The Action Rhetoric Project

Recasting Action in the Classroom

Charlotte Hogg, Angela Moore, & Jazmine Wells

blue circle with orange microphone

Invitation to Participate

We invite you to engage with our remediation of “The Action Rhetoric Project: Recasting Action in the Classroom.” Our Action Rhetoric Project was originally assigned as a way to encourage students to consider their agency and provoke them to take actions that collapse binaries in terms of both content and scope. Our objective was to teach our students that, with the tools already accessible to them, they could very well do activist work. In that vein, we ask that you dig through our Action Rhetoric Project workshop and participate in taking action and/or influencing others to take action. Start by reading Context about what informed the assignment. In the Assignment and Rubric section you can access the original assignment and rubric. In Student Examples and Reflections, you can listen and read about how undergrads and grads enacted the project and what they gained from their ARPS. In 4C16 Action Hour you can discover how 4C Action Hour 16 participants imagined an ARP assignment in their contexts. Finally, the 4C brainstorming overview, along with the Create Your Own Assignment link with discussion questions is meant to launch you to your own ARP on your campus or other teaching context.


Student Examples and Reflections

Create Your Own Assignment

4C16 Action Hour

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Image of Microphone and Music Notes


Feminist theorists have long problematized traditional rhetoric’s privileging of the public over the private, often calling for a collapse of the public/private split altogether. While we have made great strides in considering the import of ordinary, “private” work, moving from private to public is still privileged, deeming public more valuable, as Charlotte discusses in From the Garden Club. Celebrating moves into the public reinforces the idea that modest, small actions (often marked as feminine) are still less significant. In undergrad and graduate courses on Women’s Rhetorics, Charlotte assigns an Action Rhetoric Project, inviting students to take action in ways that both disrupts the public/private binary and asks them to complicate their ideas of activism while also challenging their comfort zones. Activism doesn’t need to be grand in scope and radical in nature to have an impact. The Action Rhetoric Project assignment is meant to provide students a space to consider, create, and take actions that collapse binaries in terms of both content and scope: actions can be public and/or private, big and bold and/or small and tame, radical and/or modest.

In some ways, our students may be ahead of us in collapsing these binaries and primed for such an assignment. In the recent Washington Post piece, “From Betty Friedan to Beyoncé,” authors note that “This New Wave feminism is shaped less by a shared struggle against oppression than by a collective embrace of individual freedoms, concerned less with targeting narrowly defined enemies than with broadening feminism’s reach through inclusiveness, and held together not by a handful of national organizations and charismatic leaders but by the invisible bonds of the Internet and social media.”

The assignment, which we’ve provided you along with a rubric for assessing it, has parameters that invite students to take on more traditional, public action such as writing to a legislator or working with a Women and Gender Studies program on campus, but it also gives them the opportunity to experience what we call “safe discomfort,” challenging their own parameters or those of a few intimates. In essence: they engage in some kind of action outside of the classroom space and reflect on their activism, and participate in a class forum about their actions.

Student Examples and Reflections

Undergraduate Reflection: Maggie Bush

To draw attention to girls who are changing and/or making an impact on the world, Maggie created a book display at Barnes and Nobles using texts like I Am Malala and Brown Girl Dreaming. Maggie’s book display allowed her to apply the theories she learned in class, which helped her to gain a better understanding of women’s rhetorics, as well as inform others about women’s rhetorics.

Undergraduate Reflection: Frankie Dinwoodie

Frankie decided to take action via Facebook using a popular meme that had been circulated amongst her friends. Frankie reposted the meme on her Facebook page, along with a caption explaining how the meme’s promotion of body shaming was problematic, and encouraged people to take pride in their bodies. As a result, Frankie was able to have an effective conversation with her peers and realized she could make a big difference in a small way.

Graduate Reflection: Sarah Pike

Image of posters supporting Wendy Davis and encouraging people to call in their support created by Sarah Pike.

Photo of #teamwendy and "your calls matter as much as their votes" posters

Sarah took action by volunteering for Wendy Davis’s campaign. She spent a lot of time canvasing, organizing phone banks, and informing others of Wendy Davis and her platform. Sarah found the rhetorical strategies learned in her Women’s Rhetorics course to be extremely helpful when doing this work. In fact, she still uses these invaluable strategies from the Women’s Rhetorics course in her current research and teaching.

