SOAPSTONE Rhetorical Analysis Strategy

SOAPSTONE: A method for analyzing discourse (speeches, essays, editorials, other writings) Please number and label each response. Each section should be two-three sentences minimum.

Provide specific textual support and analysis for each response.

  1. 1. S – Speaker: Discuss the authority and credibility of the speaker / writer. How does the speaker establish his or her ethos in the speech / passage? Explain specific ways that the speaker / writer helps to define him or herself as a trustworthy and/or qualified messenger.
  2. 2. O – Occasion: Analyze the reason(s) the writer / speaker is choosing to approach the topic at this particular moment in time. Is he / she writing / speaking in reaction to a specific event or person? Discuss how the occasion is revealed in the speech /passage.
  3. 3. A – Audience: Explain to whom this piece is directed. How do you know who the audience is? How is the audience defined? Discuss how the speaker / writer demonstrates understanding of the audience and how he or she uses that understanding to accomplish his or her goals.
  4. 4. P – Purpose: Analyze the purpose / argument / claim of the speaker / writer. Explore the purpose beyond its basic informative nature. You must identify at least one specific action expected of the audience. Discuss how the purpose is revealed in the passage.
  5. 5. S – Subject: Explain the general topic, content, and ideas contained in the text. Does the speaker / writer explicitly state the subject or is it implied?
  6. 6. Tone: Analyze the attitude of the speaker / writer. Tone extends meaning beyond the literal. Find tone in the author’s diction, syntax, structure, and imagery. Give specifics of the tone of the author and discuss how the tone affects the effectiveness of the passage. Use your list of tone words to pinpoint the specific tone(s) of the piece.

Argument Exercises

AP Language & Composition-Journal Directions Quarter #2:

Argument & Argument Analysis

1. Argument Construction You will be given a question that demands you respond using your own reading, knowledge and observations as evidence. For the most part, these questions will pose moral/ethical dilemma Similar to an AP Argument prompt you will be asked (in a shorter piece of writing) to establish your own point of view and support it with detailed evidence.

  • Do’s: • Thoughtful argumentation that appropriately presents your point of view • Creative and persuasive use of language • Appropriate formatting (Claim, Evidence, Commentary) • Evidence drawn from reading, observations, appropriate evidence categories
  • Don’ts: • Personal Pronouns • Overzealous use of language • Lack of substantiated proof

2. Argument Analysis You will be given a short excerpt, essay or article to assess. Your response will be asked to examine both the “pros” and “cons.” You will in essence, to the best of your ability, look for what the author does well and where their argument is flawed. For this type of journal you will be required to SOAPSTONE the essay and include it in your journal.

  • Do’s: • Thoughtful argumentation that appropriately presents the pros and cons of the argument • Creative and persuasive use of language • Appropriate formatting (Claim, Evidence, Commentary) • Writing that assesses sources validity, language, organization, evidence, etc.

Don’ts: • Personal Pronouns • Anger at either side—be as logical as possible • Lack of substantiated evidence as proof Length for either type of journal must be 4-6 sentences minimum.

Prompt #1

Justice Argument Prompt In “Justice and the Conscience” abolitionist Theodore Parker comments that, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” A hundred year later, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. extended Parker’s argument. He added that this “arc of justice” does not bend voluntarily. It is dependent upon thoughtful action despite personal consequences. In a well written essay, examine the relationship between justice and personal sacrifice.

  1. Deconstructing the Prompt
  2. Annotate the prompt.
  3. Write down notes/ideas/insight that will be of use to you as you decipher the prompt and task.
  4.  In your own words paraphrase the task presented in the second paragraph of the prompt. You cannot use any of the words in used by the College Board. Be concise and accurate in your writing.
  5. Write three different thesis statements before you settle. 3.

A. Thesis #1-Defend the argument in the prompt.
B. Thesis #2-Challenge the argument in the prompt
C. Thesis #3-Qualify the argument in the prompt.

Type of Evidence Evidence Summarize Comment
Identify the evidence’s category. History, Literature, Current Events, Popular Culture, etc. Identify the type of evidence specifically. Name the person, place, event, etc. Provide a one sentence statement of background Explain how the evidence relates to the prompt and what the importance is culturally/socially.






Argument (Evaluating Pros/Cons)

In Eric Schlosser’s epilogue to Fast Food Nation, he argues that America is great because of its ideals, its morality, its ethics. Examine the excerpt below and consider the categories he chooses to identify as representative of American accomplishment.

