In this lesson, students explore how Abraham Lincoln used the power of words in speeches, letters and other documents. In the Introductory Activity, students watch a segment from the PBS film Looking for Lincoln featuring Lincoln quotes and try to identify the origin of each quotation. In the first Learning Activity, students closely examine Lincoln’s use of words in the Gettysburg Address and learn that a short speech can be powerful. In the second Learning Activity, students discuss different reasons for writing letters and review some of Abraham Lincoln’s letters. In the Culminating Activity, students write their own speeches or letters and then present them to the class.
- quote famous Lincoln phrases and state the speeches or documents from which they come;
- cite examples of how and by whom Lincoln has been quoted in recent times;
- discuss why people still quote Lincoln today;
- express a point of view in a speech or letter;
- describe different types of letters and reasons why people write letters.
2-3 (45 minute) periods
Abraham Lincoln's Words Video
Quoting Abraham Lincoln Video
The Gettysburg Address Video
Famous Quotes: Part 1 Document
Famous Quotes: Part 2 Document
This primary source interactive helps students examine key Lincoln documents and photographs through a series of questions. In this lesson, students will be exploring the Gettysburg Address and the Letter to Grace Bedell.
This website features speeches, letters and other documents by Abraham Lincoln, as well as background information about the documents. During this lesson, students will be reviewing the following letters:
Before The Lesson
Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:
- Print out and make one copy of Famous Quotes Handout 1 for each student.
- Print out and make copies of Famous Quotes Handout 2. Cut out the excerpts along the dotted lines. Make enough copies so that each pair of students gets one excerpt. It is fine for multiple groups to have the same excerpt.
- Familiarize yourself with the Gettysburg Address document featured in the Analyzing the Evidence interactive. Note: If you do not have internet access in your classroom, print out one copy of the Gettysburg Address for each student.
- Familiarize yourself with the Letter to Fanny McCullough, the Letter to Grace Bedell and the Letter of Thanks for White Rabbits (listed in the Web sites section above). Note: If you do not have internet access in your classroom, print out copies of each letter, so that each group of 2-3 students has one letter to review. The same letter can be distributed to multiple groups.
Introductory Activity: Quoting Lincoln
1. Ask students to tell you some facts they know about Abraham Lincoln.(Possible Answers: He was the 16th President of the United States; he signed the Emancipation Proclamation; he was shot by John Wilkes Booth.)
2. Explain that Lincoln is often remembered for the things he said. Even today, many people still quote things Lincoln wrote and said. Ask students if they know any phrases Lincoln is known for writing or saying. Explain that, during this lesson, we are going to explore some of Lincoln’s speeches and writings.
3. Distribute one copy of the Famous Quotes: Part 1 to each student.
4. Explain to students that they are now going to watch a short video segment discussing Abraham Lincoln’s use of words during his presidency. Explain that the segment includes some famous quotes by Lincoln.
5. Provide students with a media focus, asking them to listen for words or phrases from Famous Quotes Handout 1. Ask them to circle the words or phrases on their paper when they hear or see them on the screen.
6. Play Abraham Lincoln's Words. After the segment, ask students to discuss which of the bolded phrases they heard and/or saw in the video.
7. Write each of the bolded phrases where the class can see them (on a large sheet of paper, white board, chalk board, etc.):
- “let us have faith that right makes might”
- “the better angels of our nature”
- “with malice toward none; with charity for all”
8. Ask the students to discuss what they think each of the three phrases mean. During the discussion, point out the following:
- “let us have faith that right makes might”- describes that it is important to believe that doing the right thing can make us stronger
- “the better angels of our nature”- refers to what is good within us; our goodness
- “with malice toward none, with charity for all”- encourages us to not have bad feelings toward anyone and to be caring and friendly to others
9. Ask students to discuss what these 3 phrases might have in common. (Possible answers: they encourage people to be good to others, act in a kind manner and do what is right; they all encourage good behavior.)
10. Divide students into pairs or small groups. Distribute the 5 excerpts on the Famous Quotes: Part 2, making sure that at least one group has each excerpt.
11. Ask students to read their assigned excerpt and discuss it with their group. Encourage students to find the name of the speech or letter, the date and to pay special attention to the words written in bold. (Note: These are words that you are going to ask them to identify in the next video segment.)
12. Explain to students that they are now going to watch some segments that feature people quoting Abraham Lincoln. Provide students with a media focus, asking them to listen closely for the bolded phrase on their paper. When they hear the same or similar phrase, ask them to circle it on their paper and to write down the name of the person who quoted it.
