This resource will introduce students to each element of the rhetorical situation as it relates to a complex text, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. While students will not have a multitude of supplemental links to help them navigate the rhetorical situation for every text (and definitely not on the exam), having additional information early in their study of this skill can help them find additional connections within the text to the rhetorical situation which can deepen and authenticate their understanding of the influence a given situation has on the delivery and receipt of a text.


In this lesson, students will deconstruct the rhetorical analysis prompt with minimal background of the text, highlighting/labeling the elements of the rhetorical situation that is presented and noting inferences about how this element might influence the creation of the work, delivery of the work, or the way the message was received.


After students spend time deconstructing the prompt provided, they will navigate the links given that reflect each element of the rhetorical situation, making notes about the concrete/literal details for each element as well as making inferences and drawing their own conclusions to infer the abstract understanding of each element’s influence on the work. You may choose to jigsaw this assignment and have students informally present, culminating in a rhetorical precis that each student will complete independently to ensure their understanding of how each element works in concert with one another to situate MLK’s letter.


Students will complete the far right-hand column after reading MLK’s letter. In this column, students should find references to the information and inferences they have included in their chart. For example, King assumes that his audience are religious leaders. As such, students can reference his allusion to the Biblical figure Paul. When students begin to write their analysis, they should use this example as evidence, and use the information they noted when analyzing just the rhetorical situation to draft commentary.




Lauren Peterson (Master of Arts, Education) has been teaching AP® English Language and Composition in a number of states for more than ten years, most recently at Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, where she is also the schoolwide literacy leader. Before this position, Lauren served as a curriculum and instructional coach in Duval County, Florida. Lauren worked for College Board on a pilot curriculum designed to both remediate common AP® English Language challenges and also prepare students for Microsoft Office Specialist Certification. As an independent consultant for the National Math and Science Initiative, Lauren has written diverse curricula used by students across the country as well as training materials for beginning and experienced AP® English Language teachers. Lauren served as an AP® English Language Reader and continues to work as an AP® English Language trainer for new and experienced teachers.