Pennsylvania Homeschoolers

AP* Online Classes

This class was so much fun!  Ms. Rebmann is an excellent writing teacher and does a wonderful job mixing "regular" assignments with exam-prep assignments.  We studied a large variety of literary genres, including essays, plays, nonfiction, speeches, and novels.

Sample "Morning Message": Organization

AP English Language, Maya Inspektor

2/10/2015

 

 This is a sample Morning Message that I wrote for my 2014-15 class. Each morning, I post a Morning Message for my students to read, and this message usually involves a quick response. This message should give you a feel for my instructional style and for the way I help students improve and shape their essays. 

Good morning!

I've graded about half of your Kelley essays, and I've been pleased to see more progress-- most of you are steadily improving your ability to analyze rhetoric.

However, I did notice one pattern in quite a few student essays: quite a few students wrote essays that simply go through Kelley's speech paragraph by paragraph, without any kind of organization or even an introductory paragraph. I realize that I've probably convinced you this is a good idea by suggesting that writing an passage "in order" is a good way to approach it, but controlled organization is key to crafting a strong analysis even if you DO talk about the passage "in order." Even when you talk about the passage in order, YOU should be actively shaping an argument about the way the author uses rhetoric. Many of you seemed to write one paragraph in your essay about each paragraph of Kelley's speech-- that's a strategy that might work ok when you're analyzing a passage with longer, more developed paragraphs, but one that resulted in twelve undeveloped and repetitive paragraphs when applied to Kelley's speech! (Both Ms. Baert and I saw this more than once.) Even when you talk about a passage "in order," look for shifts in meaning or strategy in the passage, trying to chunk it into about three sections. Devote one paragraph of your essay to each of these CHUNKS of the passage. This will enable YOU to control your analysis and draw stronger connections between parts of the passage.

Today and tomorrow, then, I'd like to talk about argument organization-- and even a rhetorical analysis essay is an argument. In writing a rhetorical analysis, your "claim" is your interpretation of the passage's meaning, and the evidence that you draw is entirely from the passage you're analyzing. In an argument essay, of course, your claim and organization are perhaps more obvious, but I'll talk about both in this message.

Most top AP essays follow a broadly similar organization. 

  1. An introductory paragraph that responds to the question asked in the prompt with a developed and specific thesis.
  2. Three or four body paragraphs, which each explore an aspect of the argument introduced in the introduction.
  3. A concluding paragraph that sums up the student's argument as a whole. (Some students successfully introduce new evidence in their conclusion, but they usually end with a sentence that sounds "final" and reflects on the topic as a whole.)

You aren't required to write a five-paragraph essay, but a five-paragraph essay gives you space to develop a complex argument (within time limits!) while still forcing you to ORGANIZE this argument instead of rambling page after page. And, of course, I'm talking five developed paragraphs-- each body paragraph in a top-scoring essay is usually around 200 words. (It's fine for the introduction and conclusion to be shorter.) You don't need to follow this rule rigidly-- I've awarded two 9s so far to this batch of essays, and neither "9" follows these guidelines exactly. Grace Driggers wrote a four-paragraph essay but managed to develop each paragraph powerfully, while Clare Cook wrote seven paragraphs. However, if you're writing a twelve-paragraph essay simply because you're reading a twelve-paragraph passage, you need to take control over your argument! 

Today, I'd like to focus on your introductory paragraph.

Really, all your introduction needs to contain is your thesis statement. It's better to offer a few focused sentences that directly respond to the prompt than long, meandering, and fluffy opening comments. You can assume that your reader is familiar with the passage and prompt, but you should also follow conventions of introduction-writing: refer to an author by his full name the first time you mention him and give a bit of context for the passage you're analyzing. (In other words, don't confuse your reader by seeming to start mid-essay.)

I often describe your thesis statement as your "one-sentence answer to the question raised in the prompt," but for some of you this description is unclear. I spend about two hours chatting with a student about the Kelley prompt last night, and I realized that she didn't actually understand what the prompt was asking her to talk about. (She was making her task much more complicated than it is.) She generously gave me permission to share portions of our chat. Here's how we started out:

[11/11/2014 8:15:38 PM] maya.inspektor: So, here is the prompt (the actual question that comes above the passage)...

