Rhetorical questions

Rhetorical questions are used to emphasise a point where the answer to the question is obvious due to the wording of the question. They are questions that do not expect an answer but trigger an internal response for the reader such as an empathy with questions like 'How would you feel?' or more obviously 'You would feel bad, wouldn’t you?'

Strategy

Changing statements into questions is one of the easier strategies to utilise the use of rhetorical questions. Take a list of statements (from within the context of your units) and provide students an opportunity to rewrite the statements as rhetorical questions. Another strategy is to change actually questions into rhetorical questions. Some examples:

  • Is the sky blue?
  • The sky is blue.
  • The sky is blue, isn’t it?
  • Is anything wrong?
  • There is something wrong with you.
  • What’s wrong with you?

Rhetorical questions tend to use high modality language when questions often use low modality language.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: I asked you first (rhetorical questions)

This activity is best to be completed as a whole class activity to begin with and as the students become familiar with it they can break up into small groups to play it. It can be used to break up a lesson or as an introduction to effective questioning. Students will explore the variety of questions that can be asked in a non-threatening environment.

  • Select two volunteers to come to the front of the class.
  • Explain the rules of the activity.
  • You must take turns asking each other questions.
  • You can only respond with a question.
  • If you take too long or answer with a statement you are out (or it could be a points system).
  • Discussion: Which questions caught you out and why? How could this be transferred into your writing?

Variation: To begin with the students are allowed to ask any question at all but once they become more confident with the game the questions have to be specific to the current topic.

References

Australian curriculum

ACELA1542: Language for interaction: Understand how rhetorical devices are used to persuade and how different layers of meaning are developed through the use of metaphor, irony and parody.

NSW syllabus

EN4-3B: Outcome 3: uses and describes language forms, features and structures of texts appropriate to a range of purposes, audiences and contexts  (EN4-3B) - Develop and apply contextual knowledge: understand how rhetorical devices are used to persuade and how different layers of meaning are developed through the use of metaphor, irony and parody

NSW literacy continuum

WRIC14M6: Aspects of writing, Cluster 14, Marker 6: Selects sophisticated grammatical structures to enhance quality of writing.

Online resources

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