Today was a day of firsts for me. It was the first time I drove my daughter to preschool. It was the first time my husband realized halfway there that preschool was cancelled. It was the first snow day for my daughter. It was the first time my daughter went sledding. And it was the first time I went sledding. (I consider it a personal accomplishment that I didn’t eat it in front of all the other kids. Like I did my first time skiing. I’m from Florida, you know.)
Today was a first for a lot of politicians too. Freshmen congresswomen and congressmen were sworn in today and took their place in American political history. I admit, I’m jealous. When I was in 5th grade, two high school guys visited my class and gave a presentation about careers. As an adult, I realize this activity had “extra credit” written all over it, but at the time, I was impressed. When they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I excitedly and sincerely answered, “President of the United States.” They smiled. Again, as an adult, I realize now their smiles were based on their knowledge of the far-fetched nature of my aspiration. As a 10 year old, I felt belittled. And pissed. I didn’t have the vocabulary at the time – those lessons would be learned the following year on the bus - but I’m pretty sure my expression read, “Watch me, a-holes.”
Turns out, they were probably right. I say probably, because you never know! If people live to be 100 now-a-days, I may still have a shot. While awaiting my own Town Hall meetings, I’ve turned my own political interests outward and tried to emphasize the importance of intellectual citizenship in my teaching. I want my students to think, research, analyze, listen, and engage in their government. I want them to be aware of the manipulations, pratfalls, fallacies, and steaming piles of horse-manure that dot the great American political arena, so they can find people and ideas to genuinely support.
One of my favorite genres of texts to use with students is speeches. They’re often examples of powerful, poetic prose, and they serve to inform students of either the past or present. The chart I’ve created and included for you is just a place to start when considering how to use speeches in your classrooms. The activities are suitable for middle and high school students of any level and align with multiple Common Core State Standards. Some of my best teaching moments happened during these activities, so I hope they are equally meaningful to you and your students.