'Tommy Boy' Analysis

by Greg Klotz

Overall Rating: 100% (1 rating)

Subject Area(s): English

Unit / Topic: Rhetoric

Grade Level: high school (9-12)

Learning Objective / Standards:
* Understand how audience changes persuasive technique, such as being unable to sell with logic/statistics when the customer is concerned about reputation and customer service.

* Understand how purpose is related to audience, such as where Tommy is not just selling, but comforting his customer and building confidence in his product.

* Demonstrate this understanding by showing in the text where persuasive techniques change and why.

This activity could take about an hour if students are provided with significant time to complete their worksheets and discuss their perspectives on the arguments in the video clip. The entire exercise should be videotaped to show the class their progress the next time they do this same activity weeks later (do not disclose to students they'll be doing this again); if notes are taken on the board, be sure to take pictures of them for future use. The instructor will distribute the Tommy Boy worksheet so students can follow along with the viewings of the video clip:

1 - Students will watch the clip and just enjoy the story and humor. The teacher should provide background information for students who haven't seen the movie and answer any background questions students may have. Ask students what types of persuasion they saw in the clip, what types of arguments they recognize.

2 - Watch the clip a second time, having students specifically taking notes on their worksheets, marking what arguments are used by which characters. Students can either write their answers / analysis of parts of the clip in the boxes on the worksheet, or write questions about why a particular aspect of rhetoric is unclear to them. (They will be watching the clip numerous times, so they don't have to fill in each square during the first viewing.) Ultimately, they should either have an answer or a question in each box, so the teacher knows what they understand and what needs more explanation. Once the clip is over, give students a moment to work in pairs and make notes on why certain arguments were or were not effective. Watch the clip a couple times to allow students to take notes on the different portions of the clip and complete the appropriate sections of the Tommy Boy worksheet.

3 - After working in pairs, students should highlight in their scripts parts where they see important examples of rhetoric. Then the class will watch the clip again, asking students to yell 'stop' when they have an observation (that they have marked in their worksheets) about an argumentative technique, success, or failure, offering them an opportunity to talk about their point and discuss why it's significant to understanding how Tommy persuades his client. Take notes on the board with student ideas.

4 - Working in groups of four (at least three if not enough to evenly distribute), have the students act out the scene, each taking one speaking role, with the fourth member stopping their conversation to point out elements of argument, showing how they do or do not address the audience's concerns. Give them about five minutes for this activity. When they're done, ask groups to point out to the class new elements of the arguments they found significant in acting out the scene.

At the end of class, collect the worksheets and take pictures of the notes on the board. After a few weeks of studying rhetoric, re-conduct this activity (in an abbreviated analysis, probably only showing the clip once or maybe twice, using bullet point two) using specific terms like Audience, Purpose, Context, Logos, Ethos, and Pathos. After students demonstrate their understanding of the rhetorical principles, show the notes and video from the first class activity with this video clip, showing them their progress in understanding the principles of rhetoric.

Related App(s): YouTube

Attachment: 6_Speech Analysis - Tommy Boy Handout.docx

URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5dpBpaFiMo

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Greg K.This particular 'Tommy Boy' clip shows an actual evolution of persuasive strategies, demonstrating very clearly the differences between Logos, Ethos, and Pathos and their effectiveness on an audience. I would not have expected such insight from a Chris Farley/David Spade movie. Students enjoy and relate to the humor, which helps them really understand the persuasive tactics - the lesson itself a demonstration in rhetoric.