By Katie Gould, Teacher Resource Producer for the PBS NewsHour Extra
Tuesday November 19 marks the 150th anniversary of what many historians say is among the best and most important speeches given in the United States. In this lesson, students learn about and evaluate the hallowed 272-word document spoken by President Abraham Lincoln.
History, civics and government, English
One 45 minute class period
Middle School and High School
Warm Up Activity
What do you know about the Gettysburg Address?
Prompt students for the “who, what, where, when and why” of the address.
Fill in the gaps of information by watching the History Channel’s Introduction to the Gettysburg Address below.
Evaluating the Gettysburg Address
Pass out copies of ReadWriteThink’s “Oral Presentation Rubric” and review it with students. When they watch the Gettysburg Address have them keep in mind the things that make a speech great and have them grade the reenactment of Lincoln’s address.
Pass out copies of the Gettysburg Address to students and then let them follow along as they watch the Presidential Lincoln Library and Museum’s reenactment of the Gettysburg Address below.
Ask students to share the scores they gave the reenactment of the Gettysburg Address and ask students who were on either extreme to explain to the class their thought process.
Pass out “Retraction for our 1863 editorial calling Gettysburg Address ‘silly remarks’” resource to students and explain to students that not everyone always agreed that the Gettysburg Address was one of the greatest speeches in the history of the United States.
Pass out the original 1963 article, “A Voice from the Dead,” by the Patriot and Union Newspaper.
Ask students what they think of the criticisms from the article.
- Were they right?
- If they were wrong, how do you think they made that mistake?
- How can we predict what speeches or events are going to become historical?
- If you had to think back on your life and choose an event that would make history what would it be?
- Write a persuasive paper either defending the Gettysburg Address as one of the best speeches in American history, or arguing that it was not. You may use your rubric for examples of its greatness as an oration, but make sure to also speak to the context and historicity of the event too.
- Imagine that you were in attendance of the Gettysburg Address. Write a narration that includes your reaction to the oratory as well as breaking down what the speech says to you as someone living in during the Civil War.
Use this account of the Patriot and Union for more depth about the review and the history that follows it.