[11/11/2014 8:15:48 PM] maya.inspektor: Florence Kelley (1859-1932) was a United States social worker and reformer who fought successfully for child labor laws and improved conditions for working women. She delivered the following speech before the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association in Philadelphia on July 22, 1905. Read the speech carefully. Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies Kelley uses to convey her message about child labor to her audience. Support your analysis with specific references to the text.

[11/11/2014 8:15:54 PM] maya.inspektor: Did you start by reading that text?

[11/11/2014 8:16:08 PM] STUDENT Yes

[11/11/2014 8:16:15 PM] maya.inspektor: That's good

[11/11/2014 8:16:23 PM] maya.inspektor: What in it seems useful to know?

[11/11/2014 8:17:16 PM] STUDENT That she was against child labor, and for improved working conditions for women and children, if they had to work.

[11/11/2014 8:17:28 PM] maya.inspektor: Yes, definitely

[11/11/2014 8:17:30 PM] maya.inspektor: what else?

[11/11/2014 8:17:59 PM] STUDENT She's a suffragette?

[11/11/2014 8:18:05 PM] maya.inspektor: Yes

[11/11/2014 8:18:17 PM] maya.inspektor: I'd say it's important to note the context for this speech

[11/11/2014 8:18:39 PM] maya.inspektor: sometimes the context of a passage isn't particularly important, but here she was speaking to a specific group of people at a specific moment in time, and that impacts her argument a great deal

[11/11/2014 8:19:20 PM] maya.inspektor: Finally, what's the question that you need to actually answer in your essay?

[11/11/2014 8:19:28 PM] maya.inspektor: (It isn't phrased as a question, more as a command :) )

[11/11/2014 8:20:19 PM] STUDENT analyzing the rhetorical strategies the Kelley uses.

[11/11/2014 8:20:28 PM] maya.inspektor: That's not the whole thing

[11/11/2014 8:21:03 PM] STUDENT about child labor, using specific references

[11/11/2014 8:21:06 PM] maya.inspektor: but I'm starting to see why you might have trouble finding things to say in your essay, because I suspect you're fixating on THOSE words and not on the rest of the prompt

[11/11/2014 8:21:20 PM] maya.inspektor: I would consider these the most important words in the actual question:

[11/11/2014 8:22:20 PM] maya.inspektor: Then write an essay in which you analyze the rhetorical strategies Kelley *****uses to convey her message about child labor to her audience.*****

[11/11/2014 8:22:45 PM] maya.inspektor: Every other part of that is sentence is pretty standard in ANY rhetorical analysis essay-- the starred words tell you what aspect of meaning you should focus upon in your essay

[11/11/2014 8:23:18 PM] maya.inspektor: And note that it mentions "her audience"-- this means that in this speech, her audience is particularly important, so you should think about how she might move these particular people

[11/11/2014 8:23:58 PM] maya.inspektor: So, here's what you MUST state in your thesis statement / opening paragraph (both entirely missing in your essay as it stood)-- you need to explain what Kelley's message is and briefly hint at the ways she conveys this argument to her particular audience

[11/11/2014 8:24:41 PM] maya.inspektor: I think you might have been fixated on the idea of analyzing rhetorical strategies, because that IS what you do in your essay, but you don't fit them into any kind of organized framework that presents a developed analysis of Kelley's overall meaning

Every AP English Language prompt is specific about what KIND of meaning you need to explore in your essay. In your Kelley essay, the prompt asked you to analyze how Kelley "convey[s] her message about child labor to her audience." In other words, what is Kelley's message about child labor, and how did she convey it to her audience? Looking back, though, I can see why this student was still confused-- Kelley's "message" about child labor seems very simple: child labor is really, really bad and we should end it. This student's tendency in crafting a thesis statement was to make general statements about Kelley's topic rather than Kelley's argument; for example, she said that Kelley focuses on the topic of child labor, which doesn't actually reveal Kelley's stance. Thus, I think a good start in writing a thesis statement for a rhetorical analysis essay is to think about the author's intention in writing the passage you're analyzing. Here, this was a speech delivered live to a particular group of people, so the audience's response is more important than it is when a passage's audience is more general. To me, Kelley's goals seem to be to convince her audience of the scope of the problem of child labor, rouse their feelings of guilt by implying that they are personally guilty of supporting child labor, and finally persuade them to use all the means available to change child labor laws. Polished a bit so that it sounds like a more formal introduction, this might be my opening paragraph:

