Ethos Pathos Logos Writing Assignment For Middle School

Update: Jan. 22, 2014

The Times is full of persuasive language every day. Editorials, Op-Eds, Room for Debate and even the Dining section use rhetoric, or persuasive language, to persuade readers to believe an idea or try something.

In this edition of Skills Practice, students explore how writers use the rhetorical devices of logos, ethos and pathos to appeal to an audience. They then try out their own use of rhetoric to make a persuasive argument.

Your Task

1. Read the Opinion article “Rap Lyrics on Trial,” in which Erik Nielson and Charis E. Kubrin argue that lyrics are wrongly being used against amateur rappers in court.

2. As you read, highlight examples of logos, pathos and ethos used in the Op-Ed article. (See the definitions below if you are not familiar with these terms.) You might want to use a different color highlighter for each rhetorical appeal.

3. Write your own persuasive argument using rhetorical devices to convince an audience. Choose any topic that interests you, and write a speech or editorial that employs logos, pathos and ethos. You can use our archive of Student Opinion questions if you are having trouble finding a topic.

Before You Do This Task, You Might …

Become familiar with rhetorical devices.

There are three types of rhetorical strategies, as categorized by the famous Greek philosopher Aristotle. He believed that speakers needed to look at these three elements to compose a convincing argument.

  • logos (rational appeal): Appeal to the audience’s logical reasoning ability. Examples of logos include facts, statistics and anecdotes.
  • pathos (emotional appeal): Appeal to an audience’s heart and emotions. An author or speaker using pathos seeks to persuade someone emotionally using personal connections, stories or testimonials, and maybe spirituality. Pathos can aim to evoke hopes and fears and often employs figurative language.
  • ethos (ethical appeal): Appeal to the credibility and authority of a speaker. Using ethos, a writer can convey trustworthiness through tone and style as well as by establishing her credentials in a field. An author’s reputation can also influence pathos.

Then think of something you tried to persuade a parent or friend to do. Maybe you wanted to borrow money or buy a new phone. What kinds of arguments did you use to try to persuade this person? Did you use statistics and logic? Did you try to present yourself as responsible? Did you attempt to make the person feel bad in order to persuade him or her? Which appeals worked best? Turn and talk to a partner about your experiences.

Going Further

1. Editorials: Read Times editorials that take a stand on a wide range of issues and practice looking for the use of the logos, pathos and ethos. Some editorials that might interest students include:

2. Speeches: Rhetorical devices are not just used in writing; they also play a large role in speaking. Read important speeches, political and otherwise, and practice identifying the speaker’s use of rhetorical devices.

Students can also analyze rhetorical devices used by politicians using social media.

Last year, Sarah Gross, Michelle Lampinen and Jonathan Olsen ran a Twitter chat during the presidential election. They wrote about their experience here. Using hashtags, they brought their students together to analyze rhetoric in the presidential debates alongside students in other states.

Students in grades 9-12 took a “crash course” in rhetoric thanks to Ms. Lampinen. Then they practiced recognizing rhetoric by looking for it in the newspaper before the debate. Finally, during the debate they participated on Twitter, blogs, Todaysmeet and a private Ning (wherever they felt most comfortable), discussing how the candidates used rhetoric to try to sway voters.

3. Advertisements: Recognizing rhetoric is an important skill for students who are surrounded by advertisements and media all day. They are inundated with information on a minute-by-minute basis, and understanding how the media is trying to persuade them is an important step in thinking critically about the world around them.

Students can use a critical eye to watch advertisements and examine how rhetoric is being employed to persuade the audience. One place to start is to analyze some of the commercials included in this NPR post on memorable political ads from 2013.

4. More About Rhetoric: Draft is a Times series about the art and craft of writing, and this post, “Other Men’s Flowers,” is all about rhetoric and how it works. Here is a paragraph from the post:

It does help to keep in mind that, as Aristotle wrote, you have three forms of power over the reader: ethos, pathos and logos. That is, roughly: selling yourself, swaying the emotions and advancing your argument. Any sentence you write should be pulling one or more of those levers; the best will do all three. Even apparent decoration works to a purpose — if a phrase is beautiful, funny or memorable, it is doing work on its audience.

Read the whole post and apply some of the author’s observations and ideas to your own persuasive writing.

Update: A New Yorker article, “The Six Things That Make Stories Go Viral Will Amaze, and Maybe Infuriate, You,” identifies ethos, pathos and logos as elements:

In 350 B.C., Aristotle was already wondering what could make content—in his case, a speech—persuasive and memorable, so that its ideas would pass from person to person. The answer, he argued, was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.

Invite students to find and analyze viral content from their social networks and analyze it to see which of these principles apply.


This resource may be used to address the academic standards listed below.

Common Core E.L.A. Anchor Standards
  • 1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

  • 4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

  • 5 Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

  • 6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

  • 8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

  • 1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • 3 Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Academic Skills

Teaching Ideas Based on New York Times Content.

Комната служила гордым напоминанием о тех временах: доспехи, гравюры на военные сюжеты и золотые слитки из Нового Света за стеклом. За конторкой с надписью КОНСЬЕРЖ сидел вежливый подтянутый мужчина, улыбающийся так приветливо, словно всю жизнь ждал минуты, когда сможет оказать любезность посетителю.

- En que puedo servile, senor. Чем могу служить, сеньор? - Он говорил нарочито шепеляво, а глаза его внимательно осматривали лицо и фигуру Беккера.


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