Rhetoric in Spoken Word: Analysis, Response, Writing, and Speaking for Change

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two voiceOur seventh grade class began the final quarter of our year together with a closer look at rhetoric, specifically how a speaker earns the audience’s attention and trust (ethos), how a speaker moves an audience to feel (pathos), and how the speaker persuades and teaches the audience with jargon, facts, examples in the hopes that those who listen will consider the issue in a new way or be moved to act (logos).

Rhetorical Analysis and Response

We began with spoken word pieces using the rhetorical triangle as a way of analyzing the text and the speaker. Students drew a triangle in their notebooks to capture details of ethos, pathos, logos, and then they wrote responses on our class blog:

Rhetorical Triangle:


One student’s response to “Touchscreen”:

Marshall explores the social issue of technology. He says it is making us less human and I mostly agree with him. He says,”doubled over we used to sit in tree tops til we swung down and stood upright, then someone slipped a disc; and now we are doubled over at desktops.” This is strong but I do not agree with him on this statement. I believe that nature and being outside is still something kids with all forms of technology do. I spent days in the Summer outside from 12:00 to 8:00 playing basketball with my friends. This is something that will never be lost in humans. However I agree when he says, “I update my status…to prove I am still breathing” This is true to some people. Just being on Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat is a way that they want people to realize that they exist and they still are here. That is another issue that should be talked about. The influence to be on social media is the real problem in most cases.

This poem gives me very mixed emotions. While I believe that technology has a very big part in todays society and some people rely on it for everything. I still don’t believe the issue has become crucial. It will be a big problem later but right now I believe that I am still human and I don’t always sit, “doubled over at desktops.” So the world is relying more on technology than before but is that really a bad thing? We can interact with family from across states. We can get information that can save lives. We can live longer! Most importantly I think technology itself is improving the human race. Medicine, Security, Money managing. All of these things are the backbone of our entire life and technology is improving them. So maybe it isn’t that bad after all. Marshall did do a great job on this poem and it does make myself think if I rely on technology as much as he says. He is making the issue talked about.

Rhetorical Triangle:

Rhetorical Analysis, "Knock, Knock"

One student’s response:

This poem is an example of what racism can do, and what racism did to families. Took a father from his son, and a son from his father. I’m inferring that the reason his father was put in jail had to do with the fact that he was African American,  “knock,knock down doors of opportunity for the lost brilliance of the black men that crowd these cells.” In another part he also says “knock knock, down doors of racism and poverty that I could not.” and “knock, knock with diligence for the sake of your children.” These are not his father’s words, yet they explain clearly what every parent wants for their child. To stand tall against those who push you down, and change what they could not, so they do not have to suffer as their parents did. This was the desire of many African Americans during times when racism was at a peak, and I think Daniel Beaty’s explanation of it was very good.

This poem made me appreciate the age I was born in even more, that no longer is racism a extreme as it was in that time, although sadly, it still exists. It also made me realize that as the poem said, “…we are our fathers’ sons and daughters, but we are not their choices. But despite their absences, we are still here still alive, still breathing with the power to change the world…” We may not all have our parents. We may not all have completed families. But we can still make a difference. And that is a powerful thing.

Rhetorical Triangle:

Rhetorical Triangle, "Hir"

One student’s response:

I think the narrator feels that they are not accepted in this world, and I feel bad for this person, because they do not have the courage to speak up, and say they are present in the classroom. I also feel that this person is being dehumanized for being transgendered. I feel this way, because it says, ” Sometimes she wishes she could rip the skin off her back.” Also because of the line, ” Every moment of everyday feels trapped in the flesh of a stranger.” Which leads me to believe that this person hates themself.

At one point, the narrator says, ” And God combined the two genders and put me in this body transgendered, I’m here so quit talking about me like I’m not here.” This shows that the narrator started to feel courage to show that they’re present in the class.

What I think about this question as it relates to the poem, is ” What do transgendered people really go through emotionally?” Because I feel that the authors made this, because they want the audience to acknowledge others, and actually try to understand what they are feeling inside.

Lastly, the poem is a window for me, because even though I, myself, is not transgendered, I think that people should treat others the way they want to be treated, and to be kind to others. I also feel that this shows that people can be hurting emotionally, and no one would notice.

One student’s response:

I want to talk about is “what quality is most used  in the spoken word piece: pathos, ethos or logos?” My response to this is that it is definitely pathos. This poem evoked a lot of emotion to me, and even by reading a single paragraph, you get that sense of powerful emotion. At one point, the big brother says, ” You see my pain bursts through my soul like an open sore, and I can’t escape my thoughts because there’s no more open doors.” This shows that the big brother was depressed and caught between himself and his conscience. It is also a good example of a very powerful use of pathos.

What I think about this question as it relates to the spoken word piece is that it is a meaningful question because the spoken word piece has both pathos and ethos incorporated, but it is pretty definite that the stronger quality is pathos.

The spoken word piece is a window to me because I have not experienced something like this that has been personal. I can kind of  relate because it was in Chicago and that is part of our community in a way. I was really affected by this poem because I thought a lot about how the little boy was affected by the issue surrounding violence. This piece is definitely not cliche because it has an originality when it comes to pathos, and because of that, I would not change anything about it.

We read the text. We listened to the voices performing the words. We watched the performances. Students knew that these texts were powerful on the page, but the speaker mattered even more so. And as we moved from the single- voiced pieces to the multi-voiced pieces, students realized that the additional voices impacted the message. This rhetorical strategy evoked empathy in the speaker, which the audience felt, and in considering points of view, the speaker showed attention to the different experiences and implications of the issue.

