That's Appealing: Using MLK and Atticus Finch to Understand Emotional & Logical Appeals


This lesson is meant for students who:

  •  are reading or have read To Kill a Mockingbird in a high school English class. If currently reading, this lesson should be introduced after Atticus has given his closing argument to the jury.
  • will be working on their persuasive writing skills or have already started a persuasive writing unit concurrent with studying TKAM.
  • have been introduced to the idea of annotation/coding the text.

Note: If including this with a unit on TKAM, it might be helpful to start the unit with a lesson or two of pre-teaching about the Civil Rights Movement, specifically about the Scottsboro Nine, and its connections to the story of Mockingbird. This will dovetail nicely with the inclusion of Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech used in this lesson, and will allow students to make connections to the culture of the late 1950s and 1960s, when Lee's novel was first published, and to the 1930s, the setting of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Standards, Objectives, & Goals


  •  ELA.Writing.9-10.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning, as well as relevant and sufficient evidence.
  •  ELA.RL.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • ELA.RI.9-10.1: Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • Objectives

  •  I can define emotional and logical appeals, and identify examples of each appeal in a written work.
  • I can analyze speeches to determine how effectively appeals are used.
  • I can use textual evidence to support my opinions.

  • Goals

     It is my goal that, as a result of this lesson, students will gain a deeper understanding of the effect that emotional appeal and logical appeal can have on a speaker's audience. I also want them to connect the use of these strategies by the speakers to the results they produce, both in emotion and in action. Finally, I want my students to see how these appeals are evident in both literary and informational texts, and to incorporate them in their own writing.

    Materials Needed

    • Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech (copy for each student). Only the last six-and-a-half minutes or so of the speech are needed. 
    • Video clip of MLK speech
    • Atticus Finch's closing argument, or "Courtroom Speech" (copy for each student)
    • Video clip of Atticus's speech (can be pulled from YouTube or from DVD of TKAM movie)
    • Slideshow defining the terms emotional appeal, logical appeal, and if desired, ethos, pathos, and logos. (You don't necessarily have to do this in a slideshow format--you could just as easily have the information on the board for students to copy down, or give them the definitions and concepts to write down.)


    Bell Ringer

    Have students answer the following question during the first 5-10 minutes of class:

    "Which strategy is more effective in winning an argument--appealing to someone's heart, or winning someone over using factual evidence? Support your answer using examples from texts you've previously read."

    Have students share out, and discuss the pros and cons of each approach. Remind students of the concepts covered in the Civil Rights movement pre-teaching lessons, as well as where they've left of in TKAM (Atticus and his closing argument). 

    Emotional & Logical, Defined

    Give students the definitions of emotional appeal and logical appeal (and ethos, pathos, and logos if you're choosing to do so in this lesson, rather than in a separate one). Make sure to check student understanding of each concept before moving on (this could be done by asking students to come up with real-life examples for both types of appeals). 

    Speeches on Paper

    Hand each student a copy of both MLK's "I Have a Dream Speech" and Atticus's "Courtroom Speech". Have students read each speech, noting examples of logical and emotional appeals in each text. (I have students actually mark on the text while they're doing this, hence the copies for each student of both texts.) 

    Potential modification: Have students work in small groups while doing this instead of individually if you feel students are having trouble with locating examples.

    Discuss examples of appeals that have been found in both texts. Students should find that, for the most part, MLK's speech is based more on emotional appeal, while Atticus's speech is based more on logical appeal. 

    Speeches in Video

    Play the clip of MLK's speech, while having students read along with the text. After a short discussion on the performance of the speech versus the reading of it, play the Courtroom speech. Now that students can hear the texts, along with the speakers' tones, they should feel more confident in identifying emotional and logical appeals. Include a short discussion on how it is easier to hear tone than to read it, stressing the importance of paying attention to author's choice of words and textual details.

    Writing Assignment

    Have students consider the following question: "Which speaker used appeals more effectively to achieve their purpose: Martin Luther King, Jr. or Atticus Finch? Ultimately, who was more persuasive? Support your answer using examples from the texts." 

    Students should respond to the question in essay format, using structured, specific evidence based in the text in order to support their opinions. (Depending on how focused your class is on writing at this point, you might have students do this assignment for homework, as an on-demand prompt the next day, or as a focused and extended writing that is meant to be typed and revised.) 

    Review of Concepts

    Using an exit slip (or asking students to volunteer answers), ask students to define and give examples of the terms mentioned at the beginning of the lesson. This will reinforce learning, and will prepare students for a more thorough discussion of the rhetorical triangle (ethos, pathos, logos) later.

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