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PBS: By the People, Election 2004
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Writing a Political Speech

Students research political party platforms and write speeches based on those platforms. Each group will assess its own speech, which will also be evaluated by the audience and the instructor.

Estimated Time of Completion: Two to three weeks, allowing time for students to draft, research, edit and present their work.

I. Objectives
II. Necessary Materials
III. Materials Needed
IV. Teaching Procedure
V. Assessment Recommendations
VI. Extensions and Adaptations
VII. Online Resources
VIII. Relevant Standards

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I. Objectives
Students will learn:

the characteristics of a political speech

the diversity of political interests

how identifiable political groups evaluate a speech's effectiveness

This lesson also reinforces writing and research skills as well as reading comprehension strategies.

II. Necessary Materials

Computers with Internet access (at school or at home)

A couple of 22 x 36" flipchart newsprint pads; or a photocopier and a ream of paper

8 x 11" paper for all students

Student Worksheet

III. Teaching Procedure

1. List the characteristics of a convincing political speech. Have students list 10 characteristics of a convincing political speech. Appoint a secretary to write the list on the board. This list will be part of your scoring guide for assessing convincing political speeches. The characteristics should be achievable and agreed upon by a substantial student majority as well as clearly understood by everyone (not vaguely defined). Characteristics may range from keeping audience interest, touching on issues vital to the audience and providing a 30-second sound-bite for television and radio.

2. Create small groups. Break students into manageable groups (10 or so) and distribute skills and interests among each group. For example, each group will need a public speaker, a statistician, a secretary, a writer and so forth. Have the groups sit together so they may confer.

3. Assign party affiliations. You can assign a political party to each group or you can allow each group to choose a political party. It is acceptable to have more than one group of Democrats or Republicans, but don't forget minority parties, such as the Libertarian Party, the Reform Party and the Green Party (each of which maintains a Web site; see Online Resources).

4. Discuss worthwhile speaking venues. Point out that candidates often receive more invitations to speak than they have time, so party strategists must pick and choose. Solicit names of some special interest groups that might invite the candidate and try to define at least two geographic areas near your school to whom the candidate might speak.

Lead a class discussion about which is the best venue. Don't let the discussion turn into a debate about issues (e.g., abortion, education, taxes). Ask such questions as:


Is it worth making a speech to the Gardening Club?

To the National Rifle Association?

To the local chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving?

On the steps of the school?

In the local park?

What makes a particular venue worthwhile to a candidate?


Compile statements about worthwhile venues where all can see them. An obvious example is, "A worthwhile audience has registered voters." Another example might be, "Registered voters who actually vote." (You can combine these into "A worthwhile audience has registered voters who actually vote.") Then evaluate these statements, giving them a rank order.

You can use the rank order to decide now on one worthwhile venue or you can go on to Step 5 and then decide.

5. Learn your audience. If you haven't decided on one worthwhile venue, have groups use the Web to research the primary purpose(s) of special interest groups and the primary interest(s) of geographical areas. Make each group responsible for researching one or two distinct venues. Groups then report back and the whole class chooses one venue.

Once you've decided on a venue, assign each group to research a different aspect of the venue (see Online Resources below) and report back to everyone (so all groups to start with identical information). Typical research aspects might include: lifestyle, opinions and surveys, demographics and so forth.

6. Research party platforms.Have each group research its party platform (see Online Resources below), especially the relative priorities of issues important to the voters who will hear the speech. If you have groups representing the same party, they can caucus to agree on priorities and present a combined list. Otherwise, each group should present a list ranking priorities from high to low. Explain that this list will be used as a scoring guide in the assessment in addition to the characteristics of a convincing political speech from number 1, above. These second scoring guides should be a manageable size, approximately 6 items.

7. Draft the speech. Each group writes a draft speech about persuasive writing, debate and propaganda. Remind students that grammatical and mechanical correctness is not crucial in a draft. Drafts are written to see what the candidate has to say, but preparation for revision will require fixing grammatical and mechanical errors.

