Critical Analysis Paragraph Assignment: How to Write a Rhetorical Precis

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MLK SpeechHere’s a simple writing assignment that covers some of the more difficult Common Core Standards and helps young scholars learn how to analyze non-fiction. This is a lot of standards for a small assignments.

  • RI.9-10.1 – Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.9-10.2 – Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RI.9-10.3 – Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.
  • RI.9-10.6 – 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.
  • RI.9-10.6 – 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.
  • RI.9-10.9 – Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concept.
  • W.9-10.1d – Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • W.9-10.2 – Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content

You may need to set this up with a discussion and some note-taking. You may not. Here’s how I handled this with Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

  1. Hand out the speech.
  2. Watch the speech (optional)
  3. Annotate and highlight important parts of the speech. Here are some ideas.
  4. Discuss the following questions: Who is the author? What is the thesis statement? How does the author/speaker support the thesis statement or develop his argument? What is the author’s purpose and what is his desired end result? Who is the intended audience?

Once you’re convinced students understand the content of the speech and how it’s developed, give the assignment.

Here’s the actual assignment.

Analyze the content (the what) and the delivery (the how) of a speech or non-fiction article or essay.*

  1. The first sentence should contain the name of the author, genre, title of work, date in parentheses, a rhetorically accurate verb (asserts, argues, suggests, implies, claims), and a “that” clause that contains the main point of the work (the thesis statement).
  2. Next is an explanation of how the author develops his or her claim and supports the thesis statement.
  3. Third is a statement of the author’s purpose followed by an “in order to” statement or phrase (the action the author/speaker desires)
  4. A description of the intended audience and/or the relationship established by the author with the audience.

Here’s an example.

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech (August 28, 1963), Martin Luther King Jr claims that it’s time that the rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution need to be applied to all citizens—black or white. King alludes to foundational US documents—the Emancipation Proclamation, Declaration of Independence and Constitution; foundational religious literature—the Bible and spirituals; and uses metaphors and analogies about business and money. King’s speech attempts to convince the American people that his cause is just while at the same time motivating his followers to take action. His ultimate purpose is to persuade Congress to pass legislation guaranteeing rights to all citizens (which manifests itself just months later with the Civil Rights Act of 1964). King’s obvious audience are the people in attendance at the speech. His remarks, however, are intended for a national audience, people who are familiar with important American philosophies of freedom. A more specific audience would be Congress, who handles their business just minutes away from the location of his famous speech.


*I color-coded the instructions with the speech. I’m cool that way.

Last Updated on July 5, 2021 by Trenton Lorcher

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