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THOUGHT PROVOKING JOURNALISM
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THE CHOICE 2008

FEATURED LESSON PLAN: Candidate Narratives

 

Lesson Objectives:

In this lesson, students will become more familiar with:

  • The biographies of Sens. McCain and Obama
  • How the campaigns are turning these biographies into narratives in campaign 2008
  • The benefits and limitations of candidate narratives in campaign discourse
  • How the candidate-created narratives compare to the FRONTLINE documentary

 

Materials Needed:

 

Time Needed:

  • 45-75 minutes, depending on the extent of the discussion

 

Note to Teachers: In this lesson, students will be analyzing candidate narratives. You may find the following information about narratives helpful in preparing your lesson.

 

Procedure:

1. Introduction:
  • Ask students to generate ways that they can be persuaded in a political campaign (examples include speeches, advertisements, debates, etc.). Have a short class discussion about what students know about campaign persuasion.
  • Ask students what they know about the lives of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. Have a short class discussion about what students know about the lives of these candidates.

 

2. Making sense of narratives: After students have attempted to answer these questions, give them the handout, "Candidate Narratives."

  • Tell students that speeches and debates are obvious forms of persuasion because audiences are anticipating that candidates are attempting to influence them.
  • In contrast, candidate narratives (or stories) are less obvious forms of persuasion because audiences may not be anticipating that campaigns are attempting to influence them.
  • It is important to listen critically to how campaigns create stories out of the biographies of their candidates.
  • As campaigns do so, they do not tell the entire story of their candidates' lives. Rather, campaigns select and highlight certain moments and details and hide or ignore other moments and details.
  • Thus, paying close attention to candidate narratives helps us to expose political strategies and how campaigns are trying to argue -- through the subtle form of narrative -- that their candidates are qualified for the presidency.

 

3. Film-viewing activity: Have students watch Sen. McCain's biography film (8 minutes, 26 seconds), Sen. Obama's biography film (9 minutes, 26 seconds) or both.

 

Note: If Internet access to YouTube is not available in your school, have students read the candidate biographies posted to the McCain and Obama links above.

 

Have students complete the attached handout ("Candidate Narratives"), recording observations on:

  • The timeline of the film/narrative (how it starts and ends)
  • The characterization of the candidates (what biographical data are presented)
  • The details in the film/narrative (what types of events, speakers and audio and visual cues appear)
  • The political strategy behind the film (how the films argue that McCain and Obama are qualified for the presidency)

 

4. Share and discuss: Have students share and discuss their observations. Discuss:

  • What is the timeline for the McCain film?
    • How does it start?
    • How does it end?
  • What biographical data on McCain are presented?
    • What types of events, speakers, and audio and visual cues appear in the film?
  • What is the strategy behind the film?
    • How does the film argue that McCain is qualified for the presidency?
  • What is the timeline for the Obama film?
    • How does it start?
    • How does it end?
  • What biographical data on Obama are presented?
    • What types of events, speakers and audio and visual cues appear in the film?
  • What is the strategy behind the film?
    • How does the film argue that Obama is qualified for the presidency?
  • How do the candidate narratives compare to one another?
    • What are some similarities in the biographical data presented?
    • What are some differences in the biographical data presented?
  • How do these candidate narratives compare to the portrayals of McCain and Obama in The Choice 2008?
    • What did students learn in The Choice 2008 that did not appear in the candidate narratives?
  • These narrative films are created to help voters relate to the candidates.
    • What are some of the benefits of knowing more about the candidates' personal biographies?
    • What are some ways in which these narratives (which tell only a part of the candidates' personal biographies) might mislead or distract voters?

 

Optional Homework Assignment: Students may write a narrative emphasizing either positive or negative traits and/or biographical details for one of the candidates.

 

Method of Assessment:
Class discussion
Submission of handout(s) after discussion

 

Narrative and Persuasion1

 

Note to Teachers: In this lesson, students will be analyzing candidate narratives. You may find the following information helpful in preparing your lesson.

 

Narratives advance persuasion because:

  • They disarm listeners by enchanting them.
  • They awaken within listeners dormant experiences and feelings.
  • They expose, subtly, some sort of propositional argument.

 

Scholars have shown that people reason differently in the presence of narrative. Its native features suggest why:

  1. Narrative occurs in a natural timeline. There are beginnings, middles and endings to narrative. Once we start on a narrative, we feel compelled to follow it through to its conclusion. All stories, even bad stories, inspire the need to see how they turn out. Narratives always tempt us with closure.
  2. Narrative includes characterization. People are interested in people. Narratives are the stories of what people do. Often, narratives introduce interesting people, sometimes grand people, to an audience. When we read or hear such narratives, our natural sense of identification makes us want to find out more about the lives of the people described.
  3. Narrative presents detail. A good story, such as a fine novel, transports us to another time or place by offering fine-grained treatments. When the narrator describes the clothes people wear or the customs they follow or the dialect they speak, we come to know that time and place as if it were our own. Details captivate.
  4. Narrative is fundamental. No culture exists without narrative. Most cultures celebrate their sacred narratives on a regular basis (for example, a Fourth of July celebration) and indoctrinate their young by means of narrative (for example, fairy tales). Narrative appeals to the child in us, because, unlike life, it contains a complete story with certain consequences.

 

 


Adapted from: Hart, R. P. (1990). Modern Rhetorical Criticism. New York: Harper Collins. Pp. 132-138.

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