Archive for the ‘Rhetorical Situation’ Category

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Free, Classroom-Ready Visual Texts from CreativeCloud

posted: 9.29.09 by Traci Gardner

Have you ever wondered what would happen If You Printed The Internet? According to the CreativeCloud site, you’d need 700 square miles of paper. No word on how many reams that would be, but it’s certainly part of a great visual argument.

At first glance, the page is just a clever meme, rethinking the size of the Internet in more familiar terms. The techniques that the author, identified as Tom, uses however are well worth a second look. The presentation lends itself to some great discussion about visual arguments. You might try these discussion questions with students after reading through the series of slides:

  • How did the author make certain words stand out? What makes them “pop”?
  • How does word choice matter? For instance, why is it “If YOU Printed the Internet”? Why use that pronoun?
  • How are images used? Why did the author choose general clip art images?
  • What underlying arguments does the series of slides present? What points is the author trying to make?
  • Why use comparisons to make this argument clear to the audience?
  • Does the presentation work? Would it work as well in another kind of document (e.g., an essay, a podcast)?

After exploring the presentation, you could ask students to make similar visual arguments on topics of their own choice.

Don’t stop with If You Printed The Internet either. There are a number of great resources on the CreativeCloud site. Be sure that you consider these other visual texts that can be used in class:

30 Sensational Print Ads From Around The World
Visit this treasure trove of unusual advertisements for outstanding examples of ad analysis and visual argument. The images are scanned from print advertisement. Some may be inappropriate for the school where you teach, so be sure to preview them in advance and choose those you want to use. After exploring how these ads work, students might look for other sensational ads in magazines they read or compare these contemporary ads to ads from the 30s to the 60s.
6 Massive Old School Printers (& How They Were Advertised)
Most of the students we teach today always thought of computers and printers as something that you could have in your home. Challenge them to compare today’s ads for printers and other technology to these great ads from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. According to a recent New York Times article, today’s technology ads focus more on benefits and friendly language than complex specs. Students can compare how benefits and specs were discussed in these older ads to the ads of today. If those ideas don’t pique your interest, these technology ads are ripe for discussions of race, class, and gender.
10 Beautiful Illustrations From Seriously Rare Books
Ask students to consider what makes the illustrations beautiful and what they add to the texts. Challenge students to visit the campus library and search out additional illustrations that they would add to the collection, or ask them to update the collection to show 10 beautiful illustrations from 20th or 21st century books.

There’s much more on the CreativeCloud site, and additional resources seem to be posted every month. Be sure to check the site periodically for new materials you can use in the classroom. Even if you don’t find something for class, you’ll find some interesting images like these 9 Amazing 3D Pavement Paintings or the 30 Amazing Pictures of Forest Fires.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Document Design, Popular Culture, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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More Resources for Poster Analysis

posted: 9.23.09 by Traci Gardner

Earlier this week, I shared 16 War Poster Sites for Persuasive Analysis, but I know you need some additional resources before you can ask students to work through a poster independently. That’s today’s focus.

First, for a general overview of how visual documents work, visit the Purdue OWL’s Visual Rhetoric: Analyzing Visual Documents. The site focuses on how to write an analytical essay, but the general information will work for analytical class discussion as well.

To practice in class, use the visual analysis exercises at Bedford/St. Martin’s Re: Writing site. The Preview Exercises on Proximity from the ix visual exercises CD-ROM discusses how grouping and spacing elements in a visual design contribute to the overall message that a text communicates.

If you’d like a structured list of questions, you have several options. You can try the Document Analysis Questions from ReadWriteThink, the War Poster Analysis from the Truman Presidential Library, or the Poster Analysis Worksheet from the National Archive. All three sites outline questions that students can use or their own or that you could use to lead class analysis.

For classroom discussion, I find the analysis questions can make things a bit too stiff and scripted. I devised a mnemonic to guide our conversations. Once we’ve worked through all five letters, I know we’ve touched on all the aspects of a basic analysis:

Mnemonic Example Discussion Questions
W: Words What words are there? What is their tone? How do they relate to the other information on the poster?
I: Images How do the photos and illustrations contribute to the message? Are they polished? Formal? Informal?
L: Layout How does the arrangement of the words and images work? How are the components grouped? How do they coordinate or contrast?
C: Color What colors are used on the poster? How do the colors affect the message?
O: Overall What is the overall impression of the poster? How do the different parts combine to communicate a message? How effective is the poster at its purpose?

