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Today's guest blogger is Amanda Gaddam (see end of post for bio).
This year has presented unlimited opportunities to bring political discussions and assignments into the first-year composition classroom. The following assignment sequence provides students with a real, visible outlet for their political fervor by making use of an old favorite, the rhetorical analysis, combined with a newer multimodal component, the social media infographic.
Infographics are visual ways of representing information or data, and they are a favorite of political pundits and analysts communicating with readers on social media. They are designed to make a memorable and lasting impact, and they typically present multiple pieces of information in a small and concise space. The Coffee Facts is an example of an infographic circulating on social media space.
Source: Med ness and ONO Creates
The authors make use of specific arrangement strategies and visual design principles to present facts, quotations, and beliefs about coffee to its viewers. As evidenced by this example, infographics don’t just focus on numbers-driven data; these images can be used to express a variety of information and claims about a particular topic. For this assignment, students could use a similar design to present their claims about the demographics, beliefs, and values of a particular cross section of voters.
The purpose of this assignment is to get students to theorize about candidates’ voter bases and express their ideas for real audiences on social media. Through performing rhetorical and audience analyses and packaging the information in visual texts, students become political actors both inside and outside of the classroom.
- St. Martin’s Handbook
- The Everyday Writer – Ch. 3, Writing Situations; Ch. 22, Making Design Decisions
- Writing in Action – Ch. 4, A Writer’s Choices; Ch. 9, Critical Reading
- EasyWriter – Ch. 1, A Writer’s Choices; Ch. 4, Multimodal Writing
1. Students perform a rhetorical analysis on a chosen presidential candidate’s stump speech. As rhetorical analysis assignments are fairly standard in first-year composition, you probably already have a prompt that will work. In the past, I’ve used various iterations of the rhetorical analysis assignment prompt given to me in my graduate teaching practicum. Students’ analyses should focus on candidates’ ideology as expressed through language, tone, logical construction, or even delivery, if you ask students to analyze a performance of the stump speech.
2. Students write a short audience analysis based on the claims they made in their rhetorical analyses. Who does the stump speech appeal to and why? Students should take the opportunity to creatively theorize—and justify their theories—about what a candidate’s core voter base looks like based on what they learned from analyzing the speech. This activity works best preceded by a class conversation about why audience matters and how speakers appeal to their audience through ethos, pathos, and logos appeals. This short assignment could certainly be completed as a solo project, but you might consider grouping students with the same assignment candidate together to facilitate conversations and knowledge-making about these important rhetorical concepts.
It is also useful at this point to introduce students to reputable outside sources that engage in this kind of theorizing throughout election season in order to showcase the processes and detail involved in analyzing a voting base. Websites like FiveThirtyEight, Politico, and the New York Times often provide verifiable, up-to-the minute, and in-depth coverage of these issues.
3. Create an infographic for social media that distills the most important information about the audience for an interested social media reader. Introduce this multimodal component of the assignment by discussing examples of infographics found on Pinterest, Twitter, or Instagram as a class. The goal of this discussion is to get students to articulate the rhetorical choices involved with creating one of these images—design, content, arrangement, context, etc. As most students are experienced social media users, you can also ask them to bring in their own examples of effective and ineffective infographics they’ve encountered on their own online feeds, and they can work together as a class to generate a list of best practices for creating these visual texts.
Working solo, in partners, or in groups, students should identify the information about their candidate’s core audience that they want to present in their infographic. These data might include education level, demographics, beliefs, fears, or critical issues. Once students know what they want to present to their social media readers, there are multiple free resources available on the web for actually creating these infographics, but Piktochart, with its easily edited templates, is probably the most user-friendly and involves the least amount of unnecessary sign-ups and log-ins. Students can also create infographics from scratch by taking advantage of the simple graphing and design powers of PowerPoint or Word.
4. Publish to class or department Twitter or Facebook pages, and encourage students to do the same on their own social media accounts. Engaging with real readers about their work makes this a timely and relevant assignment—one that highlights the ways in which skilled and thoughtful rhetorical analysis and audience analysis come in handy in the world outside of the classroom.
Interested voters rely on Twitter and Facebook for current coverage of political events, and information must be packaged differently for those audiences. This sequence of assignments builds on a standard of first-year composition, encourages multi-layered and complex conversations about audience and exigence, and provides a real-life publishing outlet for students’ important ideas about this significant and ever-changing election season. If the reports about the political activism of first-year students are true, students will welcome this opportunity to sound off about issues most important to them.
Guest blogger Amanda Gaddam is an adjunct instructor in the First-Year Writing Program and the School for New Learning at DePaul University. She holds a B.A. in English with a concentration in Literary Studies and a M.A. in Writing, Rhetoric, and Discourse with a concentration in Teaching Writing and Language from DePaul, and her research interests include first-year composition, adult and non-traditional students, and writing center pedagogies.
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