Many of America’s greatest accomplishments stand in complete defiance of the free market: the prohibition of child labor, the establishment of a minimum wage, the creation of wilderness areas and national parks, the construction of dams, bridges, roads, churches, schools, and universities.

In a well-written essay evaluate the pros and cons of Schlosser’s argument that America’s greatness is not tied to corporate monopolies and the free market economy.


Argument Analysis

Read the excerpt below taken from Elliott Currie’s The Road to Whatever: Middle-Class Culture and the Crisis of Adolescence. Currie is a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of California Irvine and was a finalist for the 1999 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. Currie argues that middle class adolescents in the United States struggle because their success is not measured by the quality of their character but instead by their “wins.”

In a well-written essay, evaluate the pros and cons of Currie’s argument.

It is not sufficient to be simply a “good kid”—or to be hardworking, courageous, or generous, all qualities that might be expected to give adolescents a firm sense that they are fundamentally worthwhile. Instead, too much rides on their ability to rank high on just a few scales of worth, which, in the American middle class, typically involve some sort of competitive achievement—outdoing others in school, sports, or whatever arena is considered most important in the struggle for status and prestige. For adolescents who grow up in the culture of contingent worth, it is rarely good enough merely to do well; they have to do better than others. As a result, there is always hanging over their heads the worry that someone out there is doing even better. For them adolescent life is experienced as, in Kafka’s phrase, a “court in perpetual session.”

The fundamental problem for youth raised in such a culture is that not everyone can beat everyone else: only a few can win even most of the time. Thus, this value system sets up most of its adherents for failure. Where personal worth is necessarily a scarce commodity, there will inevitably be a great many people who think of themselves as relatively worthless. Every culture, to be sure, has standards by which its members are ranked, and in every culture it is possible to fail, to fall short. But what is unusual about the culture in which many American adolescents grow up is how narrowly the standards of success are drawn and how total the effect of failing to meet them can be, how completely one is defined by one’s relative position in this competitive struggle for preeminence. There is no natural limit to the number of children who can be loyal, honest, caring, or many other things that a less constricted culture might deem important and worthy of respect.

Rhetorical Analysis Exercises

Rhetorical Analysis Exercises

#1 Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
Read and annotate the passage. Answer the accompanying questions.

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening. There was a sound coming from outside, growing ever louder. It was a huge, heavy rush, suggesting immensity, a great parting of air. It was coming from directly above the house. The boy swung his legs off his bed, raced down the stairs, slapped open the back door, and loped onto the grass. The yard was otherworldly, smothered in unnatural darkness, shivering with sound. The boy stood on the lawn beside his older brother, head thrown back, spellbound.
1. The first sentence consists of four clauses. They are numbered below.
Sentence: In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, (1)in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California(2),  a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed(3), listening(4).
a). How is “predawn darkness” different from early evening darkness or middle of the night darkness?
b). What importance is there in describing the house as “small” and the boy’s bedroom as in the “back” of the house?
c). Why might it be important to identify the boy’s age? Why is twelve a  significant age?
d). What type of emphasis does Hillenbrand create by separating the word “listening” from the rest of the sentence?
2. Hillenbrand makes uses of a series of verbs to describe the boy’s actions. He “swung,” “raced,” “slapped,” and “loped” from his bedroom to the backyard. What do these verbs tell you about the boy’s character?

Task: Examine your responses to the close reading questions that accompany the passage. Construct a written response that makes use of those observations.

Prompt: In a well-developed paragraph, analyze the rhetorical strategies Hillenbrand uses to characterize the house and the boy.

Writing Revision: Your topic sentence or claim should appear at the beginning of the paragraph. Revise it so that it includes better vocabulary and a stronger argument.


#2 Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

Read and annotate the passage. Answer the accompanying questions.

At last through the broken windows, the pulse of helicopter rotors and airboat propellers set the summer morning air throbbing with the promise of rescue. Floodwaters unleashed by Hurricane Katrina had marooned hundreds of people at the hospital, where they had now spent four days. Doctors and nurses milled in the foul-smelling second-floor lobby. Since the storm, they had barely slept, surviving on catnaps, bottled water, and rumors. Before them lay a dozen or so mostly elderly patients on soiled, sweat-soaked stretchers.

