The purpose of this lesson is to teach students about the
history and purpose of the State of the Union address, and
to teach them how to evaluate the speech.
1. 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?
2. 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:
House of Representatives: Educational Resources
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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
6. 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?
7. 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 Iraq, taxes, Social
Security, education, the war on terrorism, the environment,
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 with Jim Lehrer the night
after the speech in order 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.