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Rhetorical Mad Libs

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Class: PWR 1

Activity brief description: In this activity, students incorporate a set of randomly assigned rhetorical and stylistic elements into a short and silly written argument.

Schedule: I use this activity at the end of Week 1 to encourage students to think about audience when writing the rhetorical analysis and to emphasize the range of rhetorical and stylistic elements they might employ in their papers. However, the activity could easily be used later in the quarter as a rhetoric-refresher or to reinforce other ideas or techniques introduced in the TiC or the RBA writing processes.

Activity length: Approx. 50 min.

Activity goals:

  • To practice writing for a specific audience.
  • To become comfortable with new rhetorical and stylistic strategies and ideas.
  • To develop flexibility and confidence as a rhetor.
  • To see writing as a fun and inventive activity.

Activity details:


  1. Before class, I create a Google Doc with class-themed letterhead addressed to a certain person or group. (I chose President Hennessy.)
  2. I also write different types of rhetorical appeals (ethos, pathos, logos), strategies of argumentation (narration, example, definition, etc.), and tones (cheerful, sarcastic, etc.) on slips of paper. I put each category in a different bowl. Earlier in the week, the class learns about the rhetorical situation, rhetorical appeals and strategies, and tone.


  1. Have students form groups of 3. Give the same silly purpose to each group. (For instance, I asked students to convince President Hennessy to establish a free campus-wide bike-taxi service on Stanford’s campus.)
  2. Each group draws one slip of paper from each bowl.
  3. Each group writes a one-paragraph letter responding to the prompt. The group must combine the rhetorical and stylistic elements they have selected. For example, a group might write a letter that combines ethos, narration, and sarcasm.
  4. Each group reads its letter out loud. Finally, the class votes on the most persuasive paragraph.
  5. The class comes to a consensus about why the winning paragraph is persuasive while I track the conversation on the board.

Reflection:  Students discuss the lessons from this activity they will apply to their rhetorical analysis essays. 

Additional notes: This activity could incorporate any combination of rhetorical or stylistic concepts and techniques, including types of style (high, middle, low), persona, types of arguments, and counterarguments.

This activity was originally posted as an Activity of the Week in winter 2015.