Multimedia

Teaching writing means trying to convey lots of abstract notions about what makes for strong communication. I try to find ways to visualize concepts. Sometimes it is very simple, like this cause-and-effect map, which I made for a worksheet aiming to help students outline their proposal arguments:

In this diagram created using Microsoft SmartArt, I made space for students to write multiple causes and effects. We were learning about the complexity of causal relationships–that seldom does a problem have a single cause or a single consequence.

For more difficult concepts, I develop more complex visuals. That foundation of English 15, the communication triangle, can cause confusion for students. Its flatness makes the rhetorical situation appear deceptively unidimensional. To demonstrate the depth of the rhetorical situation and each situation’s relationship to others, I created this diagram–a “communication tetrahedron” in place of the triangle–in Adobe Illustrator, based on the triangle in Cheryl Glenn’s Harbrace Guide to Writing:

When I switched to Everything’s an Argument, I found that the triangle was portrayed slightly differently there. In fact, their diagram appeared to be ready to fold up into a tetrahedron (page 25):

So, to use not only visual but also kinesthetic learning, on Day 1, the students made tetrahedrons. I had cut out their four-segment triangles from this Illustrator document I created (there are 10 such triangles per page).

I asked the students to write the following simplified terms on their triangles (the image is from my PowerPoint slide):

Then the student folded their triangles into tetrahedrons, securing them with some tape. I asked them to keep their tetrahedrons near their writing space so that they would remember the multidimensionality of the rhetorical situation while they composed.

An example of the rhetorical tetrahedron showing the “Rhetor,” “Context,” and “Audience” faces. The fourth face says “Message.”

To comprehend unfamiliar concepts, most learners rely on analogies. Models and diagrams like the ones I’ve shared here serve as analogies that make complicated relationships comprehensible by comparing them to shapes.

 

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