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Teaching the AP Language and Composition Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Updated: Sep 23, 2022

Every year, my AP Language and Composition students struggle with the rhetorical analysis essay. Over the years, I've come up with various graphic organizers to walk them through the process, and I also show them various models, but this only gets students so far.  I teach highly motivated students, and they want to know exactly what they need to do to earn a high score.

This year,  after I graded a stack of so-so papers, I realized that I was going to have 60 students chasing me down and demanding to know how to get a better grade. I suffer from Fear of Student Bombardment (FOSB), so I try and anticipate what students are going to be concerned about and address it in class.

I had already used all of my rhetorical analysis graphic organizers and some of my AP models. My students were starting to understand the rhetorical analysis essay but not quite. They were identifying devices and trying to connect to effect, but they weren't keep the big picture in mind.  They were also picking out small, unimportant devices to analyze, or they were skipping giants chunks of the passage. I realized that in order to show them exactly what I wanted,  I was going to have to model the entire process for them. Tedious? Yes. But I knew it was the only way I would be able to show them exactly what I wanted, and therefore prevent the student onslaught after class. (WHY DIDN'T I GET A BETTER GRADE!?!?)

I did this lesson after students attempted to analyze the 2005 Form B Maria W. Stewart prompt, but you can do it after any rhetorical analysis attempt. The reason I do it AFTER they write the essay is because they are not invested in the process until they get their grades back. That's when the realize that they probably should stop ignoring me and pay attention. The lesson went well and I didn't have any students chasing me down afterwards. You will need about ninety minutes.

Here is what to do:

1. Give students back their essays and briefly discuss what they did well, but acknowledge that there's work to be done.

2. Give students a handout titled "How to Write a Rhetorical Analysis Essay." This is just a clean document that lists the steps students should follow when attempting to write a rhetorical analysis essay.  I sell it on TpT, but it is not necessary for this lesson: 


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