Learning the art of persuasion

AS a schoolteacher who is pursuing a doctoral degree in human communication, I find communication to be an essential instrument that teachers can rely on, especially during these trying times where virtual platforms such as Google Meet serve as the main medium of interaction between teachers and pupils.

As teachers, we cannot force our pupils to attend classes as we are expected “not to offend the parents” and yet, we have to contend with the demands of the Higher Authority that “teachers must initiate intervention strategies to arouse the pupils’ interest”.

While I was studying political speeches from the perspective of Aristotle’s “canons of rhetoric”, I found that I could apply some of the persuasion strategies I had learned from scholarly journals to my approach as a primary school teacher in a suburban area.

According to Aristotle, the three main principles a speaker could use to persuade his audience are: inventio (the way ideas are crafted), dispositio (the way the ideas are arranged), and elocutio (the style in which the ideas are conveyed to the audience).

As a Year Five Science teacher, I set out to apply the above when I taught my pupils about the water cycle and its two main processes: evaporation and condensation.

According to scholarly literature, under inventio, rational appeal or logos could be used to increase the audience’s attention, especially when narration or storytelling is applied.

With that in mind, I narrated the life journey of a water droplet. Having done so, I found that my pupils were able to grasp the process of water flowing from the mountains into the seas and then being evaporated to the skies and condensed as water droplets that would soon fall back to earth as raindrops.

Indeed, a speaker’s ability to let his audience see the chronology or sequence of processes from start to the end will enhance the persuasiveness of his oratory message.

James McCroskey in his book entitled An Introduction to Rhetorical Communication said that a speaker could use John Dewey’s reflective thought pattern to arrange his speech (dispositio).

This can be done when a speaker deliberately tells the audience to think in accordance with what the speaker wants them to think by presenting the doubt that may hinder the audience’s readiness to believe the speaker.

I used this at the end of the lesson by telling my pupils that they might think I was making up a tale that “sea water would fly up to the sky due to the sunlight” when I was explaining evaporation. I could see from their shocked facial expressions that they thought I could read their minds. I then presented evidence demonstrating that wet cloth turns dry when one puts it under sunlight to support my argument.

As for the style of oratory interaction or elocutio, I used rhetorical questions a lot in order to sustain my pupils’ attention.

I asked them questions not for them to answer, but to ponder cognitively as a continuous stimulant throughout the lesson.

I found this method to be a great way to keep pupils constantly alert and to prompt interesting enquiries.

For example, after the lesson, my pupils showed interest in their prior knowledge of acid rain, hailstones and snow, and were able to relate that with the water cycle and its correlation with evaporation and condensation.These communication strategies have really helped to make my interaction with my pupils come alive.

Of course, as teachers, the most we could do is to try; it is up to our pupils – as well as their parents – to support us.

I believe my colleagues from across the country are doing all they can to impart their knowledge despite the constraints of distance teaching and learning.

Like it or not, we need to adapt to this mode of instruction, even as schools have begun reopening in stages.


Science teacher

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