Introducing Audience (Nate Wood)

(After I teach a broad overview of GRAPE, I spend  roughly ½  lesson specifically focusing on Audience. I follow this lesson up another ½ lesson focusing on Genre, in which I also introduce the Opinion Editorial. This lesson plan is how I teach Audience.)

Students will understand that the effectiveness of what you write is contingent upon to whom you write. As a result, students will understand how important Audience is to GRAPE, the rhetorical situation.


Lecture from “Audience, ”pages 70-72 of Mindful Writing. (10 minutes)

  • Write on the board “Know thy audience.” Read the first paragraph from the section “audience” (p. 70) and emphasize the line “…audience is the most important element because they audience holds what the rhetor wants to influence, the thing in which the entire rhetorical process culminates: the attitude, the judgement.” Then ask, why audience is more important than the other elements of GRAPE? Why is knowing audience more important than Genre? Doesn’t genre already imply/involve an audience?
  • Tell an embarrassing story where you said the wrong thing because you misunderstood your audience. [Ex: I tell of a poetry competition I entered thinking the judges would be Literature professors, not college students, and how I brutally lost the competition]. Then ask the class to GRAPE that rhetorical situation, and then consider what was so wrong about what you said/did. What could you have done to avoid this rhetorical snafu?

Then watch and analyze this video of Jamie Oliver trying to convince a group of school children that chicken nuggets are gross and unhealthy. (15 minutes)

  • Stop the video half way through and ask students to describe Oliver’s purpose, along with what he’s doing in order to achieve that purpose. After the video ends, and after students realize Oliver completely failed to convince the students much of anything, ask students what they think went wrong.  
  • What could he have changed about his presentation in order to more fully anticipate his audience? If you were Jamie Oliver, what would you have changed about your presentation?
  • Read the third and fourth paragraphs on p. 71 starting with “There are two problems with the concept of audience.” Argue that while Oliver’s blunder seems elementary, we make these mistakes all the time. This is because 1) “it’s hard to anticipate the way people will respond to anything we say because they’re not us, and further, that 2) while writing, it’s even more difficult to judge what our audience is thinking/feeling because they’re not in front of us.

Next, transition to a discussion of what kind of audiences we most often write to on page 76-79 (Appendix): “If writing to an audience is so difficult, it helps to know what kinds of audiences writers most typically write to and for.” (15 minutes)

  • Because students have already read this chapter for homework, ask them to retrieve the most recent text they’ve read (for homework, for leisure, anything) and then determine which of the nine types of audiences (Discourse Communities, Publics, Users, Incidental or secondary audiences, Decision makers, universal audience, Evaluators, Friends/followers/fans, Skeptics) it was most intended for. Ask them to use MW to back up their claim. Ask students to share with a partner. Then, come together as a class and share/discuss.

Audience exercise. (25 minutes)

  • Strategically place students into groups of four. Ask them to label the grape in each of the four (below) rhetorical situations. Then, pretend you are the rhetor in each situation and construct an argument–a “fitting response”–that achieves the rhetorical purpose in each situation, given the particular audience. In each situation, there are three different target audiences. Ask students to consider how they would compose a rhetorical strategy according to the affordances and constraints of each unique situation and audience. 

Example (Situation 1): A scientist needs to explain his newest discovery to 1)her colleagues 2) undergraduate college students 3) someone who doesn’t believe in science.

Target audience: science colleagues

I would write according to the genre prescriptions of my field, which would probably include field-specific terminology, a rigorous methodology section, a review of the literature. I would describe my exact findings, exactly how I found them. I would also describe the contribution my scholarship makes to the field. In short, would be able to assume my audience knew just as much about science as I did.

Target audience: college students

Because these college students know enough about science, but less than the professors in the previous audience, I would tone down the field-specific terminology in the previous presentation. I would compare my findings to other more notable research in the field so they could get more of a general grasp of my research, instead of the exact particulars.

Target audience: someone who doesn’t believe in science.

Because believing in science is a major assumption my research takes, I would have to start this presentation by explaining, in a basic way, the scientific model. I would tell them that we start with hypotheses, design experiments, conduct experiments, look for patterns, and then analyze results. This is a considerably different presentation because I need to meet my audience at their level of understanding/belief.

Situation 2: A politician who wants to implement a new policy that will keep local lake cleaner, safer, and more environmentally friendly to 1) a corporation who uses the lake to dump factory waste 2) community board member who wants to clean the lake, but who doesn’t think the community can afford to pay for it. 3) the company that will provide the town with the service of cleaning the lake.

Situation 3: You’re a car salesman who needs to meet a quota for today. 3 different types of people come in. 1)A Family in need of a new car to fit their 4 children, but who also wants to meet a budget. 2) A recent college graduate. 3) A man who clearly looks like he’s suffering through a midlife crisis; he also needs to fit a budget, but for some odd reason, he looks like he’s willing to splurge.

Situation 4: You’re a college recruiter. Your job is to get people to come to your college. How would your message differ if you 1) were visiting top notch students who got top scores on SAT and ACT tests. 2) top performing college athletes who wanted to play college sports 3) kids who weren’t sure if they wanted to come to college for financial reasons.

Situation 5: You’re a missionary for the Church. You need to argue that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture to 1) a family of four 2) a bible basher from Arkansas, and 3) an atheist.

Finish the lesson by asking students to present to the class what they composed. Ask students to particularly pay attention to how drastically each argument changes according to each varying audience.