The State of the Union is always such a rich speech. It is a text that I think should find its way in every classroom regardless of the class, grade, or ability level. For most of us, we weave it into our classrooms by analyzing the argument. We might guide our students in analyzing the shifting argument within the speech, identifying the minor premises supported throughout, evaluating the evidence used for support, recognizing concession, considering the larger significance and implications of the argument, and studying the rebuttal by the opposing political party. However, I don’t want to end the discussion on the State of the Union; I want to see my students demonstrating their knowledge and understanding. I want them to reflect on the speech, think like an editor, challenge like a critic, and write like a wordsmith.
So, after studying the rhetoric of the State of the Union, I give students the following writing assignments and ask them to choose one they feel they can achieve the most success, allowing them freedom and choice. The prompts allow room for creative thinking and creative writing, a task not often seen in a classroom geared toward formal argument analysis. All of the prompts demonstrate a range of talents, but they don’t feel as tedious to the students as writing an essay.
1.) It is your job to play editor. What suggestions would you provide President Obama (and his speech writers) to best help him achieve his purpose? Make sure to identify the purpose and provide concrete, specific suggestions to improve the speech and its persuasiveness.
2.) Select one statement from the SOTU that strikes you. State this clearly in your response. Then, in your response, defend or challenge the statement. Provide specific concrete proof.
3.) Evaluate what President Obama (and his speechwriters) considered in composing the SOTU. What is your evidence of this? Which considerations appear the most significant given a close reading of the speech?
4.) The opposing party always issues a response to the President’s SOTU. While your response will be much shorter (200-350 words), compose a critical response to Obama’s SOTU addressing what you feel are the strongest points of the SOTU.
5.) It’s catch phrase time! The purpose of a catch phrase is to make a create a memorable statement that embodies an idea. They are typically concise, short, and to-the-point but rhetorically powerful. Pretend you are on Obama’s speech writing staff and working to compose the SOTU. What catch phrase will you suggest Obama implementing into his SOTU? Provide this catch phrase. Then, provide a rationale for your suggested catch phrase.