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Students and Presidential Speeches: Analyzing Past Speeches and Delivering Their Own

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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepares to deliver a "fireside chat" in 1936
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepares to deliver a “fireside chat” in 1936

Abraham Lincoln on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, addressing an inaugural crowd at the end of a brutal war. Teddy Roosevelt leaning from the back of a railroad car to speak to an informal group gathered below him. Franklin Delano Roosevelt facing a row of radio microphones, addressing the nation—and the world—without leaving his home.

Every presidential speech is different, and today students have the chance to practice making presidential speeches of their own. The Library of Congress Young Readers Center is inviting young people from around the country to submit a one-minute video where they address either an important problem they would fix or something they would create to make the U.S. a better place.

Your students can visit the  Presidential Podium Video Challenge page to learn how to participate in this challenge. Teachers can visit Presidential Speeches: What Makes an Effective Speech? for primary sources documenting past presidential speeches, as well as teaching ideas that will help students explore these rich images, texts, and recordings.

We’re including more teaching ideas here, and we hope you’ll let us know what your students discover about past presidential speeches–and what they learn as they make their own.

Responding to Speeches

Perhaps the most difficult parts of making a presidential speech come after the speech is delivered. The speaker not only has to measure the effect of the speech on the audience, but also decide how he or she will follow through on the promises made in the speech.

  • Encourage each student to reflect on his or her own speech, considering: How effective was I? What would I want other people to do as a result of hearing my speech?
  • Ask students to consider the consequences of the promises they made in their speeches. What actions would be required to make those promises a reality?
  • Assign each student to write a letter to another student, responding to his or her presidential speech. What was the most successful aspect of the speech and why?

For further investigation, ask students to examine historical presidential speeches such as those found in the online collections of the Library of Congress. What were the consequences of these speeches? Did the presidents who delivered them fulfill their promises, and if so, what was required to do so?

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