1. What does the phrase “at last” suggest about the state of affairs at the hospital?
2. Fink describes those marooned at the hospital as surviving on “catnaps, bottled water, and rumors.” Explain what the items in the list convey about the mental and physical state of the doctors and nurses.
3. The final sentence of the paragraph is a fragment.
Sentence: Before them lay a dozen or so mostly elderly patients on soiled, sweat-soaked stretchers.
a). Why might Fink choose to save the description of hospital patients, the reason the hospital exists, for the end of the paragraph and then provide only a fragmentary description?
b). Instead of describing the “elderly patients,” Fink describes the stretchers. Explain the effect of Fink’s description and why she chooses to describe objects instead of

Task: Examine your responses to the close reading questions that accompany the passage. Construct a written response that makes use of those observations.
Prompt: In a well-developed paragraph, analyze how Fink’s language contributes to her argument about hospital, its employees, and its patients.

Writing Revision: Examine how you have incorporated evidence in your writing. Rewrite your lease effective evidence sentence so that it more concisely introduces the evidence and cites a brief reference to the text.


Exercise #3

The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster. It was just after dark. A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up. I was stuck in traffic two blocks from the party where I was heading.
1. In the first sentence, Jeanette Walls omits using the pronoun “my” when describing her mother. She also chooses to capitalize “Mom” when she doesn’t need to do so. What do these two rhetorical choices tell you about how Walls’ views her mother?
2. The phrase “wondering if I had overdressed for the evening” is completely at odds with the phrase “saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.” What is the effect of this contrast and why does Walls choose to juxtapose her thoughts about evening wear against her mother’s
dumpster diving?
3. Examine the bolded language in the sentence below.
Sentence: A blustery March wind whipped the steam coming out of the manholes, and people hurried along the sidewalks with their collars turned up.
a). What does this language tell you about the setting of Walls’ story?
b). Explain why the setting is of such importance when introducing Walls’ mother who is “rooting around in a Dumpster.”

Task: Examine your responses to the close reading questions that accompany the passage. Construct a written response that makes use of those observations.
Prompt: In a well-developed paragraph, analyze how the rhetorical strategies employed by Walls characterize this unexpected sighting of her mother.

Writing Revision: Highlight your first piece of evidence and the commentary that follows it. Identify what your analysis is lacking and revise/rewrite your commentary.


AP Language Exam

The AP Language and Composition exam is 3 hours and 15 minutes. You will get one short break between the multiple-choice and free response section.
Things to remember:
 APMC requires a number two pencil.
 Essays must be written in blue or black ink.
AP Multiple Choice
Time Number of Questions
60 minutes Approx. 55
Multiple -choice is the first section of the test. You will be given 4-6 passages with accompanying multiple-choice (8-15 questions per passage). It is important to scan the passages and decide where to begin. Think about your strategy. Starting with an “easier” passage can help build confidence and momentum.
• Answer each question. There is no deduction for wrong answers.
• Scan first and last paragraphs of each passage for big picture/author purpose.
• Cross out answer choices that are clearly wrong.
• Do not linger over questions/answer choices. Come back later and/or guess.
AP Essays
Time Number of Essays
15 minutes of reading time 3
40 minutes per essay (135 minutes total)
Reading Time is yours to peruse the documents, annotate, write working thesis statements, list evidence, etc. Spend most of your time prepping the synthesis documents. Extra time should be spent working on the other two prompts.
AP® is a registered trademark of the College Board.
The College Board was not involved in the production of and does not endorse this product.
© 2012 by Aubrey Ludwig. All rights reserved.
Essay Types
Synthesis-Question #1 in the free response section
• A “cover sheet” that offers directions, topic background and the assignment
• 6-10 documents of which you are required to use at least 3
o Evaluate documents for worth and credibility.
o Do not summarize documents. Determine how they run pro and con to your own
• Consider any outside knowledge you bring to the topic
Rhetorical Analysis-Question #2 in the free response section
• A 50-90 line passage (approx.)
• A prompt that will ask you, the writer, to analyze “rhetorical strategies” (i.e. style)
• A required focus on how these “devices” prove the author’s argument/purpose
Argument –Question #3 in the free response section
• A moral or ethical dilemma that you “theoretically” address and/or solve
o “Defend, challenge, qualify” the point of view established in the prompt
• Requires you, the writer, to identify evidence from reading, observations, etc.
• Evidence can (i.e. History, Literature, Current Events, etc.)




