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  • Writer's pictureCana Uluak Itchuaqiyaq

Building Crappy Doghouses Using KELP

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

I've had the opportunity to teach a variety of courses in grad school, including first year writing. I've noticed is that when students are asked to write a rhetorical analysis essay using basic elements of rhetoric -- kairos, ethos, logos, pathos -- they have a hard time understanding what they're really supposed to do and, oftentimes, a debilitating fear of not doing a "good" job.

Now, remember, I like to use acronyms to help folx remember things and to facilitate discussion. I refer to kairos, ethos, logos, and pathos as KELP.

In more true Cana fashion, I have come up with a useful metaphor that both explains what one does in a basic rhetorical analysis and gives students permission to be learners rather than experts -- because that's what they are in a first year writing course!


Let's say we’re in a first year writing class and I bring in a box of construction tools, such as a table saw, a miter saw, a drill, and a measuring tape. I then give you a brief overview of these tools and tell you to go out and find information about those tools.

You still haven't necessarily used the tools much yet, but you’ve watched others using them and you know -- kinda -- what they're for and what they can do.

After learning about the tools, we then go out to a doghouse factory and I tell you all to find whatever doghouse you think is interesting and look at it to see where the builders used the tools I showed you when they constructed it.

What evidence do you see that they used the table saw?

  • The doghouse has rectangle sides that have been cut from a bigger piece of plywood.

  • The shop has a table saw.

What evidence do you see that they used a miter saw?

  • There are angled cuts on the doghouse’s sides and on the top of the roof.

  • The shop has a miter saw.

What evidence do you see that they used a drill?

  • The doghouse is put together with screws.

  • The shop has a drill.

What evidence do you see that they used a measuring tape?

  • The doghouse fits together neatly and has even sides.

  • The shop has a measuring tape.

Now, if you were to write an essay about the doghouse you chose, you would need to identify the tools that were used and how they were used in constructing the doghouse. You would also make a claim about the doghouse from your observations, like “Though this doghouse is built with wacky, unconventional materials, it is actually a functional and comfortable home for your dog.” Or, “Though this doghouse seems to have all the bells and whistles that the discerning dog requires, it lacks enough space for most dogs to actually fit through the doghouse door.”

Same for a rhetorical analysis — but you will also have to cite sources, of course!

Think of KELP (Kairos, Ethos, Logos, Pathos) as the tools used to build the doghouse—you’re just looking at how _____ uses those tools to do something.

Furthermore, your paper is a bit like building a doghouse.

You are following a specified structure, you have gathered the necessary materials, and you have the tools to do the job.

BUT REMEMBER: what you are building isn’t expected to be an exquisitely made doghouse. You have never used a miter saw before! You are building your first doghouse—but it will be something that you can look back on as you continue your practice of academic writing and feel proud of.

Give yourself permission to build a crappy doghouse. You'll get better the more you use your tools and as you revise your work. However, don't get it twisted: your essay must have all the elements that a doghouse needs: a doorway (intro), four sides (KELP), a roof (conclusion), and a foundation (sources).


That’s it. That's my crappy doghouses metaphor. I'm here to report that it works because it gets students' attention and it is simple enough to understand.

Plus, it gives us a little inside joke:

Me (sees student on campus in a future semester): Hey, there!

Student: Hi! What have you been up to?

Me: Building crappy dog houses. But I'm getting better. You?

Student: Samesies.

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