Ethos, Pathos and Logos


Ethos is often translated as credibility, but with the resonance of ethical behavior.

For you as a teacher, because the students see nothing of us except our class “selves,” this means that we mirror the standards and behaviors which we want our students to exhibit.

We cannot expect students to measure up to standards which we don’t meet ourselves.

  • Coming well-prepared.
  • Arriving on-time.
  • Doing the same reading that the students do in preparation for the class, even if it’s the sixth time re-reading the same material. It helps to make this obvious by throwing in comments like “When I got to this section last night, I had to look up these two words because I realized I wasn’t sure exactly what they mean.”
  • Teaching for the entire class period.
  • Being open to learning as well as to teaching.
  • Appearing to be well-organized both for the day and for the quarter. This includes having handouts for assignments available about two weeks before due dates, keeping the teacher’s desk as neat as possible, and making board writing legible.
  • Knowing the names of the students within a reasonable period of time. Ways to Learn Student Names
  • Having a fair system of grading papers and determining course grades – and holding to that system throughout the quarter.
  • Having fair expectations of student performance.
  • Passing out written assignment sheets and not expecting oral directions to suffice for any graded work.
  • Writing clear assignments sheets that are grammatically correct and perfectly spelled.
  • Returning written work within one week of the time it is received.
  • Dealing kindly with students as you would expect to be treated yourself. This means that if you have to confront a student with plagiarism or with anything the least bit embarrassing that the confrontation will happen privately.
  • Giving credit for articles you copy and ideas you borrow, and not using student work publicly unless you have received permission to do so.
  • Keeping track of student writing as best you can – try not to lose their papers.
  • Allowing for individual learning styles and individual interests – this means that you should probably offer more than one choice for a writing assignment. It might even mean offering alternative WAYS of fulfilling that assignment.
  • Scrupulously avoiding favoritism or discrimination. Ask a fellow teacher to come in and observe the class if you think you might even appear to be tending toward either one.


LaughterPathos: Translated as appealing to the emotions, moving the “hearts” of the students to pity, laughter, love, or any other feeling. This is not about YOUR emotions (though your own emotions may guide you), but the emotions of the students.

  • Show that you care about the individual students by passing out a questionnaire (like the one Julie Sartwell developed) on the first day of class; it should address issues like preparation for the class, background in English, and personal stresses, such as course load and work. In addition, it should have a question which would allow students to reveal learning issues.
  • Connect to your students by having private meetings with each student, preferably in the first three weeks. You can talk about their writing, but also ask about their goals, learning styles, fears (maybe/ maybe not), hopes, etc.
  • Choose readings with emotional appeal, such as Pedro and Me, My Year of Meats, The #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Kitchen, etc. Use poetry and short stories that appeal to students who are mostly ages 18-24 and which may touch their hearts. 
  • Use films to supplement the readings, and be certain to use ones that have emotional appeal as well, such as Bowling for Columbine, The Gods Must Be Crazy, Boyz ‘n the Hood.
  • A written note of praise or concern is good, but a private, spoken word to a student who did a particularly noteworthy job or who is currently suffering will go directly to that student’s heart.
  • Public praise (overheads of well-written sections from student papers - Good Writing) and clapping for those accomplishments.
  • Laughter – one way is to use cartoons on your assignment sheets, but do it in your own way. I can’t tell you how to stage laughter.
  • Building exercises in which each person is listened to carefully and many students find that their thoughts are repeated and/ or respected by others.
  • When using sample essays from former students, try to find ones that will touch the hearts of the students as well as show appropriate form.
  • Putting a photo of the class outside your office (as Kathy Flores does) or on your website is a great way to connect with them.


Logos: ( Philosophy. In pre-Socratic philosophy, the principle governing the cosmos, the source of this principle, or human reasoning about the cosmos.
OR Among the Sophists, the topics of rational argument or the arguments themselves.

Thinker We expect logic from our students, so we must be logical ourselves.

  • Developing a logical sequence of assignments and exercises, so that each one builds upon skills learned in the previous one.
  • Developing writing assignments such that students placed at that level could reasonably be expected to be successful at those assignments.
  • Putting up an agenda for the day and following that agenda as far as possible. It is great if we can mention our learning goals for the day and summarize at the close of the class. In short, a well-taught class may, on some days, be like a well-written essay. [Other days, chaos can be fruitful, too.]
  • Matching our required readings to the department course outlines so that the difficulty is at the right level and we don’t duplicate readings used at other levels of the English curriculum. Readings should be challenging and aimed at the demographic of our students, but shouldn’t be so long or so abstruse that they bore the students.
  • Grading fairly. This doesn’t mean that we must reveal our grades or even the number of A’s, B’s, etc., but it does mean that students who compare papers should be able to see the difference between an A and a C, for example.
  • Making grading “transparent.” Judy Hubbard holds a class discussion about grading and then asks students to grade sample papers which she hands out. After they have graded the essays, they have a discussion about those grades.
  • Also, if possible, show sample papers before drafts are due and explain exactly why and how you graded each one.
  • Using a rubric for grading which is explicit and clear on the assignment sheet and is repeated on the grading material.
  • Building the curriculum out of material that will actually be useful for the students to master. This doesn’t mean that we should never teach our favorites or the subject of our own research, but it does mean that we need to help students to develop skills that extend beyond identifying conceits in Metaphysical poetry.
  • Keeping up-to-date on the rules for research documentation and on current web tools that will benefit our students.
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