Focus of the Lessons–Style
kinds of style
- grand style
- smooth and ornate arrangements of impressive words
- middle style
- lower yet not the lowest and most colloquial class of words
- plain style
- brought down to the most current idiom of standard speech
Virtues of Speech
- Quality of style by which one speaks or writes in a manner consistent with a given language’s norms
- Clarity is measured in terms of how clear our speech seems to our audience or how well it appeals logically to the understanding (logos).
- Evidence measures how well language reaches the emotions through vivid depiction. (pathos)
A central rhetorical principle requiring one’s words and subject matter be aptly fit to each other, to the circumstances and occasion (kairos), the audience, and the speaker.
Ornateness aims at producing delight or admiration in the audience, and may thereby jeopardize clarity.
Like clarity, ornateness is a quality of both single words and groups of words, and some of the same choices that might threaten clarity may improve ornateness—for example, the use of old, coined, or metaphorical words.
Scope of the Lesson
Demonstrate to students how to write in each of the three styles. Demonstrate the nuances that vary between each of the styles and how to focus on the virtues of speech in each of these styles and how the virtues change for each of the styles.
This lesson should come early in the semester-either preparing students for their first essay or culminating in their first essay, depending on the class. This way, students become more aware of audience influence on style at a much earlier time than they often do.
Lesson One-Writing in the Plain Style
- Students draft an email on why the cafeteria food needs to be improved.
- For this email they are told that they are writing this letter to a close friend attending another university.
Many students feel that writing is something they can’t do well. They see writing as a task to be completed within a classroom setting. To begin an assignment by going over all of the technical terms and then asking them to write while keeping all the rules and guidelines in mind can overwhelm students. Therefore, to open a class by asking them to write an email assuages some of their fear since they are already familiar with this medium of writing.
- Discuss the attributes of the plain style. Place the emphasis on the style being the one we use most often without thinking about it. The goal here is to prove to students that they can write in the plain style.
To discuss the attributes of the style after students have written an essay in that style allows them to see their writing as belonging to the style, instead of something they must work to create so that it fits the style. This way, students feel they have an advantage when working with styles; since they already use one of these styles, they feel more comfortable writing in the other styles.
- In class, examine a sample email for the virtues of style. As this email is discussed and color coded in the class exercise, answers to the questions would be discussed so that students have a better idea of how to look for these virtues in their own writing. During this time we would discuss why each of the selected passages are attributed to each virtue and how some, though they work in multiple places fit better into one specific virtue for a certain reason.
- How is this email a sample of how you write your friends on a regular basis?
- What traits distinguish this email as one written to a friend?
- Look closely at your arrangement, content and word choice
- Mark these places by changing the font color to green
- How well will the recipient understand the reasons cafeteria food should be improved?
- Will the recipient see the logic in your argument? How specifically will they see this?
- Mark these places by changing the font color to red
- What emotions are you appealing to in the email?
- How have you conveyed this plea in your email?
- Mark these places by changing the font color to blue
- What words have you used that you would not use when speaking to a stranger?
- What evidence is contained in your word choice that acknowledges you are writing to a friend?
- How can we tell that this is a casual email sent to a friend?
- Mark these places by changing the font color to purple
- Do you use metaphors that only your friend will understand?
- Mark these places by changing the font color to pink
At this point, a sample email would likely look like this
OMG! I just came back from the cafeteria and there was nothing to eat! They have hamburgers there that are greasier than Jack Walker’s hair was! The salad bar had the limpest, brownest lettuce I have ever seen. They definitely need to fix this food.
Seriously, I am paying so much for food that I don’t eat here. If I could save that money I could buy a new pair of shoes every month. But no, they have to make us get this retarded meal plan and we have to eat on campus whenever we’re hungry. Yuck! The apple I tried to eat actually had a worm in it! I have never eaten such crappy food. Can you imagine? How’s the food at A&M? Do you have good food? Maybe I should transfer in the spring.
As with discussing the attributes to the plain style after asking students to create the email, discussing the virtues of the style after students have seen how these are already present in their own writing aids students in seeing what they already know about writing in the plain style. Words like decorum and ornateness can intimidate students when they are attached to somewhat ambiguous rules that students feel they don’t comprehend. Yet attaching these words and rules to tangible areas in a student’s writing helps them to understand the rules by making them more coherent to the student.
Homework Day One
Rewrite the email as a letter to the student body that will be published in the school newspaper.
Asking students to write to a community they belong to makes them consider their audience carefully while also helping them to continue to feel comfortable in their writing. Again, the audience provides little pressure and though students are aware how this fits in with the lesson, the familiar audience aids in continuing to take a good bit of the pressure off the writing anxiety.
