On July 15, 1960, John F. Kennedy gave his acceptance speech at the 1960 Democratic Convention. At that event, Kennedy introduced the idea of a “New Frontier” and for the first time, the nation heard from a future president who gave many of the most significant speeches in modern history. President’s Kennedy’s successes as a speaker began when he was a senator and are partially due to the help of Jacqueline Kennedy, who helped write some of the speeches and also took charge of his wardrobe. Jacqueline Kennedy also gave a few speeches, especially those in which a language other than English was required.
In this lesson, students will gain an appreciation for the power of speeches and the role of speeches in history.
Access to the Internet, a printer and a photocopy machine.
Prior to class, print and make photo copies of the transcript of the Martin Luther King, Jr. “I Have a Dream” speech and the outline of questions regarding giving an effective speech.
Stephen E. Lucas, Evjue-Bascom, Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin, and Martin J Medhurst, Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Communication at Baylor University compiled a list of the top 100 speeches. Michael E. Eidenmuller, Ph. D., Assistant Professor of Speech Communication at the University of Texas in Tyler, has collected and posted the transcripts and audios of these speeches at the following web address: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/top100speechesall.html.
Begin this lesson by giving students a copy of the transcript of the speech ranked number one, “I Have a Dream,” by Martin Luther King Jr. Have students follow the transcript of the speech while also listening to the audio.
Then, using the outline of questions regarding giving an effect speech, analyze the speech of Martin Luther King Jr.
After analyzing the speech, have students go to the interactive timeline of Martin Luther King Jr. to gain a better understanding of his life. Then discuss with students the importance of the biography of the person giving the speech. The following questions might be helpful with this discussion:
At the end of this discussion, assign each student in the class a different speech from the list of the top 100 speeches. Direct students to analyze the speech and the life of the speaker, as well as events surrounding the speech that made it significant in history. Also notify students that they will be teaching the class what they discover in their research and analysis.
- Why was Martin Luther King, Jr. qualified to give the “I Have a Dream" speech?
- How would that speech have been different if delivered by someone like Triple H. of professional wrestling or Sponge Bob or even the current president of the United States?
- Does a speaker need to have certain life experiences in order to have credibility with the audience or can anyone give a speech on any topic?
- If someone has the life experience to give a speech, but not a strong presentation style, what impact will this have on the audience?
Extending the Lesson:
Have each student in class write a speech about a current issue of concern to him or her and present it to the class.
Sources & Resources:
Top 100 Speeches:
Martin Luther King, Jr.:
What is Rhetoric? (For Teachers):
Elements of an Effective Speech:
Inspired by a lesson plan written by Karen Sinning, English teacher and professor, and John Blank, science teacher; retrieved from: http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=162
This lesson was adapted by Debra L. Clark, Kent State University.