This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.
Today’s Guest Blogger is Emily Richardson, who currently teaches Advanced Placement® English Language and Composition, American Literature, and Western Humanities in a suburban Chicago high school. She also blogs and presents about contemporary pedagogical practices in the English classroom.
Holiday cards are great to receive but hard to compose. What details do you include in the message? What images do you select? What color scheme do you follow? What holiday slogan symbolizes the card’s theme? If you want the card to represent your family, it needs to be thoughtful and reflective and unique. Designing a holiday card is difficult for the average person.
Now, imagine being the president of the United States.
The process becomes infinitely more meaningful because the card is infinitely more symbolic and significant. The White House Christmas card is a reflection of not just of the first family, but of the presidency itself. For AP® English Language and Composition teachers, this provides an excellent opportunity for a variety of activities that mimic the AP® exam:
Synthesis: While only one source (the actual card) is provided, the students can make assumptions about what must have been considered in the creation of the card. Some areas of consideration might include argument, political affiliation, current climate, counter-argument, etc. Students can study the image and content of the cards to infer what must have been discussed based on the final product. Another synthesis activity would entail asking students to compare/contrast Obama’s holiday card with cards from previous administrations or other politicans. This site includes several cards from previous administrations. You may also do a quick Google image search if you’re looking for the cards of specific politicians.
Rhetorical Analysis/Visual: This year, President Obama deviated quite a bit from his traditional family portrait gracing the front of the card. Instead, the current card uses warm colors to accentuate a view of an interior room of the White House with the family dog, Bo, curled up next to the fireplace. Ask students to conduct a visual analysis of the card itself and consider what this reveals about the president.
Argument Analysis: Ask students to examine the extent to which the argument of the card is a reflection of the presidency itself. This could also lead to a meaningful discussion about who the intended audience is and whether or not the card was successful in conveying the argument.
The start of a new semester is always challenging. Bring students back into the discussion of rhetoric by examining presidential holiday cards, a topic that is both timely and engaging.
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