Rhetoric Challenge (Pretests as Planning Tools)


As a new student teacher tasked with teaching a unit about how authors of informational texts use rhetoric to advance their messages, I knew I would have to gain an understanding of my students’ starting knowledge of rhetorical terms and abilities to analyze texts rhetorically. While I had some existing assessment data to work with, the assignments either targeted students’ literary analysis skills or provided evidence of understanding of rhetoric from early in the year. It offered me no conception of how well my students retained their knowledge of rhetorical strategies from the first semester or applied that information to understand informational texts. 

The Rhetoric Challenge assessment allowed me to pretest students’ mastery of rhetorical strategies and persuasive analysis. Each day, students spent half the class period watching a portion of Twelve Angry Men. Then, they worked in groups to analyze, in any format they choose, how the characters used rhetoric to persuade others to agree with their opinions. Because I used this assessment to pretest students’ abilities, I graded the assessment for completion. The students in each class who most thoroughly analyzed the characters’ rhetoric won an exemption from the rhetorical analysis portion of their Independent Reading Project.

The assessment instructions section of this post demonstrates how I use clear, active statements and prompting questions to direct students’ work. In the assessment data section, I describe how students’ products provided me information about their levels of mastery, which I used to produce unit lesson plans to bridge what they could do with the skills necessary for completing the summative assessment successfully. In the feedback section, I include examples of the emails I sent to winning groups, which demonstrates how I highlight students’ strengths in my interactions with them.

Assessment Instructions


Reading- 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.
Speaking and Viewing- Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, intended audience, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
Language- Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level.

Content Objective: I can identify rhetorical devices in a piece of informational writing and argue if the rhetorical devices I identified do or do not serve the author’s purpose for writing. 

Language Objective: I can use declarative sentences to argue if a rhetorical device supports a text’s purpose, with content-specific rhetorical terms (allusion, simile, narrative, etc.) and the general-academic terms: occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and tone.

Function: Argue
Forms: Declarative Sentences
Vocabulary: content-specific rhetorical terms (allusion, simile, narrative, etc.) and the general-academic terms: occasion, audience, purpose, subject, and tone.

Discussion of Assessment Data

Students produced a variety of products to demonstrate how they understood rhetoric functioning within the film. Prize-winning products included:

  • A presentation that featured forty-seven correctly identified and thoroughly-analyzed uses of rhetoric.
  • A fifty-minute podcast through which a group of five students correctly identified and thoroughly-analyzed fifty-three uses of rhetoric. 
  • A mock news report through which three students correctly identified and thoroughly-analyzed fifty uses of rhetoric. 

From the assessment data, I understood that I would need to build activities into the unit to help students review a few terms they often misidentified (assessed through the Social Worker’s Performance Task) and differentiate between analyzing how rhetoric functions and summarizing how rhetoric appears (assessed through the Governor’s Budget Fiasco). 

Feedback (Communication to Winners)

Below, I have included the text of emails I sent to students to notify them that they won the challenge.