Menus as Artifacts for Rhetorical Analysis

Getting students interested in writing is the daily battle for English teachers everywhere. I’ve found I can pique students’ interests in writing if it’s centered around food. While I have an entire folder of activities and ideas about teaching a literature class through food, my main focus this semester is incorporating that topic into a traditional introductory college composition class. At the bottom of this post I’ve included an instructional sheet I developed from an activity in the Food & Linguistics lunch group I was a member of at Wichita State University.

Currently, my students in ENGL 1001 at the University of Cincinnati are working on writing a rhetorical analysis essay, and one of the takeaways I want to emphasize for them is the usefulness of the skill (notwithstanding the somewhat uselessness of the essay itself). By forcing them to analyze something as seemingly basic as a restaurant menu, they see how these skills can be useful in real-life application, and they also gain confidence in their analytical thinking.

I honestly wasn’t expecting my class to take so well to this activity; I was worried it would end up being too theoretical for their second week of college. But, lo, it has been one of the most successful activities so far. They really jumped on different visual elements in each menu to identity purpose, audience, and genre, and the majority of the write-ups were well thought out and contained a significant amount of analysis for such an artifact. They also didn’t spend too much time summarizing the item itself, which I believe comes from their familiarity with menus and their innate understanding of what analysis is, even if they don’t always know what it looks like.

Guided Questions for Mini Menu Analysis