In addition to working for more informal discussion scenarios, these areas that the mnemonic covers, like the Preview Exercises on Proximity, are more general than the structured lists. You can work through the different areas of WILCO with any poster (not just war posters) as well as with other visual documents like PowerPoint slides, billboards, or Web pages.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Document Design, Popular Culture, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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16 War Poster Sites for Persuasive Analysis

posted: 9.22.09 by Traci Gardner

unclesamWhat’s the most famous poster in the world? Many would say it’s James Montgomery Flagg’s 1916 Uncle Sam poster. Since World War I, Flagg’s poster has been persuading men and women to join the U.S. Army.

Posters supporting America’s war efforts demonstrate basic persuasive techniques in direct ways that students can readily identify. The messages behind the posters are rarely abstract. The National Archives exhibit Powers of Persuasion, quoting the U.S. Office of Facts and Figures’s How to Make Posters That Will Help Win The War, explains why: “War posters that are symbolic do not attract a great deal of attention, and they fail to arouse enthusiasm. Often, they are misunderstood by those who see them.”

What does the Uncle Sam poster do to attract attention and arouse enthusiasm? The answer lies in Flagg’s understanding of visual rhetoric. It’s based on understanding the use of color, text, symbols, and illustrations. You can step through an analysis of the poster with the ReadWriteThink Analyzing a World War II Poster Interactive, either working together as a class or having students work individually. The tool is free.

Don’t limit your analysis to the Uncle Sam poster, though. Just visit any of the fifteen sites listed below. In addition to recruiting posters, you’ll find posters encouraging people to support American troops, asking women to enter the workforce, and urging citizens not to spread rumors. There is some overlap among these free sites, but each offers some unique material.

  1. “A Summons to Comradeship”: World War I and II Posters and Postcards from the University of Minnesota
  2. The Art of War from the National Archives of England, Wales and the United Kingdom
  3. The Art of War: World War II Posters from West Texas A&M University
  4. Mobilizing for War: Poster Art of World War II from the Truman Presidential Library
  5. Posters on the American Home Front (1941-45) from the Smithsonian Institute
  6. Rosie Pictures: Select Images Relating to American Women Workers During World War II from the Library of Congress
  7. Sowing the Seeds of Victory: the World War I Poster Collection from Indianapolis Public Librarty
  8. Unifying a Nation: World War II Poster from the New Hampshire State Library
  9. U.S. Navy Recruiting Posters from the U.S. Navy
  10. The War on the Walls from Temple University
  11. War Posters Collection from the Enoch Pratt Free Library
  12. War Poster Collection from the University of Washington
  13. War Posters from the Boston Public Library
  14. War Posters from the Ohio Historical Society
  15. World War II Poster Collection from Northwestern University
  16. World War II Posters from the University of North Texas

Watch later this week for some analysis tools you can use with these sites.

Comments: (1)
Categories: Assignment Idea, Document Design, Popular Culture, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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Using Current Events to Discuss Writing and Visual Rhetoric

posted: 9.17.09 by Traci Gardner

On the local news tonight, I heard a story about a letter sent to all Virginia Tech students outlining the precautions being taken on campus to avoid an outbreak of swine flu. On the other side of the U.S., Washington State University reported that 2500 students have contracted the H1N1 virus since classes started in August. Somewhere on your campus, you’ve probably heard or seen similar news and advice on avoiding swine flu.

All these stories make excellent texts for the classroom. Obviously, we want to share the information with students to help ensure a healthy fall term for everyone. In the composition classroom, these news stories and public notices also give us current texts we can dissect for use of persuasive techniques and visual rhetoric. Combined with similar materials from the Spanish Flu outbreak of 1918, these materials give students the chance to consider how rhetorical techniques are adapted to fit the times.

