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Why Speak?

All about Speaker and Persona...



The enigmatic rhetorical situation is the root of all language, but from my experiences, students have a challenging time understanding the components that influence the moment a speaker “speaks.” Students struggle to recognize the differences between kairos, exigence, immediate situation, and ongoing situation. Students also analyze in a flat manner, without consideration of the speaker-audience relationship. The purpose of this post is to offer some tips and tools to help you clarify important components of the rhetorical situation.


Speaker


First, a student must understand how to discuss a speaker. A speaker always adopts a persona, and it is the speakership that defines ethos and the persona that establishes a connection with the audience. I tell my students to consider a professional athlete who begins the day with family breakfast, speaks to a group of third graders by mid-morning, meets with ESPN in the afternoon, and concludes the day with a sponsorship dinner. In each scenario, the speaker and persona changes, based on the audience. To illustrate with an example, let’s consider former Eagles player, Nick Foles, traded in 2020 to the Chicago Bears. I have my students brainstorm with this example:

Audience: Family Breakfast
Speaker: father, Husband
Persona: compassionate, loving
Audience: Third grade classroom
Speaker: football player, celebrity
Persona: mentor, motivator
Audience: ESPN
Speaker: Eagles QB replacement who helped win the Super Bowl, MVP 2017, devout Christian, competitor for QB1 position 
Persona: humble leader, respectful team player, professional
Audience: Sponsors
Speaker: Eagles QB replacement who helped win the Super Bowl, MVP 2017, devout Christian, multiple football trades and various contracts
Persona: respectful professional, hard working athlete

After we review the components of speaker and the changing persona and speakership that exists with each different audience, I then have my students examine the differences in speaker and persona through two very different speeches given by Ashton Kutcher. The first speech is given at the Teen Choice Awards, where Kutcher is honored with an award, and the second speech is given to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where Kutcher is arguing for ending modern slavery and human trafficking. Students annotate both speeches for speaker and persona, and then we discuss how audience determines a person’s speaker and persona.



With each of my lessons, I like to also incorporate a lesson in rhetorical choice and writing.


Anaphora


Within Kutcher’s speeches, I then have students annotate for anaphora. Anaphora is a tricky strategy that students love to write about as being repetitive. Yes, it is a repetitive pattern that falls under the umbrella of parallelism, but anaphora does so much more than to just repeat! I have my students listen to Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Although they have usually heard this speech many times before, I have them sit back and listen, that’s it, just listen. I have them hear the anaphoric phrasing that King incorporates. We talk about how King made the decision to include the “dream” after hearing a woman in the audience tell him to talk about the “dream.” As a class, we discuss our emotions as we hear his repeated phrasing. Students talk about how they feel empowered by the rights that are accentuated after each repeated phrase of, “I have a dream…”. Students soon recognize that anaphora is more than just the meaning of the repeated phrase, but equally and sometimes more important is the idea that follows the phrase. In King’s speech, he follows each “dream” phrase with a push for equal rights, quoting laws and the bible, and providing examples of injustices that need immediate change. The students recognize that King’s plead for justice is a human dream, not a dream for just race.


Rhetorically Accurate Verbs


We also discuss rhetorically accurate verbs. Students love analyzing with the verb “emphasizes,” but in reality most devices do exactly that, they emphasize an idea. To “emphasize” then becomes an ambiguity in my classroom, as I tell students that the term is not concrete, but instead vague. We then talk about finding rhetorically accurate verbs. I have students start with the basics: anaphora is a form of repeating an idea. We look up the word “repetition” in a thesaurus: reiterates, chants, echos, staccatos. I tell students to write down the words that sound special. I then have them click on one of those words. For example, echo, is a word that feels unique, which brings me to: reverberates, mirrors, rings. I could keep following this path of using the thesaurus, and before long, I have a concrete list of rhetorically accurate verbs.

Emphasize

Thesaurus: Repeat - reiterates, chants, echos, staccatos

Click on "echo" - reverberates, mirrors, rings

Example: Echoing his "dream," King's anaphoric phrasing reverberates the long list of logical reasons for needing change and demanding equality. 

Writing Claims


Students have a challenging time writing claims. I find it helpful to teach students about claims of fact, value, and policy. Students often want to write basic claims that only offer one layer; however, I show students the importance of including claims of values to connect with their audience emotionally, claims of fact to connect logically, and claims of policy to connect credibly. An effective claim should have all three components as I tell my students. I give students the following fact:


Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places on Earth: people crowd into tiny living spaces, some with only a bed, a hot plate, and a toilet.


I then have students turn this fact into a claim with a claim of value, policy, and fact. I also provide them with tools such as word banks and a PPT to explain each type of claim.




Here is my basic PPT for claims with embedded videos.


I then show them the website https://www.allsides.com/unbiased-balanced-news, where students each find a compelling topic for which they need to read the left, center, and right, and then create a claim that has a fact, value, and policy. Students submit their claims to me for extra credit, and then I compile the claims in a document with no names attached to the claims, and finally, we peer edit.



Finally, our last step in our speaker, anaphora, claims lesson is to write! I love giving my students silly prompts, because it requires them to think critically and creatively. We complete a one-paragraph focused argument writing each week for the entire first quarter, and each prompt requires that students write in a variety of formats: blog, speech, letter, newsletter, etc.


Here is their first assignment, in which they must write on topic, as an editorialist, while incorporating a clear and layered claim, anaphora, and development of speaker & persona.



Here is the PPT I use to teach them about the components of an editorial.


Conclusion

I spend one week teaching about each part of the rhetorical situation, while also including instruction on rhetorical choices and argumentative/analytical writing. I have found that the slow and thorough approach to teaching the rhetorical situation is key in helping students contextualize each rhetorical situation.


Please consider downloading my entire unit on the rhetorical situation



If you purchase my unit, I will send you one week lessons on:

  • Ashton Kutcher: speaker, persona, anaphora, claims

  • Greta Thunberg: context/occasion, pronoun unification and divide, evidence & reasoning

  • Lou Gehrig: audience, epistrophe, evidence, reasoning

  • Malala Yousafzai: exigence, repetition, sourcing

  • Selena Gomez: message, anecdote, claims, reasoning, sourcing

  • Coach David Belisle: purpose, sentence length, multiple choice

  • 2020 Obama Eulogy annotated for all of the learning practice in this unit

  • Rhetorical analysis and argument assessment



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I am a passionate high school English and Digital Media teacher whose lifelong purpose is to ignite creativity and critical thought in young minds. With an unwavering commitment to nurturing imagination and fostering intellectual curiosity, I thrive on embracing each student's unique voice and I hope to inspire other teachers with my own journey.

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