13. Play Quoting Abraham Lincoln. After the segment, lead your students in a discussion about the quotes that were featured in the video.
- Reagan quoting Lincoln: Remind your students that the first person they saw was former President Ronald Reagan. Ask for volunteers to tell you what Reagan quoted Lincoln as saying. (You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they could and should do for themselves.) Write this phrase somewhere where the class can see it. (On a large piece of paper, white board, chalk board, etc.) Did Lincoln actually say that quote? (No)Ask for the group(s) with that quote to share with the class information about that quote. (It is from the “Ten Points” written by William John Henry Boetcker; Many people often say that Lincoln wrote these lines, but they were actually written by Boetcker.)
- Bush quoting Lincoln: Ask the students if they remember what quote Bush used in his speech. (Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.) Write this phrase on the board. Ask for the group(s) with that quote to share with the class information about that quote. (Lincoln wrote these words in a letter to a man named Henry Pierce and others, April 6, 1859.) Briefly discuss what Lincoln meant by these words—people do not deserve to be free if they stop others from being free—he wrote these words specifically about slavery, meaning that people who are not willing to be a slave themselves should not have slaves.
- Obama quoting Lincoln: Ask students if they remember the last person shown in the video segment. (President Obama.) Point out that Obama quoted two different Lincoln speeches in his speech. He first mentioned: “Two centuries later a government of the people, by the people and for the people has not perished from the earth.” Ask students to tell you what speech those lines are from. (The Gettysburg Address.) Ask for volunteers to read the relevant phrase from the ending of the Gettysburg Address “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Write this phrase somewhere where the class can see it.
- Ask for volunteers to point out the 2nd phrase that Obama mentioned. (We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.) Ask students what speech this is from. (Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861). Ask for volunteers to read the relevant phrase from the last paragraph of the 1st Inaugural Address: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.” Write this phrase somewhere where the class can see it.
14. Ask students to think about and discuss why people might want to quote Abraham Lincoln today. (Possible answer: Lincoln is known as a good writer and many people admire his writing style; Lincoln is looked upon by many as a great president. By quoting him, Presidents and others are linking themselves with him and showing their respect for him, as well as their knowledge of U.S. history.)
Learning Activity 1: Lincoln's Speeches
1. Explain to students that some of the quotes that they just studied are from famous Lincoln speeches. What are some of the speeches that those quotes are from? (Lincoln’s First Inaugural; Lincoln’s Second Inaugural; the Cooper Union Speech and the Gettysburg Address)
2. Explain that all of these speeches were given at special occasions. Talk briefly about the occasions for some of Lincoln’s speeches:
- Cooper Union Speech: Point to the phrase, “Let us have faith that right makes might.” Explain that this phrase is from a speech that Abraham Lincoln made at Cooper Union in New York, before he began running for president. Since TV, radios and computers did not exist in Lincoln’s time, speeches were very important ways for politicians like Lincoln to let large groups of people know their points of view. This speech helped people throughout the U.S. learn about Lincoln and his views. 1,500 people attended the speech in person, 150,000 read it the next morning in the newspaper and hundreds of thousands more read it in newspapers across the country during the next week.
- Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural Address: Point to the phrases “We are not enemies, but friends…” and “the better angels of our nature.” Ask students to remind you what speech this quote is from. (Lincoln’s 1st Inaugural.) Ask students to explain what is a “1st inaugural” (This was when Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as President for the first time in March 4, 1861.)
- Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address: Point to the phrase: “With malice toward none: with charity for all.” Explain that this speech is from Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural. Explain that this is a speech he gave to a live audience in front of the Capitol building in Washington, DC on March 4, 1865, after being re-elected to the presidency. Point out to students that both Lincoln’s first and second inaugural addresses were given on March 4th. Ask students if they know what date Presidential Inaugurations take place now. (January 20th.) Explain that, before 1937, U.S. Presidents were inaugurated on March 4, but starting on January 20th, 1937, U.S. Presidents have been inaugurated on January 20th.
3. Explain that Lincoln was known for giving powerful speeches. One of the most powerful and most well-known speeches he gave was the Gettysburg Address. Ask them to tell you which of the phrases that they have already looked at is from the Gettysburg Address (“government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”) Explain that they are going to watch a short clip about the Gettysburg Address.
4. Provide students with a media focus, asking them to listen closely to see how long (how many words) the speech was.
5. Play The Gettysburg Address. After the segment, ask students how long the speech was. (272 words.)
6. Project the Analyzing the Evidence interactive and select the Gettysburg Address. Provide students with a media focus by letting them know that you will all be working together to examine Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and will be answering a series of questions about the document.
