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Key Elements of Rhetoric

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This post was originally published on the HS Bits Blog, which was active from 2008-2013.

The objective of this chapter is to engage students in the study and practice of rhetoric: what it is, how it works, and why it matters. A good place to start – even before reading the Lou Gehrig speech that opens the chapter – might be to listen and watch the speech. On* you will find an audio clip from Gehrig himself and a video of Gary Cooper in the film Pride of the Yankees. These clips powerfully illustrate the importance not only of language but delivery, a key concept of rhetoric that we want students to keep in mind throughout their study of a wide range of written, oral, and visual texts.

One way to begin is just to ask: Why is this such a famous speech? What gives it its power? Simply playing these clips and then discussing Gehrig’s speech as a class should give students an understanding of the basic terms (context, purpose, thesis, claim, subject, speaker, and audience) and a feel for the importance of rhetoric.

* is a wonderful resource. The site is easily accessible and includes "a data base of and index to 5000+ full text, audio and video versions of public speeches, sermons, legal proceedings, lectures, debates, interviews, other recorded media events, and a declaration or two." It also has special categories, such as Rhetoric of 9/11, Christian Rhetoric, nearly 200 movie speeches, and a section of short audio and video clips to illustrate rhetorical figures, such as parallelism and oxymoron.