Composition and Rhetoric
Material Type:
Community College / Lower Division, College / Upper Division
Ohio Open Ed Collaborative
Rhetoric, Rhetorical Situations, Tme0012
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial
Media Formats:
eBook, Text/HTML, Video

Education Standards

Understanding Rhetorical Situations: Course Map & Recommended Resources


How to Use This Guide

This document is intended to highlight resources available to address the resource goal of Understanding Rhetorical Situations in a First-Year Writing Course. All resources are Open Access and can be downloaded or added to a Course Management System via hyperlink.

Introduction & Learning Objectives


Rhetorical Knowledge is one of the five main learning outcomes for the Ohio Transfer Module’s Ohio guidelines for first-year writing. The Department of Higher Education states that by the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand how genre conventions shaped the texts they read and should shape the texts they compose.

  2. Understand the possibilities of electronic media/technologies for composing and publishing texts for a variety of audiences.

  3. Compose texts that

    1. Have a clear purpose.

    2. Respond to the needs of intended audiences.

    3. Assume an appropriate stance.

    4. Adopt an appropriate voice, tone, style, and level of formality.

    5. Use appropriate conventions of format and structure.

This chapter focuses student understanding of rhetorical situations as described by the ODHE guidelines in students’ writing and reading assignments.

First-year writing students may be aware of some or all of the rhetorical situations. This chapter contains material that ranges in depth to accommodate different types of classes. Much of the material overlaps with other chapters, particularly Critical Thinking, as students will be using their understanding of rhetorical situations for all reading and writing assignments.

The materials below range from introductory lessons to more in-depth and detailed explanations to help students with Understanding Rhetorical Situations. This guide will cover several collaboration activities that can be used in a seated classroom, electronically with the course’s Learning Management System (LMS), or with various Web 2.0 applications. These descriptions and exercises can be integrated regardless of the types of readings chosen for the course, the genres a course may focus on, or the types of written assignments used. This guide is intended to demonstrate items that can be incorporated into both an online or seated section of a first-year writing course.  

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand and identify rhetorical situations

    1. Purpose

    2. Audience

    3. Context

    4. Topic

    5. Genre

    6. Stance

  2. Identify rhetorical situations in reading a variety of texts

  3. Produce multimodal writing that demonstrates awareness of rhetorical situations that

    1. Has a clear purpose for both the assignment and context of the writing

    2. Responds to the needs of intended audiences

    3. Assumes an appropriate stance

    4. Adopts an appropriate voice, tone, style, and level of formality

    5. Uses appropriate conventions of format and structure

    6. Demonstrates critical thinking

  4. Develop an awareness of and responsiveness to a range of reader expectations

Course Map

The resources included here are intended to address the above listed learning objectives. They will cover each aspect of the writing process, although there are resources that may overlap. These resources can be used as standalone chapters, or in combination with other suggested resources from other chapters.

Recommended Resources

About Writing: A Guide by Robin Jeffrey 

  • This is an electronic textbook published by Open Oregon Educational Resources, which can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats. This textbook contains three chapters in the section “Composing” titled “Types of Writing Styles,” “Understanding the Assignment,” and “Assessing the Situation,” which will help students when they sit down to write. In the section “Academic Writing,” there is a short chapter titled “Rhetorical Concepts” that explains the rhetorical situation of Text (Logos), Author (Ethos), Audience (Pathos), Purpose (Telos), and Setting (Kairos). This is beneficial for an introduction to the concepts and provides an assortment of questions students can ask of their text to assess the rhetorical situation.

The Word on College Reading and Writing by Babin, Burnell, and Pesznecker

  • This is an electronic textbook published available through the Creative Commons which can be read online or downloaded in a variety of formats. Written by five college reading and writing instructors, this interactive, multimedia text draws from decades of experience teaching students who are entering the college reading and writing environment for the very first time. There are several chapters to help students understand rhetorical situations in reading and writing. The most comprehensive chapter is “Determining Your Audience and Purpose,” which explains the Rhetorical Situations and provides lists of questions to help students understand these situations. This is similar to About Writing, but more in depth. The chapter concludes with exercises students can complete to practice writing for different audiences. The chapter “Building Strong Reading Skills” contains sections that help students understand the rhetorical situation as a reader, in particular “Discover What the Text is Trying to Say” and “Explore the Way the Text Affects You,” which places the student in the audience role. The chapter “Writing About Texts” has many sections to help students apply their understanding of rhetorical situations, including “Analyzing Content and Rhetoric,” which has a shorter explanation of rhetorical situations and provides exercises where students read short passages to analyze the rhetoric.

