I recently started teaching rhetorical analysis to my sophomores. This unit precedes our research paper, and so one of the goals of my rhetorical analysis unit is to help students become critical readers. I want my students to be able to read a complex text and know a few things within their first read: I want them to know if it is a credible source, I want them to know the author’s purpose, and I want them to begin thinking about why the text is effective.
When I teach rhetorical analysis, I also teach the rhetorical précis. This four-sentence writing task is quite difficult for students, especially when they are so used to summarizing a text and its main points rather than how an author crafts his or her argument.
Since this writing task is so complicated, I scaffold my instruction so that students gradually ease into writing their own précis. The first part of the scaffold is writing a class précis. It is a fun and engaging activity that takes about two 60-minute class periods. To prepare for the activity, I dedicate one piece of chart paper for each class, and I label each sentence on the paper using sticky notes. After we finish writing a class précis, I display the class précis on the wall for students to reference later.
After reviewing the précis (I’ve found that this is the best online resource for writing a précis), we begin. I first have my students work in groups to write one sentence at a time on a collaborative Google Doc that everyone can edit. I take the best parts of each team’s sentence to formulate the winning sentence. To begin this process, we first write a class précis. I already seat my students in groups of six students at their tables, and so they work together in their teams to draft a team sentence. As my students are working on a collaborative document, I visit each table and explain what they are doing well, and I also explain how the team can improve its sentence.
Once we have a winning sentence, a student volunteer writes the sentence on the chart paper. We go through this process for each sentence -focusing on one sentence at a time until the class has written one précis. At the end of the activity, I read the précis aloud to the class. My students are usually pretty impressed with their writing, and I am, too!
Here is a sample of the Google Doc I use in my classroom. Since this is a Google Doc, you can edit it after you make your copy.
I hope that you and your students love this activity. It’s a fun, hands-on, engaging lesson that authentically helps students learn how to write a rhetorical précis.
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