Writing and Speaking for Change

Students sharing poetry.
Students sharing poetry.

The next step was for students to select a current event issue of concern to them –animal rights, health, body image,restorative justice, immigration, environment, marriage equality, refugees — and write a multi-voiced poem. To begin, students partnered up to do a rhetorical analysis of news article (we used articles from NEWs ELA), identifying the jargon and logos used in that article. Then, students collaborated to create a multi-voiced poem using the jargon and logos but to do so in the voice of stakeholders in the issue. By considering the points of view of those affected in the issue, students exposed points of view as a method to convey the dimensions of the issue and evoke pathos in the audience.  Capturing how different stakeholders would use the jargon and logos illuminates the complexity of the issue and evokes pathos (and hopefully consciousness). Finally, we held a performance day where students performed their multi-voiced piece. The audience took notes on the jargon that showed ethos in the speaker, the logos that was most convincing, and the pathos or the aspects of the piece that most appealed to their hearts.

Two seventh grade students read an article from News ELA, “Supreme Court’s order expands same sex marriage.” Here is what they wrote. You can hear their reading of this piece above in the audio title, “Marriage for All: Imagining a Wedding.”

The information that the author emphasized in the article, was the information on what the Supreme Court had decided on whether gay marriage should be allowed in states. It also had a lot of information on the people supporting gay marriage, like Evan Wolfson, and people opposing gay marriage, like Ed Whelan. In contrast, the information that we emphasized in this poem, was about what it is like to be gay and imagining a wedding when it is not an idea accepted by society or one’s parents, so it contributes to the main idea of the article relating same sex marriage but goes into a more personal story consider other points of view.

“Marriage for All: Imagining a Wedding”

SKYLER: I can feel myself hyperventilating, closer and closer to entering my panic zone.  I approached the kitchen unwillingly. I am afraid to tell my mother who I really am, a gay girl in ninth grade. Mom, Mom?

JANET: I turn around, as calm as the weather outdoors. What is it Skyler? If you have something to say, it’s best to tell me now. I study her facial expression, which is the opposite of mine.

SKYLER: I know I have something to say, but my mouth doesn’t cooperate. Instead, my whole body malfunctions like a broken computer. My hands are shaking and my heart is pounding. She doesn’t know I’m gay. I wanted to tell you something you need to know about Me.

JANET: I already know what you’re going to say. I saw your diary on the ground, and I picked it up because I was sweeping.

SKYLER: My eyes start to get teary and salty teardrops began to flow down my cheeks like waterfalls. PLEASE! Please don’t think differently of me Mom!

JANET: Since it was open, I began to flip through some pages, and I came across a list of crushes. I also noticed they were all females.I know that you’re gay Skyler, and that you wanted to marry one of these ladies when you’re older. I won’t allow this to go on any longer! I don’t want to hear it! This is exactly the kind of thing that I would want to avoid.

SKYLER: I flinch and recoil like a spanked puppy at the word,gay. I start to wail loudly, and I believe that my mother doesn’t accept me, and thinks I’m the most disgusting thing she’s ever heard.I run out of the kitchen and into my room, and I slam it shut behind me.

JANET: I know that you’re gay Skyler.

SKYLER: I put my hands on my face and dig my fingernails into my cheeks, screaming and wishing that my conscience would stop tormenting me with those horrible words. I grab my diary off my bed and rip out every page and I tear them apart. I’m disgusting! Horrid!

JANET: I know that you’re gay Skyler.

SKYLER: Mom! It’s not my fault! I was made this way! I didn’t choose to be gay! I just like the girls at my school!

JANET: I know that you’re gay Skyler.

SKYLER: I rock back and forth on my bed, my eyes red and puffy, my cheeks wrecked from the marks I had imprinted into them, saggy like deflated balloons. 

JANET: I know that you’re gay Skyler.

SKYLER: I whimper and my heart says to apologize to her. To apologize for even being gay in the first place.I cry because our state forbids gay marriage, even though I was planning to get married. I long to say sorry..

JANET: I long to say sorry to my only daughter. A mother should always love and accept their children, no matter who they are, whether they are an accurate mistake or a fine mess, like Skyler. I long to say sorry.

SKYLER: I long to say sorry.

JANET: I long to say sorry.

SKYLER: I long to say sorry.

JANET: I rush out of the kitchen, my heart guiding me towards the path of cleanliness and forgiveness.

SKYLER: I rush out of my room, my heart guiding me towards the path of hope and acceptance.

BOTH: I’m sorry! I love you!


After all the students shared their multi-voiced pieces, I asked them what they learned about rhetoric. The students knew that jargon and logos were the foundation of rhetoric. The speaker has to use the words of the issue and include facts, details, and stories that persuade the listeners to consider the logic of the cause and its impact on our world. But the people saying the words, the points of view of the words matter, too.  Students recognized that a piece strong in pathos can go far to make the audience feel outrage or sadness and forget about the logos and ethos. (Several students noted Trump is strong on the pathos but lacks in logos.) Still, a piece strong in ethos and logos can fail to move people if the speaker does not attend to pathos. The importance of rhetoric, however, is the cause. How can we best persuade people to think, believe, and act? And, as the audience, how might we be manipulated?

I am not sure if the spoken word piece or multi-voiced poems will change how students act in their lives, but I think they will remember the voices that were not recorded in the new articles but spoken in our seventh grade classroom that day we spoke our multi-voiced pieces.

Next up, political speech analyses.