On Rhetoric: A lesson Plan – Teaching the Trivium

Aristotle by Raphael

I was asked by a teacher, at a talk I was giving on oracy, if I have a lesson plan which she could use to teach Rhetoric ‘simply and in one lesson.’ I replied ‘yes!’ (Rhetoric is one of the three arts of the trivium and, as such, I believe it should be taught in schools. Here is a link to the book I wrote about it if you would like to know more!)

Here is the lesson plan:

In order to teach this lesson it is a good idea to ‘use’ the art of rhetoric in order to teach, delight and move your class, these were Cicero’s three principles of Oratory: to teach, to delight and to move. However, here, I am not trying to persuade you of the need for the teaching of rhetoric rather I am going to be quite mechanical and take you through a lesson plan:

Firstly, introduce the ‘Five Parts of Rhetoric’; these are:

1. Invention
2. Arrangement
3. Style
4. Memory
5. Delivery

Then explain what each one is, again, I want to keep it simple.

1. Invention:

This is the content of your speech and the drawing together of your ‘evidence’.
It includes: Ethos, Pathos and Logos, the three musketeers of Rhetoric. In which:

Ethos: is your credibility.
Pathos: is the shared emotion between you and the audience.
and Logos: is your use of reasoning and logic, this usefully models critical thinking.

2. Arrangement (The 6 parts of oratory, taken from the Ad Herennium) this can be a lesson in itself, I believe that if you teach this well then not only will your pupils ‘speak better’ they will also be able to write essays ‘better’. This is the ‘classic’ order for a speech, and it makes a great scaffold for an essay too:

  1. You begin with the Exordium (or ‘hook’): this should catch the audience’s attention & it should also be central to your narrative.
  2. Next comes the Prothesis: where you present a short history of the subject that you are going to be talking about
  3. This is then followed by Partitio or division: Here you make the points which are uncontroversial and then the points which are contested.
  4. Then Confirmatio or proof: here it is time to state your thinking.
  5. Confutatio or refutation: you then go on to refute any opposing argument.
  6. Finally, Peroration, where you sum up the argument.

3. Memory, as a drama teacher this doesn’t worry me, I think sometimes it is good for pupils to ‘memorise’ their speeches, it isn’t always necessary but sometimes it can ‘lift’ the presentation:

Speaking from memory mustn’t be robotic, it must have Sprezzatura: in other words the speaker must allow the thoughts & ideas to inhabit them so that they seem to spring fresh from their mind!

4. Style: Should the style of the talk be low, medium or grand? Low style is ‘down with the kids’, medium is probably the best for day to day speaking, but it would be good to introduce the ‘Grand Style’ of great oratory to see if they can lift the audience to a higher level through their eloquence.

5. Finally you need to work with your pupils on their Delivery:

This includes:

Use of space, positioning, posture, presence, communicating the feeling of honesty and truth, gesture, facial expressions, and, crucially the use of their voice: volume, pitch, tempo, pause, inflection… etc.

Here is a link to a course I am running that will feature ‘How to Teach Rhetoric

I hope some of you will find this useful. It might not work for your lesson plan pro forma, but it should serve as an introductory lesson. [I have written on this subject before if you are interested in using rhetoric as a teacher.]

9 thoughts on “On Rhetoric: A lesson Plan – Teaching the Trivium

  1. Reblogged this on Whatonomy and commented:
    When teaching persuasive speech and writing, or indeed when teaching the writing of an argumentative piece, why not use the classical terminology? This model is actually more thorough and practical than many I’ve seen. And it has that wonderful flavour of “secret knowledge”!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I used this to support my year 11s to adapt the research they had carried out for their iGCSE written coursework into a presentation for their speaking and listening coursework. ‘To teach, to delight, to move’ became the force behind the work – the students used these ideas to shape their talk, but also came back to use these principles as a focus for their writing commentaries.


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