I’ve gathered online resources that range from library exhibitions on the 1918 pandemic to current U.S. government materials on the H1N1 virus. You can supplement these materials with information distributed on your own campus and in the local community as well as from the Reuters Worldwide Coverage on H1N1. Here are four ideas for classroom activities to get you started:

  1. Much of the way we think about global pandemic, whether the spread of the H1N1 virus today or the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, is shaped by materials distributed by the government. Explore how these government sites present information on the 1918 pandemic: The Great Pandemic: The United States in 1918–1919, Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the US Navy, and The Deadly Virus. Ask students to consider how the different sites blend historical facts and figures about the 1918 pandemic with more personal reports of the effects of the disease. Have students consider why these government sites exist and how they relate to the public health efforts related to the current H1N1 virus.
  2. Read these personal recollections of the 1918 pandemic, all in the form of transcribed oral histories, focusing on their use of specific details. Ask students to identify the details in the oral histories that make the stories vivid and authentic and to discuss what the specific details add to the oral histories that more general information would not have captured.
  3. Focus on visual rhetoric by looking at the posters and public service announcements. Use the Visual Rhetoric resources from the Purdue OWL to guide your exploration. For a historical twist, compare the techniques used in posters urging health and safety during the 1918 pandemic to those created for the H1N1 virus.
    As part of your exploration, students might design their own posters or videos.

  4. Tap the language expertise of ESL students you teach. Ask second language speakers to focus on how the same message is communicated in different languages. Are there significant differences? What cultural information must change to communicate the same basic message. Use the Stop Germs, Stay Healthy! posters from King County in Washington or the World Health Organization Documents on Pandemic (H1N1) 2009 to start discussion.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Campus Issues, Document Design, ESL/multilingual writers, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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Rebutter in Chief

posted: 8.12.09 by Nick Carbone

This post by Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly blog features excerpts from a New Hampshire Town Hall conducted by President Obama.

It occurs to me, on reading Benen’s summary and having listened to some of Obama’s press conferences and speeches, that Obama’s legal training combined with his writing ability make him a master of rebutting the critiques of his policies and positions through explicit counter-arguments, no matter–in the case of the illogical and demagogic claim that the health plan under debate in Congress calls for “death camps”–how disingenuous and dishonest the criticism is.

Compare, for example, Obama’s response to the “death panel” claim to one of the most prominent assertions of that claim, Sarah Palin’s.

Palin wrote in Facebook:

The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.

Health care by definition involves life and death decisions. Human rights and human dignity must be at the center of any health care discussion.

What is the logic of her paragraph? What is the train of thought? Can it be mapped by students? Are her claims fair? Is there a “death panel” clause in any of the proposed bills now in Congress?

What is the purpose of the final two sentences? They are statements no one will disagree with; is she using them to assert that the plans in Congress don’t care about dignity?

With those questions in mind, now look at Obama’s explicit rebuttal of this argument as represented by Palin. Obama said in New Hampshire:

“The rumor that’s been circulating a lot lately is this idea that somehow the House of Representatives voted for ‘death panels’ that will basically pull the plug on grandma because we’ve decided that we don’t — it’s too expensive to let her live anymore. And there are various — there are some variations on this theme. It turns out that I guess this arose out of a provision in one of the House bills that allowed Medicare to reimburse people for consultations about end-of-life care, setting up living wills, the availability of hospice, et cetera. So the intention of the members of Congress was to give people more information so that they could handle issues of end-of-life care when they’re ready, on their own terms. It wasn’t forcing anybody to do anything. This is I guess where the rumor came from.”The irony is that actually one of the chief sponsors of this bill originally was a Republican — then House member, now senator, named Johnny Isakson from Georgia — who very sensibly thought this is something that would expand people’s options. And somehow it’s gotten spun into this idea of ‘death panels.’ I am not in favor of that. So just I want to clear the air here.”

Obama first categorically rejects the charge that he wants “death panels,” and then looks to the bill in question, to the item in the bill his opponents have distorted, and explains its origins.

How does the use of logic and evidence in the two arguments compare? Which statement is more factually accurate?

Questions such as these make the current debate on health care in our country a useful one for studying and analyzing argument and rhetoric. It might also lead to a good discussion of civil discourse and how to tell it from inflammatory discourse and violent discourse.