Graduate  and Co-Teacher Reflection: Jazmine Wells

Jazmine discusses the similarities and differences she noted when participating in the graduate level Action Rhetoric Project and later assigning the project to undergraduates.  Although both graduate and undergraduate students were eager to take action, they did so in different spheres with various methods. Jazmine also noticed the multiple ways in which students define and understand activism and feminism.

Graduate Reflection: Angela Moore

To take action, Angela wrote and posted a not-coming out letter. The purpose of the letter was not to suddenly reveal her sexual identity, but rather to be transparent about her struggle with finding terminology to encompass her sexual identity. Telling her story publicly as a way to help others enduring a similar struggle allowed Angela to personally re-appropriate activism as not just group-oriented, but as an action that can be equally liberating and thought provoking at the individual level as well.

Please click here to download Not a Coming Out Letter

Create Your Own Assignment

Brainstorming Questions

In the hopes of recasting our notions of action and thinking of how we can encourage students to do the same, we provide opportunities below to contemplate how you have and might reconceive of action. The prompts and questions below ask you to reflect on how ideas of activism inform action in your own life, particularly with regard to adapting the ARP assignment at your own institution or teaching context. However, the prompts and questions can also encompass action you may want to pursue outside of the classroom, and can be used by students to brainstorm their own ARP projects. Then, we include the specific assignment description and rubric that Charlotte uses as an example. Feel free to use, adopt, and expand on our project!


What beliefs about activism do you and/or your students have that you may want to complicate?

  • Think of a time that you felt prompted to engage in action/activism but didn’t.  What stopped you?
  • Think of a time that you caused change but would not have called it activism.  Why wouldn’t you have called it so? How might you complicate that now?
  • What ways have you been reached by communication that you haven’t yet produced on your own? Or what acts have reached you?
  • What binaries might you wish to see collapsed about the idea of “activism”?


  1. In what capacity do you want to take action? On your own or with others? As an instructor fostering action in your class?  (In life you aren’t limited to one, but for brainstorming purposes, pick one right now to focus on.)
  2. The parameters for an ARP in your class:  What are the institutional contexts and constraints that can enable a range of  actions?  What do your students want to see change? Whom do your students want to reach? Where would their actions be most effective?  How can they make their actions appropriate for their desired situations?
  3. What are some long and short term goals you—and your students—envision related to that change? Which of those goals might they focus on accomplishing and how might they accomplish them?
  4. How can you inform and inspire others? What help do you need to take action? How will you measure success? (The same questions apply to your students.)

Assignment and Rubric

The Action Rhetoric Project (ARP) Assignment

Because rhetoric so centrally concerns practice and persuasion, and because women's writing and speaking in particular has focused so directly on change and action (personal or public), let’s enact our understanding of women's rhetoric in this course.  You may address an important public or personal issue in a range of ways.

Some ideas: 

  • a letter to the editor, a congressional representative, or written or oral testimony before the legislature, the city council (or reflecting on previous work where you have done this);
  • a social media project that you want to reach folks on an issue;
  • work with the WGST program on campus (i.e., working with V-Week, etc.);
  • work with an organization you’re already involved with on campus (i.e.:  a discussion group on gendered issues in your sorority);
  • a  "coming out" letter or writing to understand and/or explain a decision for yourself or someone else that is based on gendered communication, etc.; or
  • another idea (please run it by me first). 

What you submit for you ARP will include the artifact (letter, infographic, video, etc.), if applicable, plus your motivation and analysis of the event and artifact and any follow-up results.  If you do a workshop or other action that can’t be submitted, you’ll describe and analyze the event.  Depending on what you do, length of the projects will differ, but your reflection and analysis should be 500 words (about one single-spaced page).