Lesson Two–Middle Style
- Discuss the attributes of the middle style. Place the emphasis on this style being used occasionally in our life writing. This forum can allow students to come up with various ways they would use the middle style (i.e. emails to their parents, emails to professors to ask a question, letters to the newspaper). The goal here is to prove to students that they can write in the middle style just by paying some attention to the virtues of this style.
As with the discussion after the email on day one, this discussion serves as a means of proving to students that they are capable of writing in the middle style. This continues to build their confidence in their writing ability, which makes preparation for the final stage of this group of lessons more effective.
- In class we examine a student’s letter for the virtues of style. As this letter is discussed and students color code their own homework, answers to the same questions posed on the first assignment are reassessed. Questions would be discussed so that students have a better idea of how to look for these virtues in their own writing. During this time we would discuss why each of the selected passages are attributed to each virtue and how some, though they work in multiple places fit better into one specific virtue for a certain reason.
- Once the essay is color coded and the virtues have been reiterated, the remainder of the class period is spent discussing the differences in the two writing styles. During this session questions are directed to aid students in seeing the differences between the plain style and the medium style. This should aid in their comprehension of not only the two styles, but also how they vary their writing to fit each of these styles.
- How did you write the letter differently than the email?
- What aspects of arrangement, content and word choice changed?
- How did these aspects change?
- What sets the letter apart, in general, from the email?
- How did constructing the letter differ from constructing the email?
- What traits distinguish this as the medium style?
- Did you spell check this letter more?
- Did you grammar check this letter?
- Did you add additional information that other students would relate to?
- Did you add information that only your fellow students would comprehend?
- What emotions are you appealing to in the letter?
- Have these emotions changed from those in the email?
- Do you use different methods of pathos to create your appeals?
- What effect did the audience have on your word choice?
- How did you choose specific words for this letter?
- Why did you choose to use these words here but not in your email?
- What evidence is contained in your word choice that acknowledges you are writing to the student body?
- Do you use more educated metaphors?
- Why did you choose to use the metaphors you used this time as opposed to those in your email?
With the discussion of variations of the virtues of style between the plain and medium style, students have the chance to begin making connections between audience and style that will apply to future writings. This discussion also aids students in inferring the specific rules that accompany the virtues of style.
Homework Day Two
Rewrite the letter. This time you will want to address the letter to the President of the college. Remember to follow the style virtues carefully.
This homework assignment, coupled with the subsequent lecture, demonstrates to students the need to write more eloquently for a more formal audience. Generally, students are asked to write essays with no guide as to the audience. Therefore, the students tend to write essays in the middle style and address these specifically to their instructors. Since they are familiar with this audience, they feel the middle style is appropriate. However, this assignment forces students to think about how they would write to a more sophisticated, unfamiliar audience. When discussed during the Lesson Three lecture, this allows for a further discussion of the grand style in a manner that students can relate to.
Lesson Three–Grand Style
- Discuss the attributes of the grand style. Place the emphasis on this style being used for all formal writing and make sure students understand that this style is the most difficult to write.
This forum can allow students to come up with various ways they would use the grand style so they have concrete audiences for each of the three styles. The goal here is to demonstrate to students that they need to be fully aware of how to write in the grand style so that they are prepared for the majority of their college career and their future in the workforce.
- In class we examine a different student’s letter for the virtues of style. As this letter is discussed and students color code their own homework, answers to the same questions posed on the first assignments are reassessed and students return to the comparison created in the previous class, only this time they compare the medium and grand styles.
As with the comparison between the plain and the medium style, this comparison allows students to see the nature of the differences while also demonstrating that as long as students take care in their writing, there is not much that differs between the medium and the grand style.
- Now that student have had a chance to look specifically at each of the styles and have been provided with a chance to write in each of the styles, they are more familiar with the audience’s impact on the style used. Now, in my opinion, is the best time to provide them with the more concrete rules for the lesson. The best way to do this, however is not to actually provide them with the rules for each style, but to create a chart that exemplifies this.
Asking students to aid in the creation of the chart allows for a chance to gauge the students’ individual knowledge of the rules. This also aids students in their own realization that they can distinguish between the three styles and that they do know the virtues that go along with these styles. Also, creating the chart in class, through the use of a Word table projected on an overhead allows students to see the chart being created and allows the instructor to post this chart to the course webpage once it has been completed. By waiting until the end of the unit to establish the rules for the styles, students have had a chance to become accustomed with writing in the styles without feeling overwhelmed by the rules associated with the style and, therefore, not creating assignments that will aid in their understanding of these styles.
Homework Day Three
Begin Revisions to your letters, making sure that both letters adhere specifically to the virtues of their specific style.
Asking students to revise the two letters while paying attention to the virtues should finally solidify any ambiguity between style differences. Additionally, this assignment asks students to look at the styles in relation to their virtues as they complete the revisions. Therefore, the specific virtues associated with each style are internalized as students continue to connect the virtues with traits of their own writing.