence, and appropriate language.
      • They will have employed both logical and emotional appeals to persuade an audience.
      • They will understand strategies of persuasion.
      • They will understand strategies of refutation.
    • They will have successfully researched, organized, written, and presented a series of points and engaged in three different debates, increasing in difficulty and independence.
      • They will have written opening and closing statements, used facts, quotes, personal examples, and comparisons to strengthen their argument.
      • They will have learned about finding and citing reputable sources.

Preparation for Presidential Debate assignments:

  • Students will research each candidate and their running mate’s position using official candidate websites and approved media outlets.
  • Students will choose two issues to focus on for each candidate.
    • Complete a summary of each issue, listing the pros and cons.

Debate #1:

  • Students will watch and take note of the content, looking to answer the following question using the Debate Guide (Appendix A):
    • What ideas and proposals do the candidates present?

Debate #2 (VP debate):

  • Students will watch and take note of the production, looking to answer the following questions:
    • Who does the camera focus on and when?
    • Is a split-screen used? If so, when?
    • When does the camera show reaction shots?
    • What does the stage look like? Be specific.


Debate #3:

  • Students will watch and take note of language, looking to answer the following questions:

Final in-class reflection:

  • Students will consider all of their notes from the debates and answer the reflection questions provided in-class (Appendix B).