Archive for Politics and Rhetoric

Presidential Speeches: Gettysburg Address

Whether required to memorize it in junior high or seeing parodies of it over the years, we are all familiar with the “Gettysburg Address.”  While most students study its importance in a history class, this speech is a great resource for teaching rhetoric and style.  The key is asking students to examine it from a literary perspective and evaluate the form, function, and decisions Lincoln made.  Below are a series of suggested approaches that challenge student’s thinking about this seminal text.

  • For higher-level students consider providing them with an excerpted copy of Thucydides’ The Funeral Oration of Pericles.  While they might find parallels in regards to style, ask them to consider the similarities in argument and views of war.  The students can write a compare/contrast paper or merely debate the commonalities that exist and speculate the degree to which Lincoln mimicked this speech.
  • The Library of Congress has done an amazing job preserving historical documents.  Fortunately, they have preserved two early drafts Lincoln wrote of the “Gettysburg Address.”  To help aid students in navigating the text and understanding the main idea of the piece, two drafts of the gettysburgand ask them identify the changes made and make some assumptions about why these changes were made.  This will help them get a deeper understanding of the text without study guide or comprehension questions.
  • After a close study of the tone and speaker, ask students to narrow down and provide a clear identification of Lincoln’s persona throughout the speech.  Is he calm?  Reserved?  Powerful?  Forceful?  Demanding?  Then, provide students with a variety of monuments and statues, like the above statue located in Cincinnati, Ohio or the statue to the right from Chicago, IL.  Ask students to determine which statue they feel best captures the essence of the “Gettysburg Address” and justify their response.
  • For students who struggle with rhetorical analysis, this is a nice piece to give them practice with.  While they might struggle to come to a solid interpretation about the speech, they will be able to identify patterns within the piece.  They can spot repetitive words and similar structures.  Identifying these elements will at least help them move into some level of analysis when considering why he repeated the aspects that he did. 

There are so many outstanding features to this speech; the above are just techniques that illicit a variety of interpretations and appeal to a variety of abilities.  Encourage your students to celebrate President’s Day by celebrating the beauty of the “Gettysburg Address.”

Presidential Speeches-Overview


Let’s be honest.  Most teachers would rank President’s Day as one of their top three holidays because it gives them a much needed day off from the doldrums of a dreary February.  However, President’s Day provides so much more than just a day to sleep in.  Taking a day to honor our presidents is also a day to honor

Presidential speeches are rife with rhetoric and superbly highlight skills that are essential to composition.  Through studying speeches, students are able to learn the importance of exigence and what leads writers to write.  They are also able to examine the role of the audience and the tactics presidents and speechwriters use to disable the opposing argument while appearing strong and powerful.  Through the subtle use of appeals, presidents are able to accomplish quite a lot through their speeches, making them emblematic of their presidency and iconic for the era.

Therefore, we are dedicating this week to presidential speeches that are mainstays in American culture, providing suggestions for teaching and highlighting moments of brightness.

Weekend Pop Culture: Presidential Rhetoric Day 2

There is much to be studied in regards to political rhetoric, as discussed in yesterday’s post about analyzing the published media from each Republican candidate.  However, there is a plethora of lessons from analyzing the consistency of a politician’s style through multiple speeches to studying the most commonly used words used in an election season and why.  However, beyond studying style, there is much to examine in regards to the development and nature of an argument.  As English teachers we often forget the value in teaching students how to dissect an argument and evaluate it.  Read more

Weekend Pop Culture: Presidential Rhetoric

We were fortunate enough to present at the College Board Forum this week and saw amazing presentations, met amazing people associated with education, and had amazing opportunities.  One of these opportunities was to attend a discussion about education with four Republican Presidential candidates: Read more