What Makes a Good Presidential Speech?
Reading speeches of the past can teach students about American history and current events. It's also a great way to show students some great examples of
concise and descriptive writing. Political speeches demonstrate literary techniques such as symbolism, repetition, imagery, hyperbole, rhythm, similes and metaphors. Reading speeches helps students improve their own writing by learning how to craft powerful imagery.
Begin this lesson by asking students what they remember about any speeches by presidents they have seen or read about. List the topics they mention on the board.
Then ask students to write a list of 10 key topics they think President Obama should talk about in his next speech. Ask volunteers to discuss their lists and put some of their topics up on the board. Tell them they will use this list for their homework assignment, which will be to write a speech for President Obama.
Then, provide printouts of the excerpts from the two speeches discussed below. Discuss the comments of the presidents with the students. Ask the class how America has changed, for better or worse, in the last decade.
Ask students to read at least five speeches by presidents that are available on the Internet. Tell them to print out two of the speeches and underline examples of the use of literary techniques.
Remind the class that their homework assignment will be to write a speech of at least eight paragraphs that President Obama could present when speaking to the nation. Tell them to imagine that they are on staff as his speechwriter. What kind of speech would they prepare for him? Ask students if they have any questions about the assignment.
Excerpts from Speeches of Presidents
President Jimmy Carter, 1980
In 1980 American hostages were being held in Iran. Also, Russia was invading Afghanistan, a country that at that time controlled over one-half of all oil that was exported throughout the world. During 1980 President Carter made a speech that touched on topics that are still very relevant to today’s world.He stated that:
“Peace, a peace that preserves freedom, remains America’s first goal….Our dependence on foreign oil is a clear and present danger to our Nation’s security…. Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
This speech, almost 30 years ago, shows that the Middle East was a critical issue for the safety of the United States, just as it is now. Also, then as now, dependence on foreign oil is a crisis for America.
The Middle East is in more turmoil now than ever. Since 1980 America has had so much time to solve this clearly identified problem of foreign oil dependence. However, our nation is still very dependent on foreign oil and we are still at war in the Middle East.
Just as President Carter announced that peace must be the first goal, our nation now longs for the war in Iraq to end.The issues that plagued America in 1980 are still with us now.
President Barack Obama, 2008 (at Democratic National Convention)
At the August 2008 speech by Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention, he pledged to make America more “compassionate” by stating:
“We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns.”
“America, now is not the time for small plans. Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy.”
Barack Obama also stated:
“Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American…And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.”
To assess student achievement on this lesson, give students a grade for participation in class discussion and computer research of speeches. Also, give students a writing grade for the speech they create for President Obama.
- Speech by President Jimmy Carter, from the Jimmy Carter Library, speech of 1/23/1980.
- Speech by President Obama, from Huffington Post Politics, 9/28/2006