For many students, the creation of a piece of writing is a mysterious process. It is a laborious, academic exercise, required by teachers and limited to the classroom. They do not see it as a way of ordering the mind, explaining their thoughts and feelings, or achieving a personal voice.

One of the problems for these students is that they have no conscious plan that will enable them to begin the process and then to organize and develop their ideas. Without a strategy, particularly if they are under time constraints, they simply begin to write and the quality of their compositions is often erratic.

Students need to recognize that any good composition, whether written, spoken, or drawn, is carefully planned. This composition has integral parts that work together in a complex and subtle arrangement to produce meaning. Originally conceived as a method for dissecting the work of professional writers, SOAPSTone provides a concrete strategy to help students identify and use these central components as a basis for their own writing.

SOAPSTone (Speaker, Occasion, Audience, Purpose, Subject, Tone) is an acronym for a series of questions that students must first ask themselves, and then answer, as they begin to plan their compositions.

Dissecting the Acronym

Who is the Speaker?

The voice that tells the story. Before students begin to write, they must decide whose voice is going to be heard: their own, or a fictional character. Regardless, students should determine how to insert and develop those attributes of the speaker that will influence the perceived meaning of the piece.

What is the Occasion?

The time and the place of the piece; the context that prompted the writing. Writing does not occur in a vacuum. All writers are influenced by the larger occasion: an environment of ideas, attitudes, and emotions that swirl around a broad issue. Then there is the immediate occasion: an event or situation that catches the writer’s attention and triggers a response.

Who is the Audience?

The group of readers to whom this piece is directed. As they begin to write, students must determine who the audience is that they intend to address. It may be one person or a specific group. This choice of audience will affect how and why students write a particular text.

What is the Purpose?

The reason behind the text. Students need to consider the purpose of the text in order to develop the thesis or the argument and its logic. They should ask themselves, “What do I want my audience to think or do as a result of reading my text?”

What is the Subject?

Students should be able to state the subject in a few words or phrases. This step helps them to focus on the intended task throughout the writing process.

What is the Tone?

The attitude of the author. The spoken word can convey the speaker’s attitude and thus help impart meaning through tone of voice. With the written word, tone extends meaning beyond the literal, and students must learn to convey this tone in their diction (choice of words), syntax (sentence construction), and imagery (metaphors, similes, and other types of figurative language). The ability to manage tone is one of the best indicators of a sophisticated writer.

Using the Strategy

In an effort to introduce this strategy into the classroom, the College Board created a one-day professional development workshop for language arts teachers in grades 6-12. Pre-AP: Strategies in English — Writing Tactics Using SOAPSTone addresses three types of writing: narrative, persuasive, and analytical, using material in a sequence that reflects the degree of difficulty in thinking and composition associated with each. The general format of this workshop is first to take participants through the same process students would use in analyzing examples of texts by professional writers and then in discovering and discussing the elements peculiar to each type.

Then, after dissecting each model, students are given a prompt for a composition of their own. Before they begin, however, they must complete a SOAPSTone. The following example — in essence, simply a slightly blunter and swifter application of the SOAPSTone category descriptions given above — precedes the persuasive essay assignment:

Who is the Speaker?
(Who are you? What details will you reveal? Why is it important that the audience know who you are?)

What is the Occasion?
(How does your knowledge of the larger occasion and the immediate occasion affect what you are writing about?)

Who is the Audience?
(What are the characteristics of this group? How are they related to you? Why are you addressing them?)

What is the Purpose?
(Explain to yourself what you hope to accomplish by this expression of opinion. How would you like your audience to respond?)

What is the Subject?
(Just a few words. What are you talking about?)

What is the Tone?)
(What attitude[s] do you want your audience to feel? How will your attitude[s] enhance the effectiveness of your piece? Choose a few words or phrases that will reflect a particular attitude.)

Now, before you begin to write your persuasive essay, whether it be a letter or an editorial, look back at your responses to the SOAPSTone questions. Starting with Speaker and continuing in order to Tone, write a statement that contains all of these responses, beginning with: I am…

The SOAPSTone strategy may appear to be somewhat formulaic and rigid, but it helps students, especially novice writers, clarify and organize their thoughts prior to writing. It provides a specific structure for the text; by the time students have finished answering the SOAPSTone questions, they will have an outline of what they think, where they are going with their ideas, and why they are writing.

This strategy is not a substitute for the hard work and practice necessary for students to increase their skill in the use of language or in the development of individual writing styles. But it is an important first step.