I’ve suggested presidential speeches as a resource in the past. However, I never went into much detail about the possibilities. Recently I discovered the Scripps Library and Multimedia Archive, which is maintained by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virgina. I was so excited to see that video is often an option alongside audio files and transcripts. I’ve already selected an address by former president Ronald Reagan for an advanced student of mine (he’s interested in finance, so an address on the economy works well). We’ll use an excerpt to work on pronunciation features such as intonation and rhythm.
For a group of upper level students, I see potential for a whole language activity using the multimedia available online.
- Step 1 – State some background information on a particular speech, for example, Reagan’s Address on the Space Shuttle “Challenger” made on January 28, 1986. (Retrieved from the the Scripps Library and Multimedia Archive.) Ask students what they know about the U.S. space program and the tragedy of “Challenger”. Do they know the name Christa McAuliffe? What other space-related tragedies are they aware of – either in the U.S. space program or that of another country?
- Step 2 – Tell students: “Imagine it is January28, 1986 (the date of the presidential address). You are the speech writing team for the U.S. President, and this evening the president must address the nation and speak about the recent space shuttle accident. What points do you think he should make?” List key points on the board as the students suggest them. You can add 1-2 points actually made in the speech and which the class fails to mention. For instance, Ronald Reagan made a point of addressing the schoolchildren who saw the shuttle explode. Ask the students, “What should a president say to young children about the deaths of astronauts?”
- Step 3 – Provide key vocabulary from the actual speech and have students develop some appropriate sentences to incorporate into the final speech. In the case of the address on the space shuttle “Challenger” I’d suggest: mourning/ mourn, pained to the core, a national loss, heroes, process of exploration and discovery, fainthearted, brave, journey. Students can compose sentences alone or in pairs. Make time for the sentences to be shared with the entire class.
- Step 4 – Provide a gapped text version of the speech. As students listen to the full speech, challenge them to fill in the missing words.
- Step 5 – Correct students’ work to make sure they have an accurate copy of the transcript. Then select a passage(s) from the text for students to work with. They must prepare to deliver the assigned passage orally. You can either have everyone prepare the same lines, or you can break up the whole speech and have each student delivery his or her assigned part. I’ve used the latter practice so as to recreate the entire address.