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Analyzing Famous Speeches as Arguments

This date in history marks the inauguration of a number of U.S. Presidents. This is a good date to look at famous speeches and what they include and why.

Traditionally, teachers have encouraged students to engage with and interpret literature—novels, poems, short stories, and plays. Too often, however, the spoken word is left unanalyzed, even though the spoken word has the potential to alter our space just as much than the written.

After gaining skill through analyzing a historic and contemporary speech as a class, students will select a famous speech from a list compiled from several resources and write a piece that identifies and explains the rhetorical strategies that the author deliberately chose while crafting the text to make an effective argument. Their analysis will consider questions such as

  • What makes the speech an argument?
  • How did the author’s rhetoric evoke a response from the audience?
  • Why are the words still venerated today?

Nearly everything we read and hear is an argument. Speeches are special kinds of arguments and should be analyzed as such. Listeners should keep in mind the context of the situation involving the delivery and the audience-but a keen observer should also pay close attention to the elements of argument within the text. This assignment requires students to look for those elements.

Interested in digging deeper? Check out this lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org.