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Rhetoric Definition

Rhetoric is using language in an effective manner with the aim to persuade or motivate an audience. Rhetoric is applicable to both speaking and writing.


In high school, the ELA Common Core State Standards require students to develop formal writing skills, creating essays and arguments that are well-thought-out and syntactically varied. They also require students to effectively use persuasive writing strategies to defend a claim or point of view.

A great way to enhance students' understanding of effective arguments is to teach the Aristotelian concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. This requires a basic working knowledge of rhetoric. A key to strong persuasive writing is the ability to dissect and validate, or debunk, the rhetoric of other arguments.

The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

What is Ethos?

Ethos refers to the credibility of a speaker or writer. It establishes trust and authority on a particular topic. The definition of ethos focuses on character, expertise, reliability, and reputation. When a speaker utilizes ethos, they demonstrate their qualifications, morals, and knowledge to influence an audience.

For example, Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech exemplifies strong ethos. As an influential civil rights activist, MLK established his reputation and character. His credibility compelled audiences nationwide to support the civil rights movement. MLK highlighted his educated background and referred to respected documents like the Constitution to showcase his expertise on racial injustice. This enhanced his ethical appeal.

Ethos appeals to:

  • Intelligence
  • Virtue
  • Morals
  • Perception of trustworthiness


What is Pathos?

Pathos evokes emotion in an audience to persuade them. The pathos definition involves appealing to sympathies, imagination, and personal connections. Pathos sways an audience by targeting desires, biases, and motivations. Instead of relying solely on statistics, pathos utilizes vivid language, imagery, and metaphors.

In literature, Charles Dickens leveraged pathos effectively in his novels. For example, Oliver Twist depicts the appalling conditions of orphanages and child labor. Dickens magnified feelings of outrage and empathy through emotive descriptions of Oliver's miserable circumstances. This made the public determined to correct social injustices impacting children.

Pathos appeals to:

  • Emotions and feelings
  • Biases and prejudices
  • Senses
  • Motivations


What is Logos?

Logos utilizes facts, data, and logical reasoning to construct a persuasive argument. The logos definition focuses on credibility rooted in rationality rather than emotion. Logos establishes an argument as logical and sound through citing evidence, testimonies, and statistics, and providing context. Unlike pathos, logos avoids sentimentality in favor of objective explanations.

For instance, a scientific paper delivers logos by presenting methodical research and empirical evidence. The paper avoids unverified assumptions or subjective viewpoints. Through precise language and factual details, the author systematically supports their hypothesis with logical analysis of experiments and results. This logos strengthens the paper's central thesis.

Logos utilizes:

  • Evidence
  • Testimony
  • Statistics and Data
  • Universal truths


Rhetorical Strategies and Devices

The successful implementation of ethos, pathos, and logos in writing or speech depends on the effectiveness of different rhetorical strategies. There are many different rhetorical strategies (and rhetorical fallacies!) that can strengthen or weaken an argument. A few of the more familiar strategies to students include:


Rhetorical Questionsencourages audience to think about an obvious answer
Analogyestablishes a more familiar concept to explain a more complicated or remote subject
Rebuttaldisproves or refuses an assertion
Antithesisuses strongly contrasting words, images, or ideas
Parallelismrepeats a grammatical structure to emphasize an important idea
Repetitionrepeats a specific word or phrase to ensure that the audience pays attention
Loaded Wordsuses the connotations of words to play on the audience’s emotions
Restatementexpresses the same idea but in different words to clarify or emphasize
Understatement or Overstatementuse to be ironic, call attention to an idea, or to emphasize an idea through exaggeration


Rhetorical Strategies in Action


By recognizing the tactics of a persuasive argument, students learn to use it themselves and recognize these tactics in daily life. One excellent way to teach and review the concepts of ethos, pathos, and pathos is through a storyboard.


In the following example storyboard, each concept is briefly explained and then shown in action. When students create a definition or example board like this, classroom concepts are reinforced, and students have the chance to demonstrate them creatively.

By incorporating the visual elements of a storyboard as well as text, even students who struggle creating organized written thoughts can demonstrate mastery of the subject. Additionally, teachers can immediately see and respond to inaccuracies, allowing them to use class time to assess and correct, rather than handing back graded work a day or two later.

