Teaching Ethos with No Impact Man

Colin Beavan makes an ethical appeal during a public talk


Stephanie Rosen

Image Credit: 

Jimmy Gardner

This semester I’ve had my students teach each other key terms and concepts in rhetoric during weekly student presentations. After each presentation, I plan an activity designed to put the concepts just learned into practice, often using a text I provide or one from their research projects. I designed one such activity on “Ethos in No Impact Man” with specific attention to problems former students have had with ethical appeals. Because many students wrote incomplete analyses of rhetorical appeals, I provided guided questions which elucidated three main parts of successful rhetorical analysis. Because some students misunderstood altogether the concept of rhetorical appeal, I put students in groups so that any major questions could be answered by a classmate. And because students sometimes struggled with texts that made less explicit rhetorical appeals, I provided a text which makes many obvious ethical appeals (so many that, although each group was only assigned a two-page excerpt, no group had trouble finding examples). 

These activities are often a lively portion of our class meetings, so students were already enthused when they settled down to the task. I was pleased to find that groups worked well together and stayed focused for the ten minutes they were given. The guiding questions, plus the assignment to synthesize their findings in a few sentences, gave them plenty to do. Furthermore, the fact that their sentences would go on a wiki page being projected on a screen for all the class to see kept their writing at a high level.

The most interesting part of this exercise was the presentation at the end, in which each group read its findings aloud for the class. Because everyone was analyzing the ethos of the same author, hearing all the groups’ findings yielded a very thorough and complete sense of Beavan’s ethos in this chapter and the purpose that ethos serves for the arguments he makes in his book. Sharing our findings this way also showed students how they could build up a more sophisticated understanding of an author’s ethos in their own analyses (in their essays) by analyzing multiple examples of ethical appeals in the same text.

This activity, fairly simple in assignment and structure, was successful precisely because of its repetitiveness and accumulation. Students need to hear many examples of good rhetorical analysis in order to understand how to write such analysis, just as they need a demonstration that the quantity of evidence can actually change the quality of the claims it supports.


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