What is the most powerful book you have ever read?
Books like this stay with us long after we have finished reading the last page because they engage our emotions. They might have made us laugh or cry. Perhaps they filled us with fear or hope.
It doesn’t matter what emotion they inspired; the important thing is that they made us feel something.
The power of emotions
Engaging the reader’s emotions is the key to leaving a lasting impression in any text. A great example of this can be found in Greenpeace’s current Rang-tan campaign:
This beautiful advertisement marks a departure from the more aggressive approach usually adopted by Greenpeace to shock people into action. However, the softer, emotional approach they have adopted in this instance is incredibly powerful. As a result, over a million people worldwide have felt compelled to sign the petition telling big brands to drop dirty palm oil.
As humans we are governed by our feelings and our own experiences which is why engaging the reader’s emotions has such impact. Essentially, if you want the reader to take action, you must show them how a topic or issue affects or relates to them personally. This is important throughout the text, but the conclusion is the last, and in some ways the most important, opportunity to achieve this.
How to engage the reader’s emotions
There are many devices professional writers use to engage the reader’s emotions, here are our top three:
- Ask a rhetorical question – this encourages the reader to think about how the topic or issue relates to them and their experiences. (I used this device in the introduction and conclusion to this post.)
- Paint a word picture – when we read a text, we build a picture in our head based on the words and our own experiences. (Think about the contrasting images conjured up in the Greenpeace advert by the words and the animation.)
- Tell a story – stories help us to relate to the experiences of others. (In the ending below I tell you about my own experience and then relate it to yours.)
When I think about the most powerful book I have ever read, quite a few contenders immediately spring to mind. I’ve certainly cried under the covers and laughed out loud on a crowded train while lost in a great book. Imagine if your students writing had the same effect – how much more inviting would that stack of writing books look at the end of a long day in the classroom?
Step 7 Action Activity
As a class, watch this video about the making of the Greenpeace advertisement:
Discuss the thinking behind their decision to take an emotional approach in this campaign.
Ask students to form groups of 3–4 and choose a current environmental issue that they feel strongly about. Get the groups to make a list of the emotions that they feel when they think about their chosen issue. Now get them to brainstorm how they could use the following devices to make other people feel those same emotions:
- ask a rhetorical question
- paint a word picture
- tell a story.
Working individually, ask students to draft an ending to an advertisement or information report about their chosen issue using their favourite idea from the group brainstorm. Share some of the best examples with the class.
Looking for more? For more Seven Steps ideas and inspiration, join the Seven Steps Online Members Facebook Group.