Lesson PlansBack to lesson plans archive January 20, 2015
The State of the Union Address – Lesson Plan
Social studies, history, civics, current events, government
1 class period to explain the assignment, 1 class period to go over the worksheets and discuss the State of the Union address.
Middle School and High School
Students will discuss the elements of a successful political speech and watch President Obama’s State of the Union address.
The purpose of this lesson is to teach students about the history and purpose of the State of the Union, and to teach them how to evaluate the speech.
- Ask students if they have heard of the State of the Union and if they have ever watched it on television. Ask them if they know why the president makes this speech every year. Do they think that the President can choose whether or not to give this speech?
- Explain the purposes for the State of the Union. According to the Constitution, one of the duties of the president is to report to Congress. Students can look at the actual text of the Constitution and find the relevant clause (Article II, Section III) at:
- Also, as chief executive, the president helps guide policy by proposing the creation of laws. The president can use this speech to explain his ideas to Congress and to encourage Congress to pass certain pieces of legislation. The president can propose new initiatives, and he also uses the State of the Union to speak directly to the American people. He can try to gain public support for new programs.
- Students should examine the history of the State of the Union speech (see handout). The speech has become more important due to mass media, particularly television. All of the major networks preempt regular shows in order to broadcast the State of the Union address.
- Ask students if they know who writes the speech for the President. Explain that the President has a staff of advisors, researchers, and speechwriters, who help him to write the speech.
- Ask students what elements make a speech successful – i.e., content, rhetoric, style of delivery, tone of voice, coherence, etc. What do they think makes a speech easy to understand and interesting?
- Explain the homework worksheet on the State of the Union address. If time allows, students can begin to fill out the top part of the worksheet. With the class, brainstorm possible topics and issues that the President might discuss, such as Iraq, taxes, Social Security, education, the war on terrorism, the economy, welfare, health care, energy, domestic security, etc. (Note: Students can save the worksheet and fill it out again for future speeches.)
Students should fill out the worksheet on the State of the Union address. The first part of the worksheet should be completed before viewing the speech, while the rest of the worksheet will be filled out after the speech.
If students have trouble predicting topics President Obama may speak about, suggest issues such as the Affordable Care Act, education, the environment, terrorism, the economy, welfare, health care, energy, etc.
Student understanding should be assessed through:
- Class discussion
- Accurate completion of worksheet and analysis of the State of the Union address
Students can watch the PBS NewsHour’s post-speech analysis or read about the speech to see how journalists and political analysts evaluate the speech. Students then can see if their assessments of the speech are similar to or different from those of the media.
About the Author
Stephanie Schragger has been teaching American and European history for over nine years. She has taught at The Lawrenceville School and York Preparatory School in New York City. She currently teaches at Saint Ann’s in Brooklyn. Stephanie has a B.A. in History from Princeton University and a M.A. in History from Yale University.
The Materials You Need
Tooltip of materials
Tooltip of related stories
Tooltip of more video block
Tooltip of RSS content 3
Summer academy helps refugee children prepare for life in the U.S.
A program that helps refugee children from 29 countries acclimate to life in the United States met again this summer in New York City. Continue readingasylumNew York CityrefugeeSocial Studies
Take the Political Party Quiz to find out where you fit!
Ever wondered where you fit on the political spectrum? Take this quiz to find out! Continue readingElection 2016political partyPoliticsquiz
Lionfish-zapping robot offers solution to invasive species
Invasive lionfish have devastating effects on native species and ecosystems in the Western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, but robotic technology offers a new way to stem their spread. Continue readingenvironmentinvasive specieslionfishScience
Celebrate 100 years of National Parks with these PBS NewsHour stories
For the U.S. National Park Service centennial, use these NewsHour Extra classroom resources to teach students about the importance of conservation.conservationnational parksNational Parks Servicenature
Jill Stein and the role of third party candidates in presidential elections
The third party candidate Dr. Jill Stein of the Green Party says she remains the only candidate in the presidential race who is not corrupted by lobbyists’ money, corporate money or super PACs. Continue readingAl GoreBernie SandersCivicsDemocratic PartyDonald TrumpGeorge W. Bushgreen energyGreen PartyHillary ClintonJill SteinpollingPollsRalph NaderRepublican PartySocial Studiesthird partiesThird-Party