Using Storyboards In Your Classroom

  • Use storyboards to create advertisements for products using Ethos, Pathos, or Logos to convince potential buyers.
  • Use a storyboard to create an “argument diagram” of a famous speech. Students can break the speech up into tactics, then show an example of those tactics in each cell.
  • Ask students to create a persuasive storyboard about a topic that is important to them. Require them to use one, or all, of the tactics in the rhetorical triangle.
  • Have students collaborate and promote an unpopular school rule, consequence, homework, or even cafeteria food. Have them utilize rhetorical tactics and strategies in their promotion. Having to flip a negative idea into a positive one is also a great way to teach propaganda.
  • Give students an empty storyboard as part of an assessment and ask them to explain and give an example of each: ethos, pathos, logos.


Related Activities

Check out these ethos, pathos, logos activities from our guides on Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, and "Letter from Birmingham Jail".




Tracking Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
As we read and discuss, identify the different examples of ethos, pathos, and logos you come across in the text. Depict these examples in a storyboard with appropriate and accurate art content. Then, provide the quote or a brief summary of the example you are depicting. Your scenes need to be neat, eye-catching, and reflect creativity and care. Please proofread your writing and organize your ideas thoughtfully.
Proficient
33 Points
Emerging
25 Points
Beginning
17 Points
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos
The elements of ethos, pathos, and logos are correctly identified and depicted, and an appropriate quote or summary is provided. There are at least 2 examples provided for each rhetorical element.
Most of the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos are correctly identified and depicted, and an appropriate quote or summary is provided. There are at least 2 examples provided for each rhetorical element.
The elements of ethos, pathos, and logos are incorrectly identified and depicted. Quotes and summaries may be missing or too limited. Only one example may have been provided for each rhetorical element.
Artistic Depictions
The art chosen to depict the scenes are accurate to the work of literature. Time and care is taken to ensure that the scenes are neat, eye-catching, and creative.
The art chosen to depict the scenes should be accurate, but there may be some liberties taken that distract from the assignment. Scene constructions are neat, and meet basic expectations.
The art chosen to depict the scenes is inappropriate. Scene constructions are messy and may create some confusion, or may be too limited.
English Conventions
Ideas are organized. There are few or no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas are mostly organized. There are some grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors.
Ideas may be disorganized or misplaced. Lack of control over grammar, mechanics, and spelling reflect a lack of proofreading.


How to Incorporate Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in Group Discussions and Debates in the Classroom

1

Introduction and Explanation

Begin by introducing ethos, pathos, and logos as rhetorical strategies used to persuade an audience. Explain that incorporating these strategies in group discussions and debates can enhance the effectiveness of arguments and promote critical thinking.

2

Teach the Concepts

Provide clear definitions and examples of ethos, pathos, and logos. Illustrate how each strategy appeals to different aspects of persuasion: ethos focuses on credibility, pathos appeals to emotions, and logos emphasizes logical reasoning.

3

Analyze Real-World Examples

Engage students in analyzing real-world examples of group discussions, debates, or persuasive speeches. Encourage them to identify instances of ethos, pathos, and logos used by the speakers to support their arguments.

4

Practice Identifying Ethos, Pathos, and Logos

Assign group activities or provide sample texts where students can identify and analyze the use of ethos, pathos, and logos. Guide discussions on how the application of these strategies influences the effectiveness and persuasiveness of the arguments presented.

5

Structured Debate or Discussion

Divide students into groups and assign a debate or discussion topic relevant to the curriculum or current events. Instruct each group to incorporate ethos, pathos, and logos into their arguments and encourage them to support their viewpoints with evidence and logical reasoning.

6

Reflection and Feedback

After the debate or discussion, facilitate a reflection session where groups can evaluate their use of ethos, pathos, and logos. Provide constructive feedback on their application of these strategies and encourage students to reflect on how they can improve their persuasive skills in future discussions or debates.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Rhetorical Triangle: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

What is the Rhetorical Triangle?

The Rhetorical Triangle is a framework developed by Aristotle to analyze the elements of persuasive writing and speaking. It consists of three key elements: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker or writer, Pathos appeals to emotions, and Logos appeals to logic.

Why is it important to understand the Rhetorical Triangle?

Understanding the Rhetorical Triangle is essential for effective communication, particularly in persuasive writing and speaking. By analyzing the use of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in an argument, one can identify the strengths and weaknesses of the argument and ultimately develop stronger persuasive writing and speaking skills.

How can the Rhetorical Triangle be applied in the classroom?

The Rhetorical Triangle can be applied in the classroom to teach students how to develop persuasive writing and speaking skills. Teachers can introduce students to the concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos and provide examples of each. Students can then practice identifying these elements in various texts and speeches and apply them in their own writing and speaking.

Find more activities like this in our 6-12 ELA Category!
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