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Instructor and Students Looking at a Laptop Computer

Addressing Audience

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Author: Rob Stephan

Class: PWR 1/PWR 2

Activity brief description:  This activity has two main goals. The first is to introduce students to academic journal articles, previewing the type of texts they’ll be engaging with during their TiC. The second goal is to encourage students to focus on audience in their writing. For the activity all students read the same academic article for homework; during the next class they are given various audiences for whom they need to summarize the article’s main points.

Schedule: Week 2 or 3. I use this in Week 3 and highlight the academic article as a type of text that they will be engaging with heavily during their Texts in Conversation assignment.

Activity length: Approx. 45 min.

Activity goals:

  1. To introduce students to academic journal articles
  2. To give students practice extracting main ideas from a difficult text.
  3. To encourage students to explicitly focus writing for audiences that may be unfamiliar.
  4. To show variety of ways in which the same material can be interpreted and conveyed.

Activity details:


(1)   Assign an academic article for homework. This is an opportunity to give the students one of the seminal journal articles for the main topic of the class and a useful way to further integrate the class theme. I have all students read the same text.

Individual Writing

(1)   Start class with a brief lecture or discussion on audience. I like to highlight that this is something that tailoring their message towards a particular audience is something they already do, and that this exercise is just a way of making that more explicit. As students build their careers at Stanford and beyond, the variety of audiences with which they’ll need to interact will continue to grow. (5-10 minutes)

(2)   I assign students one of four different audiences. Personally I use (a) a fourth grade class, (b) an academic conference, (c) a small group of funding donors, and (d) a popular magazine, although these can be tailored to the specific them.

(3)   Students have about 15 minutes to write something that introduces their intended audience to the main ideas of the academic article. I let them interpret this rather freely. The write ups could be speeches, briefs, newspaper style articles, or whatever they think would work well for that audience. (15 minutes)

Small Group Discussion

(1)   After writing up their summary, students are put into groups of four so that each group has one person dedicated to each of the audiences. They spend the next ten minutes discussing the rhetorical strategies that they incorporated to convey their message to their audience. (10 minutes)

Large Group Discussion

(1)   We end by reconvening and having a larger discussion about how rhetorical strategies were employed to reach a given audience. Did all students addressing the 4thgrade class use similar techniques? What was consistent? What differed? (10 minutes)

(2)   Several students can read their text to the class. This usually gets a few laughs since most of their audience-focused rhetorical strategies are really overblown.

(3)   I also use this time as an opportunity to discuss the academic article. Some students find it difficult to abstract main ideas from a technical text, and so we discuss some ways to go about doing that. This concludes with a reminder that they’ll be engaging heavily with these texts in their next assignment.


Additional notes: This activity was originally published as an Activity of the Week in winter 2015.