Comments: (2)
Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Genre, Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation
Read All Nick Carbone

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4.5 Minute Lesson on Audience, Purpose, and Voice

posted: 7.29.09 by Traci Gardner

Too many times I’ve seen students’ eyes glaze over when I explain how audience, purpose, and voice matter in composition. No more. From now on, I’ll let The Wicked Sick Project video take care of this lesson.

The short video, which Chris Boese shared on Facebook, shows two employees from Australian PR firm George Patterson Y&R who buy a generic bike on eBay and then write a new ad that sells the bike for 5 times what they paid for it. The only difference was the description of the bike in the eBay ad.

In their entry for PR Lions category of the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, the company explains their goal for the project:

Every advertising agency around the world is locked in a constant battle of creativity vs effectiveness. Some clients don’t believe in the value of a creative idea. Instead of just TELLING our clients that creativity works, we decided to PROVE it to them.

So the employees set off with the basic plan of “Show, Don’t Tell” and created a short video that documents their effort. The eBay ad that they created demonstrates a clear understanding of audience, purpose, and voice.

Here’s the video. It does include a couple of words used that the MPAA would label as “one of the harsher sexually-derived words,” and there’s a derogatory use of the word gay. I realize it won’t be appropriate for every classroom. That said, I would probably ask students to discuss why the employees included those problem words as part of the overall exploration of how the employees’ voice and choice of details builds their ethos with their audience.

The eBay ad is not the academic language of the classroom. It’s not even what I’d call great design for an online document (please, fewer lines in all caps!). That’s okay though. The ad wasn’t written for a college composition or professional writing assignment. It was written to sell a bike at a profit, and it does a stunning job of accomplishing that goal.

Show this video to students, and in 4.5 minutes, you’ll show them that shaping language for a particular audience and goal really does make a difference—in some cases, an especially profitable one!

Comments: (1)
Categories: Popular Culture, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology
Read All Traci Gardner

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Use Newsreel Videos for Background and Analysis

posted: 7.29.09 by Traci Gardner

If you’re looking for historical videos to use in the classroom, HBO Archives has a great new resource available for you — all you’ll need to do is create a free login. The ASCD community blog explains:

The March of Time newsreel series, produced from 1935 to 1967 by Time Inc., is now online in its entirely, courtesy of the HBO Archives. All films are free, but registration is required. They were first shown in movie theaters and on television and were more long-form than typical Hollywood-produced newsreels.

The newsreels, primarily dating from the 1930s, include historical events, cultural happenings, and biographical profiles. Each one holds possibilities for the classroom. Here are some examples and suggestions for their use:

There are dozens of videos on the site, and no matter which newsreel you choose, you’ll find a snapshot of life in America or around the world. It’s a handy collection with limitless possibilities for composition and rhetoric teachers.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Literature, Popular Culture, Teaching Advice, Teaching with Technology, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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Notetaking for Visual Learners (and Everyone Else)

posted: 3.25.09 by Traci Gardner


SXSWi 2009: Sketchnotes
Originally uploaded by Mike Rohde

Someone else’s notebook usually leaves me B-O-R-E-D, but the ReadWriteWeb post on Mike Rohde‘s notes from South by Southwest Interactive has me glued to the screen.

I want to read every image (and fortunately you can see them one-by-one on Flickr). I’ve considered printing them all out so I can add my own annotations. If I were a better Delicious tagger, I’d add them all and mark them up so I could find them later.

Why am I so entertained by scans of a plain, old-fashioned notebook? Some of the notes make me giggle. Take, for instance, “Kindle is like a cassette for an ATARI 400” (on Flickr). “Exactly,” I want to shout through my snickering.

Other notes impress me with how well they capture what appear to be the key events and comments at different SxSW presentations. Consider “CONNECTIVITY will be an indicator of poverty rather than an indicator of wealth” (on Flickr). Yup. We technorhetoricians have been saying that for over a decade. And how about “The minute you open up Microsoft Word you are constrained” (on Flickr). No argument there.

More than anything though, it’s that the notebook is so real and honest. No question that Rohde (the author) was there, that I’m jealous of his skill, and that I wish we could send him out to document CCCC, WPA Conference, and the Computers and Writing Conference. If I can’t be at a conference, I want a notebook like his to show me what I missed.