8. Poll group members on the draft's effectiveness. Within each group, each member uses the scoring guides to review the draft's effectiveness. (Note: individual comments about the relatively less important issues of grammar and mechanics can be combined onto one copy of the draft and handed in attached to the following.) Where the draft deviates from the scoring guides, the group must reach consensus about:


whether the deviation is important and if it is, why (e.g., "There's no sound-bite, which is important if you want 6 o'clock news coverage.")

whether the deviation should be repaired in revision and if not why not (e.g., "We're not going to add education in the revision because zip code 21212 is 90% elderly, and they don't vote for education issues.")

how important deviations will be repaired in revision (e.g., "We're going to insert a 15-second sound-bite - a party slogan - at the end of our nine-paragraph discussion of prison reform" and "Since maintaining Social Security is important to zip code 21212 but less important to our party than a tax cut, we're going to insert a very short paragraph about maintaining Social Security just before our very long tax cut proposal.")


Assign group secretaries to create and manage this list for you by placing member comments in a four-column chart. See the student Worksheet for an example. One copy of this chart should go to you and another copy should be held by the group.

9. Revise the speech. Groups use the 4-column chart and assorted revision resources to revise their draft speech. In addition, groups representing minority parties probably need to explain their political purpose to the audience (for example, why the Socialist Worker's Party candidate is addressing an anarchist group in Chicago). NOTE: While your student groups are revising their speeches, combine the scoring guides from Numbers 1 and 6 for each group. You will need this combined scoring sheet for the assessment.

10. Present the speech. Each listener (students and any invited guests) reads the combined scoring guide from Numbers 1 and 6 above (they get one copy for each speaker or the scoring guides are written where all can see). Each listener should pretend to be a voter in the chosen venue or special interest group.

Then each group's public speaker (acting as their party's candidate) presents the speech (three to six minutes is probably best). In the next step, The listeners use each combined scoring guide to rate each speech.

11. Assess the speech. Cue the audience to applaud at the end of each speech. Then tell the listeners that individual responses to the speech should be treated as if they were private ballots in an election no peeking and no showing scores.

Each listener ranks the candidate's presentation using the combined scoring guide created for that speech. (You set the scale, but 1 - 4 seems best, since there is no midpoint.) For each point on the scoring guide, each listener marks:

1 for strongly disagree that the point is handled adequately

2 for mildly disagree that the point is handled adequately

3 for mildly agree that the point is handled adequately

4 for strongly agree that the point is handled adequately

Next, give students time to add a one-sentence comment to any points they wish. See Assessment for instructions about how to combine these assessments with yours.

12. Collect the assessments. Use these to grade the groups' speeches.

IV. Assessment Recommendations
Since each of the combined scoring guides incorporates all the aspects of a convincing political speech that you want to assess, the collected assessments amount to corroboration of your professional assessment.


Compare the listeners' collected assessments to your own assessment. (Most of them will probably agree with you.) A quick method for counting assessments is to count the total number of 4's for each speech. Group the assessments in four stacks: nearly all 4's, about three-quarters, less than one-half and about one-quarter.

Make a chart comparing the listeners' assessment with yours and present it to the class. Read one-sentence comments to support important aspects of the assessment.

V. Extensions/Adaptations

Extensions. Hold the speeches in an auditorium. Use a podium and sound system. Invite parents and other dignitaries. When all speeches have been given, vote (show of hands or secret ballot) on the best speech. Ask dignitaries to explain.

Adaptations. You can reduce the research component by researching political parties and geographical areas yourself. Create groups according to number 2 in Teaching Procedure. Then assign students to compose the speeches.

VI. Online Resources
Political Parties

Green Party
www.greenparties.org

Libertarian Party
www.lp.org

Reform Party
www.reformparty.org

Republican Party (Republican National Committee)
www.rnc.org

Democratic Party (Democratic National Committee)
www.democrats.org

Communist Party, U.S.A.
http://www.cpusa.org/

VII. Relevant National Standards
These are established by McREL
at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/:

Language Arts

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing

Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts

Civics

Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society

Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics

Understands issues regarding personal, political, and economic rights


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