While examinging historical speeches, students learn to identify operative words and replace the author's historical words with their own modern language for better understanding.
Any or all of these activities can be done individually, in pairs or in small groups. You could also model the method on the first part of a long speech and then have the students work on the rest of the speech.
The structure is appropriate for multiple grade levels, depending on the complextity of the chosen text.
One to two class sessions.
- Paraphrase a historic speech in their own words
- Identify the operative words in a historic speech
Prep for Teachers
Select what historic speeches you want to use, depending on what is appropriate for your students. If you would like to use a speech by Lincoln, visit the Ford's Theatre website.
- Copies of one or more Historic Speeches
- Remix Guide (Secondary)
- Remix Worksheet (Elementary)
- How can we understand a historic speech in today’s words and context?
INTRODUCTION TO SPEECH
Choose one or more historic speeches for your students to study. Have students look at the same speech or give them different speeches to analyze. Begin by looking at the context of the speech:
Who wrote and delivered the speech?
Where and when was it given?
Who was the intended audience?
Can we infer anything—from the time, date and audience—about what the speaker’s goals might have been? What did he or she want to accomplish or convey by giving this speech?
If using a speech from the Ford’s historical speech database, the context is included with the speech print-outs. If students are researching this information, they should note the answers on a note sheet. If students are all working with the same speech, this information can be given through a short teacher introduction.
Next, students should read over the speech, highlighting any words they don’t know, and look up the definitions. They should write the definitions on the speech itself.
Using the Remix Guide or Worksheet, students should remix their assigned speech. After students have paraphrased their speeches, use random calling strategies to have students share several remixes. Next have students discuss the message of the speech. Students should think about what the speaker is trying to accomplish.
Operative words are the most important words in a sentence or paragraph. They get to the heart of the message.
Once students demonstrate that they fully understand their assigned speech, you’ll return to the text of the original speech. Individually, each student chooses an operative word for each sentence in the original speech (or each paragraph, depending on the length of the speech). Students then list all of their operative words and decide on one word that is the most important in the speech. This forces students to evaluate word choice and then justify their choice.
Students can either share their one word and their rationale for choosing that one word in a discussion circle or write it down as an exit card.