How would you use these great notes in the classroom? It doesn’t matter if the topic of the pages isn’t relevant to what the class is studying. Use the notebook to talk about techniques. The pages are a treasure chest of ideas for visual cues, attention-getter techniques, and readability. Together and in small groups, students can identify techniques that help make the ideas clear and concise.

And that’s not all. Ask students to notice the kinds of things Rohde records. For instance, have them consider when he writes down direct quotations and when he paraphrases or summarizes. Rohde’s notes are a great example for those embarking on research projects.

Finally, you might encourage students to recast notes from a recent class they’ve attended into a format similar to one of the pages in Rohde’s notebook. If students aren’t comfortable with paper and pen, suggest they try playing with layouts and style options in a word processor. Suggest clip art illustrations for those uncomfortable with doodling their own caricatures. Ideally, provide some other options that allow for different learning styles—students might create podcasts, videos, slide shows, or posters, for instance.

No matter what they come up with, it’s bound to be more fun than the customary notetaking we see in the classroom!

Comments: (1)
Categories: Document Design, Learning Styles, Professional Conferences, Student Success, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Traci Gardner

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5 ways I approach visual argument in the classroom

posted: 4.17.08 by Barclay Barrios

Visual argument (or, more generally, visual rhetoric) seems to be an increasingly important part of the composition classroom. I’ve never taught a class devoted to visual argument, but I have given visual argument assignments and I often ask students to consider the role that the visual plays in culture. There are of course whole textbooks on visual argument, but since the visual plays only a supporting role in my course, I tend to use a variety of websites instead. For example:

1. PostSecret
PostSecret is my favorite way to have students think about visual argument. This public art project started when its founder, Frank Warren, invited people to design and submit postcards that revealed secrets their authors had never shared before. Each Sunday, Warren posts a new set of secret-revealing postcards; in the process, he offers a wide-ranging display of visual argument, as each postcard design reflects the secret it contains. I’ve found that students can analyze these visual texts readily, providing them good practice at reading, decoding, and then designing their own visual arguments.

2. Ikea
You may be familiar with this home furnishings company from Sweden if you’re lucky enough to have an Ikea store near you (we’re getting ours here in South Florida this summer—yay!). But even if you’re never heard of Ikea, the company’s website offers a great way to explore cultural assumptions about design. That’s because it has separate sites for countries around the world. Ask students to explore some of these different sites (such as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia), taking note of how language and culture influence visual argument and design. Ask them then to view the site for the United States and look for the same sorts of cultural assumptions. This assignment, of course, could be done with the main site of many global corporations. I choose Ikea to help students see that globalization is not purely an American phenomenon.

3. The Ebay Conceptual Art Gallery
Justin Jorgensen turns photographs of items auctioned on Ebay into a kind of found art. Have students explore the site and consider questions of both visual design/arrangement and art. Then have them explore Ebay itself. What’s the relationship between design and sales? What’s the economic impact of a good visual argument?

4. MySpace
Chances are your students are already familiar with MySpace. Many students have pages on this popular social networking site, using it to keep in touch with friends old and new. Yet most the pages on MySpace are designed extremely poorly. But in doing so, they also make important visual arguments about the person making the page. Ask students to locate or bring in examples of overly designed or badly designed pages. How does the design reflect and represent the author of the page? How does effective visual argument diverge from effective visual design?

5. Comeeko
Comeeko allows you to upload photos and add captions to create a web-based comic strip. Students can use this tool to create compositions in the style of graphic novels.

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Categories: Argument, Document Design, Learning Styles, Popular Culture, Teaching with Technology, Visual Argument, Visual Rhetoric
Read All Barclay Barrios

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Stop Dihydrogen Monoxide!

posted: 4.14.08 by Barclay Barrios

As an exercise in getting students to evaluate Web sources with a critical eye, have them review the Web site for the Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division. This site details the dangers of this chemical, which include death from inhalation and severe burns from its gaseous form. The punch line is that the chemical is water. See if your students can decode this hoax and then prompt a discussion of the reliability of Web sources in research projects.

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, Finding Sources, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology
Read All Barclay Barrios