Protégé of Plato and instructor to Alexander the Great, Aristotle was the archetypal learner-teacher whose contribution to modern writers were three rhetorical proofs: pathos, ethos and logos. When combined with 21st century communication platforms, Aristotle's proofs shower rocket fuel on rhetorical efficacy. Using these rhetorical pillars, students can analyze how texts persuade and how unpersuasive texts can be reconfigured.
To teach students how to understand and apply these rhetorical principles in an academic context, I first familiarize writers with the definition of ethos, pathos and logos, using this short video from Read/Write/Think. Use the chart below to help novice writers apply the proofs to a variety of persuasive texts in their environment, such as magazine or newspaper advertisements and editorials:
- Pathos: Emotional Connection (How the audience's feelings are engaged)
- Ethos: Credibility (How the audience perceives the credibility of the writer)
- Logos: Logical Argument (How the audience perceives the text as reasonable)
Means of Persuading
- Pathos: Themes, Visuals, Figurative Language, Stories, Humor, Delivery Technique
- Ethos: Trustworthiness, Similarity, Authority, Reputation, Sincerity, Standard English
- Logos: Facts, Research, Shared Wisdom, Diagrams/Charts/Examples, Definitions
You needn't reserve the heuristic above for assessing dusty rhetorical moments (Charles de Gaulle's June 18th 1940 speech comes to mind). Instead, try having students analyze George Bush's Ground Zero bullhorn speech ("I hear you!"), an incontestably powerful moment of rhetoric that holds up to repeated viewing. A transcript and analysis of pathos, ethos and logos used in Bush's speech can be found in multiple places throughout the Internet.
Next, have students create Aristotelian advertisements for something they possess in their book bag or purse. Or they can use the proofs to persuasively design digital book trailers. When all three proofs are used effectively, prose is at its most persuasive.
21st Century Product Reviews: Ubiquitous Persuasive Texts
Let's look at some alternate 21st century persuasive texts. If you're like me, a wary consumer, the product reviews from real buyers on Amazon greatly influence your purchase choices.
Hottest Watch I've EVER owned. I've collected many. November 2, 2010 by PMNOrlando
"This is definitely the hottest watch I've ever owned and I've owned many as I used to collect Men's watches. I just received it today and I have to say it had the biggest WOW factor straight out of the box. If you're a big man like I am you need a nice, classy, masculine watch like this. For the price I paid I feel like I stole it."
Walk through the ethos, logos and pathos characteristics of some Amazon reviews like the one above. Then show how these product reviews have become oddball art forms, spaces where inspiring writers might, for instance, pay homage to the climactic moment of Blade Runner.
Tuscan Whole Milk
Replicant Heaven May 23, 2011 by Roy Batty
"I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched c-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. But the creamy yumminess of Tuscan Whole Milk, 1 Gallon, 128 fl oz will be praised across the galaxy forever more. Time to die."
Other sites (Cool Tools, Land's End or Yelp) work just as well for students to analyze and contribute product reviews. Even Twitter can be a persuasive social media space. CaryW tweeted,"Drive is such an amazing film, went in with a crush on Carey Mulligan. Left with a crush on Ryan Gosling." [Twitter post discovered by eonline.com]
What makes all of these digital mentor texts authentic? First, they provide real writing models and the mechanism to persuade real audiences. In these genres, students' effective use of ethos, logos and pathos matter and can be "favorited" or retweeted by other users of the social media platforms.
Other 21st Century Mediums
Lastly, the Internet spawns challenging mashup genres and new tools to produce them literally everyday. Here are a few that students of all ages will enjoy analyzing and creating:
- Jux -- a simple tool for quickly creating magazine-quality blog posts
- Common Craft -- explanatory animations
- TED Talks -- inspiring speeches
- Stripgenerator -- a comic creation tool useful for informing and persuading (see Daniel Pinks' The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, which uses Manga as a teaching tool)
- This I Believe -- spoken word essays, based on the 1950's radio program, hosted by Edward R. Murrow