Digital Lesson Plans: Composing and Analyzing Multimodal Persuasive Arguments

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Take a look at the next installment in our Digital Lesson Plan series! In this post, Janine Butler shares an assignment that asks students to revise persuasive essays into multimodal compositions, such as Prezis or websites.  Janine writes that this process enables students to explore “different modes and media to identify the most productive means of persuading their audience.” To learn more about this assignment, check out the lesson plan below.  

Brief Overview of Assignment: Students revise their original persuasive argument essays into multimodal compositions and consider the different affordances of alphabetic and multiple modes when attempting to persuade their audiences in accessible ways. Students explore rhetorical strategies for revising arguments into multiple modes and choose the best media for expressing their argument, such as captioned videos, Prezi and other interactive presentations, argumentative websites, and other media.

Class Subject: Persuasive Writing (This assignment sequence was designed for an upper-level course but could be modified for different courses that ask students to consider argumentation and persuasion).

Assignment Topics: Persuasion, multimodal composition, accessibility

Length of Assignment: Several weeks, particularly during the second half of the semester

Suggested Readings for Instructors and Students:
Kress, Gunther. (2005). Gains and losses: New forms of texts, knowledge, and learning. Computers and Composition, 22, 5–22.

Palmeri, Jason. (2006). Disability studies, cultural analysis, and the critical practice of technical communication pedagogy. Technical Communication Quarterly, 15(1), 49–65.

Shipka, Jody. (2005). A multimodal task-based framework for composing. College Composition and Communication, 57(2), 277–306.

Yergeau, Melanie, et al. (2013). Multimodality in motion: Disability and kairotic spaces. Kairos, 18(1).

Wysocki, Anne Frances. (2004). Opening new media to writing: Openings and justifications. In Anne Frances Wysocki, Johndan Johnson–Eilola, Cynthia L. Selfe, & Geoffrey Sirc (Eds.), Writing new media: Theory and applications for expanding the teaching of composition (pp. 1–42). Logan, UT: Utah State University Press.

Assignment Sequence: This sequence begins with a persuasive argument essay in which students draw from research to justify their position on a particular issue in order to persuade a specific audience. After completing and receiving feedback on the persuasive essay, students revise their essays into multimodal compositions and utilize multiple modes to effectively persuade the same audience. Students also write self-analysis essays assessing the process of revising their alphabetic arguments into multimodal compositions.

Required Materials: Required online or physical materials will depend on students’ choices for their multimodal revisions. Students who choose to create interactive presentations (Prezi, PowToon, etc.) or websites would benefit from tutorials and guidance in order to learn how to develop new digital media. Students who create videos would need access to video editing software that allows for embedding captions (iMovie, Windows Movie Maker, etc.). In such cases, I provide instructions and links to tutorials for captioning videos through different programs and use class time for learning how to use these programs.

Learning Objectives and Assessments:
By revising alphabetic persuasive arguments into multimodal compositions and reflecting on the process, students ideally develop rhetorical skills and strategies for persuading their audiences in different ways. They may recognize that argumentation can be effective when presented through multiple modes in juxtaposition (visuals, gestures, etc.). They experiment with different modes and media to identify the most productive means of persuading their audience.

For instance, a student might revise a political paper into a video recording of herself presenting her argument. She might use the modes of captions on screen; her carefully-constructed body language, facial expressions, and gestures; and PowerPoint slides to effective demonstrate her message to her intended audience. These professionally-presented modes work together to persuade audiences of her credibility (ethos) and make her argument more powerful. In contrast, a recorded speech with no supporting visuals, gestures, or other modes might not successfully persuade her target audience.

Full Assignment Description:
Revised/Multimodal Persuasive Argument Composition: The revised/multimodal persuasive argument assignment asks students to significantly revise their original essays to make them multimodal. They choose a different medium in which to present their argument to their audience and influence their views or actions on the issue. Students are reminded that when they change the medium and communicate across multiple modes, they need to ensure that audience members can access these modes and their argument.

In-Class Activities: Students could explore different avenues for developing and presenting their major arguments through in-class activities. For instance, I have asked students to brainstorm, research, and discuss possible texts and mediums that persuade audiences through the mix of modes. In-class activities could center on particular media (online academic presentations, for instance) or general topics and issues (blogs, for instance). These activities ideally allow students to discover new ideas and identify effective means through which they can persuade their audiences; for instance, assessing various Prezi presentations could help students learn how to use different features in the program and to create their own interactive presentations.

Self-Analysis Essay: In a self-analysis essay that accompanies their multimodal compositions, students evaluate their original/alphabetic and revised/multimodal persuasive arguments. In addition to evaluating their rhetorical situations and strategies, they should specifically discuss how they made their argument accessible in different ways for their audience and how they capitalized on the affordances of different modes to express their arguments, persuade their audience, and accomplish their purpose. The goal of the self-analysis essay is to help students recognize how they can make arguments effective for audiences across multiple modes.

I have found that, since students have already worked on presenting, supporting, and defending their arguments in alphabetic essays, the process of revision allows students to focus on considering how different modes make it possible for them to present their arguments in different ways. For instance, the process of creating an argumentative website might allow students to identify images that strengthen their text or write succinct posts that articulate their thesis in more powerful ways to their audiences and to themselves.

The challenges are also learning moments in which students recognize the limitations and (in)accessibility of certain technologies in persuading certain audiences. As an example, extreme transitions in Prezi may not be appropriate in some persuasive contexts and could overwhelm some audiences. As another example, students could consider how podcasts are limited to the aural mode while videos can be captioned to become accessible to audiences. By thinking about accessible arguments, students and instructors (including me) can consider how different individuals might approach our work and we can take a step towards persuading audiences to consider our side. In that spirit, I encourage feedback, modifications, and variations on this persuasive writing assignment sequence.

Do you have a great lesson plan or assignment that utilizes digital rhetoric? Please share it with our readers! Contact 

About Author(s)

Janine Butler is a PhD candidate in the Rhetoric, Writing, and Professional Communication program at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC and her specializations are accessibility, multimodality, and embodiment. Her dissertation advocates for the integration of captions and subtitles into the space of the videos we create in different academic and professional contexts.

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