Evaluation for ARP [10% Course Grade]

Action Rhetoric Project Outstanding Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations/ Average Below Average/ Needs Work Incomplete/Unacceptable
Motivation, Analysis, and Reflection: In the ARP it is clear 1) what the motivation for the action was (why you chose this action); 2) an analysis of the action—why you did what you did and how you worked for it to be successful; and 3) a reflection on the action; for example: do you think you reached your intended recipients? How do you know? Was it successful (and how are you defining success)?
Support: The piece explains and justifies how it is an action rhetoric project in the context of our course (enacting our understanding of women’s rhetorics by addressing a public or personal issue rhetorically in sending a message to [an] intended recipient[s])
Style and conventions: 500 words of reflection and analysis. In addition: supporting documents were included; if not included, in addition to the 500 words, there’s context and description about the action as well.

If you would like more information about creating, assigning, and enacting this project, please contact:
Charlotte Hogg,
Angela Moore,
Jazmine Wells,

4C16 Action Hour

For our 4C16 Action Hour, we shared the information here about the context for our ARP assignment, the assignment itself, and then asked participants at our table to ask questions, share experiences, or otherwise brainstorm how they might enact an ARP project at their home campuses or in other teaching contexts. Below you can scroll through a slide show of handwritten notes or read a list of the brainstorming notes documented at the table during our three sessions during the action hour.

Click here to open slideshow in new window

Actions Brainstormed at 4c16 Action Hour:

  • Refuse to sacrifice the complexity of the individual experience
  • Form writing groups for often silenced students
  • Model for my male children how to be a feminist family
  • Invite women #BLM activists to my class to dialogue with students about organizing
  • Revise and add to Wikipedia entries
  • Participate in social media campaigns (i.e. Not on My Campus)
  • Engage in/assign micro-ethnographies recovering women and feminists
  • Assign more public/activist literature and rhetoric in my classroom to motivate student desire for more awareness
  • Speak up/out
  • Redefine words/titles
  • Stand up for someone, online or in person
  • Increase the larger conversation in my FYC class towards more political reasons for the injustices/organizations students are interested in.
  • Create/teach a community-engaged course with military members in community

Reflections from 4c16 Action Hour:

  • If faith is the motivating force for my personal activism, own it! It’s another kind of activism: representing a God of love.
  • It feels like action to help others see that less radical is still a move forward.
  • Getting administrative support can be a concern in certain contexts/institutions.
  • It can be hard to make the time to engage in activism.

Resources and References

Resources for Undergraduate Students

Rine, Abigail.  “The Pros and Cons of Abandoning the Word Feminist.”  The Atlantic. 2 May 2013.

Ritchie, Joy and Kate Ronald, eds. Available Means:  An Anthology of Women’s Rhetoric(s). U of Pittsburgh P, 2001.

Sheinin, Dave, Krissah Thompson, and Soraya Nadia McDonald. “Betty Friedan to Beyoncé: Today’s Generation Embraces Feminism on Its Own Terms.Washington Post.  27 Jan. 2016.

Resources on Challenging the Public/Private Split

Benhabib, Seyla.  “Models of Public Space:  Hannah Arendt, the Liberal Tradition, and Jürgen Habermas.”  Feminism:  The Public and The Private. Ed. Joan B.  New York:  Oxford UP, 1998. 66-99.

Dietz, Mary G.  “Citizenship with a Feminist Face:  The Problem with Maternal Thinking.”  Feminism:  The Public and The Private.  Ed. Joan B. Landes.  New York:  Oxford UP, 1998. 45-63.

Elshtain, Jean Bethke.  Public Man, Private Woman:  Women in Social and Political Thought.  2nd ed. Princeton:  Princeton UP, 1993.

Fraser, Nancy.  “Rethinking the Public Sphere:  A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.”  Between Borders:  Pedagogy and the Politics of Cultural Studies.  Eds. Henry A. Giroux and Peter McLaren. New York:  Routledge, 1994. 74-100.

Gring-Pemble, Lisa M.  “Writing Themselves into Consciousness:  Creating a Rhetorical Bridge Between the Public and Private Spheres.”  Quarterly Journal of Speech 84 (1998): 41-61.

Hogg, Charlotte.  From the Garden Club:  Rural Women Writing Community.  Lincoln, U of Nebraska P., 2006.

Smith, Sidonie, and Julia Watson.  “Introduction:  Situatiing Subjectivity in Women’s Autobiographical Practices.”  Women, Autobiography,Theory. Eds. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson.  Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1998.  3-52.

Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition