You Expect to Convince Me Wearing That?: Analyzing the Ethos of Speakers
Since I'm going to be talking about ethos, I also want my students to think about archetypes and cultural stereotypes. These are, in my opinion, where much of ethos comes from. A person in some ways has no control over a portion of their ethos because of our primed responses to certain "character" types in life. Therefore, what a speaker does can 1) neutralize the negaitve ethos he/she enters with, 2) enhance the positive ethos he/she enters with, or 3) create a new ethos with subtle verbal and non-verbal choices.
To prime my students for this discussion with a persuasive text (video, in this case), I want to talk about our cultural stereotypes.
With the teenagers in my classroom, one of the most heated and engaging topics for discussion is personal attractiveness. I show a clip from a 2014 episode of Mythbusters called "Laws of Attraction." While the entire episode is not school-appropriate, I show the segment(s) in which two groups of women are asked to rate the attractiveness of men based solely on thier pictures. The scientists also include the man's name and occupation, although they don't draw attention to that information to the audience. The women rate the men on a scale of one to ten. In the second group, only the man's occupation changes. The scientists then compared the "attractiveness" of each man with each group, ultimately drawing the conclusion that a person's occupation / earnings potential raises his/her attractiveness.
Before watching, I give students a working defintion of ethos: How well the speaker convinces the audience that he or she is worthy of being believed. We brainstorm factors that might influence someone's ethos.
While watching, the student's purpose is to take notes about the audience's reactions to the men in the pictures. How are their responses different in each control group?
After the video, I have students discuss these ideas: How did the change in occupation change each man's ethos? What connection does ethos have to attractiveness? Do you see examples of this in real life? Give evidence to support your opinion.
In a Google Slides presentation, I show pictures of people culled from Google Images. I give a situation and ask students which person they would "trust more" on sight for certain situations (e.g. who would you trust to perform brain surgery? who would you trust to babysit your kids? who would you trust to change your tires?)
As students view each pair of pictures, they discuss in pairs 1) who they would trust, and 2) why they would trust them. They have to provide specific evidence for their reasoning. Students complete this assignment in a three column chart:
- Your Choice
- List specific evidence to support your choice.
- Using your best guess, where does this personal bias originate from?
(Teaching Note: In the discussion, it's important to stress we're relying on stereotypes, which in real life, can be hurtful, prejudicial, and even sexist and racist. I've found it's important to establish norms for this type of discussion with high schoolers--what kinds of comments are acceptable and which are not.)
After the video from the last step and the discussions in this step, students write to answer this question in a quickwrite:
- How much do you think your bias affects someone else's ability to persuade you? Use evidence from our class today to support your ideas.
Students present their responses in a Google Form.
After we've explored examples of how ethos is established WITHOUT the speaker's input, we begin discussing the other two points of rhetoric: pathos and logos. We also talk about the part of ethos that the speaker does have control over: what he or she says and how he or she presents him/herself. A person may not have any control over thier attractiveness, age, or gender, but he/she can either enhance or downplay any negative aspects of their natural ethos with personal choices.
The information on ethos, pathos, and logos are presented to students in a Prezi presentation with interactive examples and an embedded YouTube video. At this point, the section on ethos is primarily review, and the pathos/logos information is new.
In this step, students will be watching this video. Jane McGonigal, "The Game that Will Give You 10 Extra Years of Life."
Before viewing the text, students are tasked with this purpose for watching:
By the end of this video, you're going to decide if the speaker of this video is effective in persuading you. While you can consider all three rhetorical strategies (ethos, logos, and pathos), we will be focusing specifically on how the speaker's ethos affects her ability to persuade.
During the first viewing, students have this purpose:
"hang on mentally": follow her argument and write down any points of confusion.
take notes about how the speaker purposefully establishes her ethos, both verbally and nonverbally.
When the speaker first appears on the screen, I pause when her full appearance is on the screen and ask students to silently take notes about the ethos she's establishing with her clothing choices, hairstyle, make-up, etc. I also ask them to write down their bias towards her without even hearing her speak.
I begin the video, and after the first few minutes, I pause again for students to reflect: what has she said to establish her ethos?
We watch the remainder of the video, and students continue to take notes about how the speaker draws on her background and life experiences to establish her ethos.
After the video is finished, I ask students to go to a wall I've created on Padlet.com and share at least one note they took during the video. Students continue sharing until everyone's ideas are on the Padlet wall.
As a class, we look for patterns in the evidence. We decide how we'll categorize the data we've collected. (this depends on the year and the data written down. Sometimes we categorized based on factors of her ethos, sometimes we categorize based on convincing/unconvincing/both, sometimes we categorize based on what she can control, what she can't control, and what she controlled successfully/unsuccessfully). The purpose of this categorization is to get students to think about general ideas in the data, which will lead to their evaluation at the end of this lesson.
In Google drive, I create a template for an assignment which asks students to
Make a claim about the speaker's persuasiveness.
Gather evidence to support his/her claim.
Organize evidence into a logical argument.
Students are also given a transcript of the Ted Talk to aid in searching for evidence.
Key Standards Supported
Reading Informational Text
Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).
Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.