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Rhetoric and the American Revolution: American Literature - Grade 12

Lesson Plan Outline

Subject: American Literature- Rhetoric and the American Revolution

Grade: 12       

Lesson Objective: Analyze propaganda from the American Revolution and evaluate what effect the rhetoric within each piece of propaganda had on the United States' colonists at the time. Evaluate whether or not the rhetoric used had any cultural and/or behavioral implications.

Common Core Standard:  


Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.


Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.


  • American Revolution Era propaganda images- images can be found through basic image searches on Google
  • Projector
  • Computer- to project ads from current events as well as propaganda pieces for the class to see and analyze


Explain how propaganda throughout history can be used as a window into the culture of the time. Propaganda, television, print, and ads all allow us to look back and study the cultural implications of historical events. We can evaluate citizens' anxieties, fears, hopes, goals, and influences by looking at the media that surrounded them at that time. We can also see how propaganda was used to shape behavior and elicit certain feelings and viewpoints. 


Explain that rhetoric is often the persuasive language that is used to elicit feelings, evoke emotion and sway opinion. Persuasive rhetoric has been and still is used to elicit feelings and sway behavior within specific populations. The cultural implications of effective rhetoric use are often visible both in propaganda and historical events.

Ask the students to think of ads that they have seen recently that attempt to persuade them to think or act a specific way towards a product or current event. Ask for examples. If accessible, bring the examples up on the projector to discuss with the class. Ask the students to explain what it is about that piece of advertisement that pushes them to think one way or another.

Select at least two media ads (preferably print but can also be videos) that use intentional rhetoric to persuade the viewer. Show them to the class. As the class analyzes the image or video, discuss what rhetoric they see or hear that works towards swaying the viewer's opinion.

After discussing the media shown, ask the students to recall what they know about the American Revolution. Ensure that you touch on points related to fighting for freedom from European countries (the fight with France, the struggle against Britain's control), taxation, and the Boston Tea Party. You do not need to teach a separate history lesson on historical events but touching on these few specific points will allow the meaning of the propaganda to be more easily understood. Pleas reference the Historical Event Guide for teaching points on these historical events.

Choose at least three American Revolution pieces of propaganda. There are multiple pieces related to joining the military, taxation and the events of the Boston Tea Party.

Prior to showing the class the pieces of propaganda, ask the students what feelings the colonists might have had during that time. Promote discussion on the current events of the time and what the everyday family might be experiencing.

Explain that you are going to show various pieces of propaganda from the American Revolution. Their goal is to evaluate the rhetoric of the visual art and text. They then need to think critically about what effect each piece of propaganda would have or could have had on the citizens.

Project each piece of propaganda one at a time for the class to see. Ask them to first make notes on a piece of paper about what they see and feel when they look at the image and what they think the colonists may have felt when seeing it. Then open the room up for discussion on what they have written down.

Prompting ideas if the class seems to struggle with where to start. Did the piece elicit fear, anger, sadness? How? What words or images were used to elicit those emotions? How do you think that the rhetoric then dictated the actions of the colonists at the time? 


After all images are shown and the class has discussed what they have seen, ask the class if they think that rhetoric is purely literary or if it can be based in imagery as well.

As the students think again about ads and modern-day propaganda that they have seen. Are they able to think of more examples now? How do they feel about rhetoric being used to sway opinions and actions?


Historical Event Guide:

1754-1763- French and Indian War

France and Great Britain fought for control over US territory. France ceded its American possessions to Britain. Britain was left struggling financially from fighting in the United States to "protect" the colonists from the French.

March 1765- Stamp Act

To gain back revenue lost in the war, Britain places a tax on documentation in the United States. Citizens were forced to pay for a stamp that was added to written documents. The colonists were furious and rebelled against the tax, refusing to use the stamps.

March 1770- The Boston Massacre

A mob of colonists harassed a small group of British soldiers. The soldiers fired, killing five colonists.

December 1773- The Boston Tea Party

Protesting the taxation of tea and British control, colonists boarded trading ships and dumped the tea contents into the harbor.

March 1775- "Give me Liberty or Give me Death"- Patrick Henry

The push begins for a militia able to fight the oppression of Britain on United States colonists. 

Written by Lacy DeYoung

Education World Contributor

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