Lead students through each of the questions in the interactive to help them understand the document.
Note: If you do not have internet access in your classroom, print out copies of the Gettysburg Address for each of your students and discuss the meaning of the document. During your discussion, highlight the fact that Abraham Lincoln gave this speech November 19, 1863 on the site of the Battle of Gettysburg to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. Also point out key phrases such as “four score and seven years ago” (87 years ago) and “a government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from this earth” and explain that these phrases and others from the speech are still widely quoted today.
7. After exploring the document with students, point out the fact that the Gettysburg Address, which lasted about two minutes, followed a 2-hour speech given by Edward Everett. The shorter speech given by Abraham Lincoln is still quoted today, but most people have not heard Edward Everett’s speech. Explain that often a short speech can be as powerful as or more powerful than a very long speech.
Learning Activity 2: Lincoln's Letters
1. Explain to students that in addition to writing speeches, Abraham Lincoln also wrote many letters. Ask students to think about and discuss why people might write letters or cards to each other. (Possible answers: to wish someone greetings on a happy occasion—birthday, graduation, etc.; to cheer someone up; to thank someone; to keep in touch with someone from far away to tell someone far away what has been happening lately in their life (like a letter from camp); to inform someone about something.) Remind students that during Abraham Lincoln’s time, there were no computers and no telephones. Therefore, letters were an important way for people to communicate with each other when far away.
2. Project the Letter to Grace Bedell in the Analyzing the Evidence activity on a screen for all your students to see. Provide a media focus by letting students know that you will all be working together to read and answer questions about a letter that Abraham Lincoln wrote to an 11-year old girl.
Complete the activity with students, asking them the questions about the letter and then discussing the answers with them. Ask students to discuss why they think Lincoln took the time to write this letter to Grace Bedell. Note: If you do not have internet access in your classroom, print out copies of the letter for your students and discuss the letter with them, asking and answering the questions in the “Analyzing the Evidence” activity.
3. Divide the class into small groups of 2-3 students. Distribute the Letter from Abraham Lincoln - Student Organizer to each group. Assign each group to one of the following letters:
4. Ask each group to review its assigned letter online or via a printout and to complete the “Letter from Abraham Lincoln” Student Organizer.
5. Once students have completed their organizers, lead a discussion about each letter, using the Letter from Abraham Lincoln - Answer Key as a guide. Ask students to share information about when Lincoln wrote the letter, to whom he wrote the letter and the main purpose of the letter. Review these basic facts for the Grace Bedell letter, as well.
1. Ask students to think about and discuss some of the things they have learned about Abraham Lincoln through this lesson. (Possible answers: He was President during a war; he wrote many speeches and letters; he was very skilled at using words; many of his speeches and writings are famous and still quoted today.)
2. Remind students that, as they have seen in this lesson, Abraham Lincoln gave speeches for different events and also wrote different types of letters—letters to cheer people up, (thank you letters, etc.). Explain to the students that now it is their turn to write either a speech or a letter.
3. Discuss the main features of a speech and a letter with students:
- Explain that speeches need to have a main topic and the speaker needs a reason for giving the speech. Let the students know that they should also have a specific audience in mind to whom they want to give the speech. The purpose of the speech should be to express an opinion or convince someone to do something. For example—encourage people to recycle, discuss why it is important not to smoke; explain the importance of wearing seatbelts, etc. Remind students that Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was only 272 words. Let them know that their speeches also need to be 272 words or less.
- Explain that a letter needs to have a greeting, such as “Dear Mary” and a closing, such as “Love, Abraham.” Point out some of the greetings and closings that Abraham Lincoln used in his letters. Explain that before writing a letter, the students should think about why they might like to write a letter (for example, to cheer someone up, to thank someone, etc.) and pick someone (real or imaginary) to whom they would like to write. Explain that they do not need to give these letters to anyone, but you would like some students to share their letters with the class when they are done.
4. Ask students to work in a small group or by themselves to write a speech or a letter.
5. After students have written speeches, ask them to check the word count. If the speech is too long, ask them to edit it in order for it to be 272 words or less. Encourage students who are writing letters to edit them and make sure that they are clearly expressing their message. After students have finished editing their speeches and letters, ask for volunteers to read their speeches/letters to the class.
6. After students have presented their speeches and letters, ask students to share their experiences writing them. Ask them to discuss any challenges that they experienced during the writing process.