Before I introduce the project to students, I want them to think about the connection between writing and persona. I want them to study a well written speech and evaluate the primary argument and how it is constructed. Analyzing the construction will help them identify the main intent and purpose of the speaker, while also helping them recognize how the style and voice of the speech is reminiscent of the speaker himself. While there are hundreds of amazing speeches (some of which were detailed in our posts a few weeks ago), I think the “Gettysburg Address” works best to introduce this project. It is short enough to keep students’ attention but powerful enough in argument and style to help students see how a truly great speech is written: with concision and purpose.
I begin by giving the students the speech and asking them to see how many “things” they see repeated. I remind them to look at words but not to forget about ideas and grammatical constructions. They will usually notice words like “devotion” and “consecrate” being used but often miss Lincoln’s use of parallel phrases, like “conceived” and “dedicated.” Then, we begin examining the organization of the speech and how Lincoln moves from the past, to the present, and concludes with the future. Engaging the students in this close of a reading gives them enough support to help them uncover the argument Lincoln is trying to make about freedom. Then, I ask them to consider President Lincoln’s demeanor. How do they envision him delivering this speech? How might they describe him? Was he trying to come across powerful and firm or conciliatory and approachable. This discussion is the perfect transition to the visual component of the lesson.
The Common Core reading standards are not exclusive to written texts. We also need to be teaching our students visual rhetoric. To do this, I ask students to bring in one monument or statue of Abraham Lincoln that they feel best represents the speaker of the address. There are so many statues of Lincoln across the country in various stages of his life. They need to sift through a variety of images and keep the composition of the speech in mind when selecting the image they feel best captures the Lincoln of the “Gettysburg Address.” In class they have to defend their selection using specific references to the speech.
Even if you don’t assign the project profiled this week, this first step is a great way to get your students thinking analytically while supporting it with a piece of writing. Their reading skills are honed in multiple ways and they are, even if unconsciously, evaluating an argument.
Image from Androfire