Writing Commons

  • Writing Commons is a free, peer-reviewed, web resource for college students. The chapter on rhetoric features short essays on the rhetorical situation. While the other textbooks focus on understanding rhetorical situations as readers, this textbook approaches understanding rhetorical situations from the perspective of writers. Explanatory chapters define each of the situations of Audience, Purpose, Context, and Media (each titled “Consider your [Situation].” Additional chapters explore how students can expand their understanding and awareness of rhetorical situations. The essay “Rhetorical Analysis in the Real World: A Useful Thinking Tool” by Phyllis Mentzell Ryder uses examples from current events to explore how rhetoric is used to discuss race and politics. There are several links to essays in this piece and directed questions to help students assess the rhetorical situations of these essays.

Supplemental Content

Purdue OWL

  • The Purdue OWL provides an easy to follow explanation on rhetorical situations similar to the other textbooks. This resource also provides a slideshow presentation and a link to a “vidcast” Introduction to Rhetoric.

UNC Writing Center Handouts

The University of North Carolina Writing Center publishes a great array of handouts for writing and research, all of which are CC licensed.  Among the handouts pertinent to this set of learning objects are

Textbook Class Activities

There is a basic range of class activities from these open resources.  Most of the resources have a section of explanation followed by complementary exercises for students to apply what they learn, or for instructors to incorporate into their own collaborative project objectives.  

  1. There are no exercises in About Writing: A Guide, but the questions in the chapter “Understanding the Writing Situation” form a helpful checklist for students beginning a new writing assignment (Learning Objective 3).

  2. The exercises at the end of the chapter “Determining Your Audience and Purpose,” in The Word on College Reading and Writing, give students the opportunity to practice writing for different audiences. The exercises provide scenarios (purpose) where students write persuasive letters to two of eight people described on the page. Students must select their audience and persuade that person to give the student $100. Other alternatives could be to write the letter from the perspective of the eight example audiences, to use these audiences for different writing purposes, or to create different types of media that might appeal to these audiences (Learning Objectives 1, 3, and 4).

  3. Several of the chapters/lessons in Writing Commons conclude with a brief exercise. “Consider Your Audience” contains useful checklists about audience from the perspective of the reader and the writer. It concludes with four thought-provoking questions for students who struggle to determine their audience. The chapter “Burke’s Pentad” has a lesson on a different way to think about rhetorical situations and concludes with a short two-minute video for students to watch and apply what they have learned about Burke’s Pentad. The chapter “Rhetorical Analysis in the Real World” has a how-to section with six exercises on conducting rhetorical analysis. These exercises contain links to essays or videos that students can read or watch (Learning Objectives 1, 2, and 4).

Additional Class Activities

In addition to the activities from the textbooks, below are several other activities to help students develop their understanding of rhetorical situations. Many of these exercises are the same ones described in the Quick Adoption Guide on Critical Thinking.

  1. Reading Responses: Students will write or discuss their reaction to an assigned reading. In addition to their reactions, students will identify the rhetorical situation of the piece, assess whether they are the intended audience, and evaluate whether the author achieved his/her purpose.

  2. Reading Log: Students will conduct reading outside of class and keep a log or journal of what they have read. In the log, students should explain what they read and what they think it means. Students will use their understanding of rhetorical situations to determine their place as the text’s audience, evaluate the tone of the text, assess the purpose and the media of the text.

  3. Media Analysis: Whether as a longer paper or a class assignment, students can select a form of media (website, television show, movie, magazine, app, etc.) to analyze for its rhetorical situations (purpose, context, audience, topic, genre, stance). Students can gain practice by analyzing short commercials through YouTube or examining print advertisements. Analyzing the advertisements for the students’ college could yield some interesting conclusions.

  4. Restaurant Review: Similar to the media analysis, students will create a list of what they expect to experience and observe when they go to a restaurant. It might be good to differentiate between a fast food restaurant and a sit-down, fancy restaurant. By establishing the criteria for each type of restaurant, students are applying their understanding of rhetorical situations.

  5. Changing Situations: Students can try changing the rhetorical situations of a short piece of writing. For example, they could be asked to change the purpose of a piece from informative to persuasive. Instructors could provide the students with a different audience, as The Word assignment does. Students could change the tone or context of their writing in response to who their audience is. For a challenge, students can change the genre of their writing from essay to another medium (PowerPoint presentation, a tweet, a brochure, a meme, etc.).