The Jens

The Jens
jen b & Jen P

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Rhetorical précis

The rhetorical précis is a great assignment for both content-area teachers and English-Language Arts teachers and can be used with any informational text. The template is explained in Reading Rhetorically, by John Bean, Virginia Chappell, and Alice Gillam, and is credited to Margaret K.Woodworth.

The rhetorical précis is a succinct way to summarize and analyze any informational text. Students can use it as a way to sum up their reading, and as preparation for the next step using the reading (preparations for an essay or a study guide for a test, for example). If students create a rhetorical précis after reading a text, not only will they have a summary of the text, but also a reminder of the author’s purpose, method, and intended audience. Also, each sentence from the template could be developed into an essay, making this a good outlining tool.

Here are the basics (from page 63 of Reading Rhetorically, Brief Edition by Bean, Chappell, Gillam):
Sentence One: Name of the author, genre, and title of work, date in parentheses; a rhetorically active verb (such as claims, argues, asserts, suggests); and a THAT clause containing the major assertion or thesis in the text.
Sentence Two: An explanation of how the author develops and supports the thesis.
Sentence Three: A statement of the author’s apparent purpose, followed by an “in order to” phrase.
Sentence Four: A description of the intended audience and/or the relationship the author establishes with the audience.

Preparing students to write the rhetorical précis first requires the students to read actively -- intellectually engaging with the text and reading with a pen or pencil in hand in order to annotate the text.  Students should underline/circle important passages, mark words to look up, ask questions in the margins, note the structure of the text, the writer’s use of certain conventions, etc. Students should pay attention to the title (and the subtitle) – it can tell the readerwhat the text is about, or even state the central claim explicitly; it can make reference to other writings, subjects, or events; and, it can express the writer’s attitude about the subject. Topic sentences are a helpful marker of structure and development throughout a text. They should look for major textual or visual structures (headings, whitespace, etc.), and look for signal words, especially transitional words (“next,” “finally,” “however,” “at first glance,” “for example,” etc.) that signal structure within the text.


Rhetorical précis



  1. Thank you for this post. The rhetorical précis as you present it frames the work of the reader/writer to scaffold the task for those to whom summarizing is new or those who just can't figure out where to begin. I have had students write analytical summaries and here provide a link to what seems another good resource:

  2. Thanks for reading and for the resource!