Presidential Speeches: Teaching Skills

“All right, all right,” you say.  “I know about the inaugurals.  I know about the ‘Gettysburg Address.’  What are extraordinary speeches that aren’t copiously anthologized?”  I hear you and respond that there are plenty of speeches that are notable in their own way.  Below are a series of speeches (all from American presidents—however not always delivered while in term) that can be used to address a variety of reading skills and standards. 

  • Teaching the AppealsGeorge W. Bush’s address after 9/11 at Ground Zero and Ronald Reagan’s address to the nation after the Challenger Disaster are two excellent speeches to consult when helping students to understand the appeals to ethos, pathos, and logos.  The 9/11 address is more compact and literal, making it a great piece to start the instruction of the appeals.  Then, provide Reagan’s speech to ask students to engage in a more sophisticated form of analysis and identification.
  • Identifying Voice-Even though presidents often rely on writers to compose their speeches, it is imperative that a president create a voice that is distinct and consistent throughout their term.  As a result, asking students to compare and contrast multiple speeches from the same president encourages them to consider how the personality, vision, and ideals of the president are maintained and developed.  President Obama is an example of a president with a well-defined voice regardless of the content.  Ask students to evaluate his keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Convention, a speech that many successfully argue moved him into the political limelight, with his ”A More Perfect Union” speech in Philadelphia, a piece that helped set the precedent for race relations in our country at the time. 
  • Playing Speechwriter-Given the timely nature of State of the Unions, it’s unnecessary to provide specific examples.  While some of the activities proposed during yesterday’s post would bring about deep analysis, ask students to play the role of speechwriter and determine one catch phrase they think should have been incorporated into the speech to make it more dynamic and memorable.  This would test their knowledge of the content, speaker, and argument while still giving them a forum for voice and style.  Another suggestion is to ask students to read the response issued by the opposing party.  Typically these are strong examples of refutation and are more formal and less stylized than the actual state of the union.  Furthermore, consider asking students to write their own counter to a specific section or point.



Image from:  donkeyhokey

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