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Rhetoric and Literary Analysis

Course Overview

Whereas earlier English classes focus on the writing traits and fundamental elements of writing, Rhetoric and Literary Analysis places a greater emphasis on developing meaningful ideas and building effective support for those ideas. We’ll be using a combination of “real world” issues and literary texts as vehicles with which to practice our newfound writing and analytical skills. In preparation for American and British Literature, we will focus on largely on formal literary criticism. Literary criticism is the tradition of analyzing and evaluating texts and presenting your thoughts in ways that draw interesting conclusions, push the thinking of your readers, clarify ideas, and support your point of view. The first step in doing this successfully is to focus on developing strong written arguments. Practicing various elements of the Argument Essay will consume most of our time this fall, with the last few weeks reserved for an introduction to the literary devices that will populate our criticism. In the spring, we will study and practice techniques for writing introspective, illuminating literary analysis papers. Throughout the course, we will read non-fiction articles, short stories, novels, and poetry. Students will be exposed to a variety of writing formats and situations, including expository writing, persuasive writing, summary, analysis, and informal written discussion via discussion boards, VoiceThreads, and other asynchronous online platforms.

Course Content

Unit 1: Diagnostic Period

In most of our classes at Davidson Academy, we spend the first couple of weeks getting to know the students, not only as people, but also as thinkers. This short unit is designed to reveal students’ strengths and weaknesses, along with what critical skills they might already know how to do. Once these two weeks are finished, the instructor can assess what the class already knows, what holes exist in their learning, and can adjust the pace and content of the course appropriately.

Unit 2: The Argument Essay

Throughout this unit, the students will learn about all of the parts of an argument essay. The argument essay is the foundation upon which many other types of essays are built, making it a critical component of our students’ education. The argument essay will be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces, with the unit culminating in a large scale, research-based essay. Major skills include crafting viable arguments; conducting effective research; effectively organizing essays; writing for word choice and sentence fluency; editing and revision skills; and close reading skills. Texts for this unit include non-fiction essays; excerpts from short stories and novels; and songs and poems. Assignments for this unit include small scale responses; assignments that focus on essay organization; assignments that focus on word choice; assignments that help to hone research skills; and one large scale argumentative essay.

Unit 3: Introduction to Literary Terminology

This three week unit caps off the fall semester by introducing students to the basic literary terminology that they will use throughout the spring. Major skills include: identifying and defining literary terminology; employing appropriate terminology when discussing literature; and annotation and explication. Students will work both with terminology lists and classic poetry to help them to understand the materials. Assignments for this unit include short pre- and post-quizzes, creative representations of literary terminology, and a poetry explication.

Unit 4: Introduction to Literary Analysis

The first unit of the spring semester will introduce students to the analytical techniques that are typically used when approaching a piece of literature. The skills students use during this unit will build upon the ones they gained during the previous two units. Each week, the students will work with a different short story and apply a different analytical lens. This unit will also include a great deal of support and workshopping, just to make sure the students feel comfortable with basic analytical techniques before moving on to larger, more complex texts. Major skills for this unit include: close reading and making solid inferences; creating strong, supportable theses; using a variety of approaches when analyzing literature; developing cohesive analytical paragraphs; giving and receiving feedback during workshops; and editing and revision skills. Texts for this unit include a variety of canonical short stories. Assignments for this unit include: weekly analytical paragraphs; discussion board and VoiceThread posts; writers’ workshop participation; and one large scale essay combining the analytical approaches.

Unit 5: Frankenstein

The final unit of the semester focuses on Mary Shelley’s gothic novel Frankenstein (novel subject to change to best meet the needs of students). The students have spent the previous unit learning how to analyze literature via short stories, and they are ready to try their hand at a longer text. Major skills for this unit include: close reading skills; increasing the sophistication of academic discussions; literary analysis; developing longer written analyses; giving and receiving feedback during workshops; and editing and revision skills. We will read the text together, chapter by chapter, pausing for discussion, small writing assignments, and group projects. Materials for this unit include the novel Frankenstein, philosophical excerpts, non-fiction texts, and literary criticism essays. Assignments for this unit include graded discussions; discussion board and VoiceThread posts; shorter analytical writings; and one longer analytical essay on Frankenstein.