In a speech delivered to a 1905 convention of suffragettes, activist Florence Kelley attempts to shake her listeners out of the indifference that may have prevented them from acting to stop child labor. She accomplishes this by convincing them of the scope of the problem of child labor, rousing their feelings of guilt by implying that they are personally guilty of supporting child labor, and persuading them to use all the means available to change child labor laws.

That's just two sentences, but it would be an effective opening paragraph. This is an example of a (somewhat) closed thesis statement: I list three points that will easily translate into three developed body paragraphs in my essay, though I don't get into detail about the rhetorical devices Kelley uses. That would be a really closed thesis statement, so defined that it might restrict the development of my essay-- I want to be able to talk about the RANGE of rhetorical strategies that Kelley uses to accomplish her broader goal of rousing feelings of guilt in her audience, for example. 

Here, by contrast, would be a weak thesis statement / opening paragraph: 

In a speech delivered to a 1905 convention of suffragettes, activist Florence Kelley uses rhetorical strategies to convey her message about child labor to her audience. These strategies include anaphora, use of rhetorical questions, and use of quantitative evidence. 

Do you see the difference? In the first thesis statement, I take the suggestions from the prompt-- to talk about the strategies Kelley uses to convey her message-- but I get specific about what her message is (that her audience needs to wake up from inaction on this issue) and a few specific strategies she uses to accomplish this. In the second example, I literally copied and pasted from the prompt, adding NO analysis of Kelley's meaning-- while I list a few rhetorical devices, I provide no sense of what Kelley's message was (she might feel that child labor builds character and makes children productive members of society!) or the broader strategies she used to convey this message. 

Good thesis statements also often suggest an organization for your essay, raising issues that you will defend in detail in the body paragraphs of your essay. If you have trouble understanding what I mean when I suggest you organize your essays by "idea," perhaps you don't have a clear idea of the ideas you want to argue when you start to write. As you compose a synthesis or argument essay, in particular, a good thesis statement is the launchpad for your argument, providing reasons, rationale, justification.

In the Singer Solution essay you'll write this weekend, the prompt first explains the "Singer Solution" briefly and then asks you to do the following:

Write an essay in which you evaluate the pros and cons of Singer's argument. Use appropriate evidence as you examine each side, and indicate which position you find more persuasive. 

What are the specific questions implied by this prompt? I'd say your thesis statement should express the following:

Some WEAK thesis statements that I've seen in response to this prompt simply say that the Singer Solution HAS pros and cons instead of explaining the specific ways in which the Singer Solution might lead to benefit or harm. Get specific! Get specific! Get specific!

Note that this prompt is essentially asking you to engage in Rogerian argumentation-- you should make your own stance clear, but you should also put effort into fully and fairly exploring the side with which you ultimately disagree. In fact, at the bottom of the Rogerian argument Wikipedia page you can see four "steps" which could quite nicely translate into developed body paragraphs in your Singer Solution argument essay.

I'll talk more soon about what "appropriate evidence" could involve, though your reading in Language of Composition this week offers a strong list of options (quantitative evidence, personal anecdotes, observations from current events or history, expert opinions, etc.). In your thesis statement, it's not necessary to list the evidence that you think defends your position; USE evidence to defend your position in the body of your essay.

Today, please read through the full prompt and craft a thesis statement / opening paragraph for your Singer Solution essay. Please post this thesis statement as a reply to today's message. Then, please respond to three classmates' proposed thesis statements, commenting on whether you think your classmate has managed to get specific about each part of the question asked in the prompt.

What organization do you think your thesis statement suggests for your essay?

Good luck!

Mrs. Inspektor

 

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