Tone-up using the State of the Union

The President’s State of the Union address is tonight, which presents a great opportunity to engage students in the on-goings and up-comings of national policy with a text that lends itself perfectly to the analysis of tone, diction, persuasive appeals, and other rhetorical devices.

If you can, engage students in the live event. Use Twitter, Blackboard, or other ways of connecting to your students to create a group record of the rhetorical devices students notice in the speech. The White House has created a specific page of their website for the State of the Union, on which people can watch a special enhanced version “featuring live data, graphics, and charts that explain the issues and policies he’ll be discussing in the speech.” Partisanship be damned – that’s just cool.

Another resource is The Atlantic, which has an article about the importance of Pres. Obama’s tone tonight. They also have a phenomenal feature on the Language of the State of the Union with lots of graphs (visual analysis opportunity!) to enrich the written information.

If you don’t have a means of connecting tonight or want to do more, you can analyze the speech tomorrow or later in the week by printing out the text and giving each student a copy to read, annotate, and then use for your lesson.

I posted my chart for activities to use with speeches in an earlier entry, but here it is again: TeacherSoup Activities for Using Speeches

Here’s a specific, simple lesson: give students copies of the speech to read and annotate (either in class or at home); in the meantime, you divide the speech into even sections. Then, get students into groups of 3-4 and let them choose the section they would like to analyze specifically for tone. I’ve created a graphic organizer that you can give to each group on which they can record their observations: TeacherSoup Analyzing Tone in Speeches. After the groups are finished, they can present their findings by explaining their organizer on the document camera or overhead projector. Hold the rest of the class accountable by asking them to add the annotations to their own copies of the speech and collecting the speeches for a quick classwork credit check.

Let’s get students thinking, reading, and engaging in the issues that will affect their adult lives. Enjoy!