Using Rhetoric to Address Injustice

9, 10, 11, 12

This lesson will explain how effective writers and orators manage language in order to move others to action for the common good.  By exploring principles of rhetoric and effective communication, the learners will see that they too can marshal words to effect change on contemporary issues they care about. 


Lesson Rating 
PrintFour Fifty-Minute Class Periods (Depending on class size, this lesson may require an additional fifty-minute class period to complete the speeches.)

The learner will:

  • identify rhetorical strategies present in an effective speech- (Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" Speech).
  • apply Aristotle's concepts of ethos, logos, and pathos to write a persuasive speech .
  • research contemporary instances of social injustice.
  • recognize effective communication as a tool to bring about social change.
  • Chart paper and markers
  • DVD player or VCR
  • Computer lab access with Internet availability
  • Highlighters
  • Self-stick notes
  • Aristotle and Persuasion (Handout One)
  • Persuasive Speech Assignment (Handout Two)
  • Persuasive Speech Rubric (Handout Three)
  • Reflective Log and Ranking (Handout Four)
Home Connection 

Encourage the learner to ask family members about instances of social injustice they are aware of and if they might serve as an 'audience' so the learner could practice his/her practice delivery at home.



  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Prior to the lesson, the teacher will identify a audio/video copy of Martin Luther King, Jr. delivering his "I Have a Dream" speech (See Bibliographical References). Tell the learners that they will be exploring how successful communicators use language effectively to persuade others.

  2. Give each learner a self-stick note and ask them to recall what they might know about some of the strategies Dr. King employed during his speech that they consider "effective."

  3. Show the video or have the learners go on-line to listen to/view the speech. After viewing the video or listening to the speech, assign the learners to small groups and ask them to share with others in their group what they listed as "effective".

  4. Have each group summarize the responses of their group members on chart paper and prepare to report back to the whole group. Post chart paper around the room.

  5. Tell the learners that they will next study classic elements of effective persuasion and that later they will use these elements to persuade each other.

  6. Give the learners brief biographical information on Aristotle as well as definitions of rhetoric, persuasion, ethos, logos, and pathos. (Handout One.)

  7. Distribute text copies of "I Have a Dream".

  8. Divide the learners into three groups. Tell them that one group is to begin to find and highlight examples of ethos; one group, logos; and one group, pathos. 


  9. Class Period 2

  10. Have the learners complete their highlighting assignment from the 1st class period, thenregroup the learners so that each small group has a member who had worked on each of the three concepts. Have groups finish highlighting the speeches so that they have identified examples of all three concepts. Finally, have each group report back to the whole group.

  11. Distribute Persuasive Speech Assignment description (Handout Two.) This includes a suggested outline for major parts of the speech.

  12. Ask the learners to quickly brainstorm and list several instances of contemporary social injustice that they have witnessed, heard about, or read about at the local, state, national, or global level. Encourage learners to recall the injustices that they identified in Lesson Two as a way to complete this task easily.(Teacher Note: Classroom participation in a Newspapers in Education program, which allows for delivery of copies of daily newspapers to the classroom free or at a nominal cost, is an excellent way to help the learners identify and understand contemporary social issues.)

  13. Ask the learners to now narrow this list to one injustice that they personally feel most interested in addressing, then provide time in a media center or computer lab for them to research their chosen topic. (Teacher note: An assumption is that students at this level are familiar with basic research techniques, including Internet searches, assessing source credibility, note-taking, and citing sources using Modern Language Association (MLA) style.

  14. Allow the learners time to begin to develop their five-minute speech, circulating to guide them toward ideas and sources that will help them to generate a speech that establishes their own credibility (ethos), provides solid lines of argument (logos), appeals to the emotions of their audience (pathos). The learners should write a rough draft of their speech and bring it to the next class period. Distribute the Persuasive Speech Rubric. (Handout Three.)

  15. Class Period 3

  16. Ask the learners to conduct a peer review of a partner's rough draft. They should do this by reading their draft orally to a partner, who takes notes on the rubric. Partners then discuss areas of strength and weakness in the drafts.

  17. Review with the whole class characteristics of effective oral delivery. Sample responses will include making eye contact, avoiding nervous gestures, speaking clearly, and making use of pauses. A learner can record class responses on the board or on a flip chart. Suggest that the learners visit one or more of the many websites related to speech-making, such as

  18. Conclude the class period in the media center to allow learners to revise, edit, and further consult source material as needed to finish a rough draft of their speech.

  19. The learners should write a final draft of their speech, practice its delivery, and bring the final draft to the next class period.

  20. Class Period 4

  21. Remind the learners that they will be expected to participate in one of three Academic Service Learning projects that the class will identify based upon the persuasive speeches they hear during this class period. Distribute a Reflective Log and Ranking (Handout Four) so that the learners can use it to record notes and impressions as they hear the speeches. This log will be used to help them identify the top three "injustices" that they, as a class,select to work on.

  22. Have each learner deliver his/her speech. (Teacher note: Depending on class size, this step may take an additional class period to complete.)

  23. Reserve time at the end of final class period for learners to complete their Reflective Log and Ranking (Handout Four) and compile the rankings to identify the top three social injustices that will be addressed in Lesson Five.

  24. Tell the learners that they will now need to begin to think about which of these three social needs areas they would be most interested to participate in the actual planning and carrying out of a service project.


Using a rubric, the learners will be assessed on their persuasive speeches (Handout Three). Additional assessments include teacher observation of brainstorming exercise as well as peer reflection/assessment of the learner's oral speech presentation.

Cross Curriculum 

This lesson will requirelearners to identify interest in aarea ofan identified social injustice/social need which they willaddress through the planning,development, and carrying out of a Service Project.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 07. Skills of Civic Engagement
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Utilize the persuasive power of written or oral communication as an instrument of change in the community, nation or the world.
  2. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
      2. Benchmark HS.2 Research the need in the school, neighborhood, local community, state, nation, or world.