Analyzing Famous Speeches as Arguments

Traditionally, teachers have encouraged students to engage with and interpret literature novels, poems, short stories, and plays. Too often, however, the spoken word is left unanalyzed, even though the spoken word has the potential to alter our space just as much than the written. After gaining skill through analyzing a historic and contemporary speech as a class, students will select a famous speech from a list compiled from several resources and write an essay that identifies and explains the rhetorical strategies that the author deliberately chose while crafting the text to make an effective argument. Their analysis will consider questions such as What makes the speech an argument?, How did the author's rhetoric evoke a response from the audience?, and Why are the words still venerated today? This is an excellent, detailed lesson that covers listening to and analyzing speeches and then writing abut the findings. The lesson includes an assessment tool and extension activities.

Standards & Objectives

Academic standards
CLE 3002.2.1
Demonstrate critical listening skills essential for comprehension, evaluation, problem solving, and task completion.
CLE 3002.2.2
Summarize, paraphrase, and critique information presented orally by others.
CLE 3002.2.3
Identify the thesis and main points of a challenging speech.
CLE 3002.2.4
Analyze the style and structure of a challenging speech.
CLE 3002.2.5
Understand strategies for expressing ideas clearly and effectively in a variety of oral contexts.
CLE 3002.3.3
Organize ideas into an essay with a thesis statement in the introduction, wellconstructed paragraphs, a conclusion, and transition sentences that connect...
CLE 3002.5.3
Evaluate an argument, considering false premises, logical fallacies, and the quality of evidence presented.
CLE 3002.5.4
Analyze the logical features of an argument.
Alignment of this item to academic standards is based on recommendations from content creators, resource curators, and visitors to this website. It is the responsibility of each educator to verify that the materials are appropriate for your content area, aligned to current academic standards, and will be beneficial to your specific students.
Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • analyze a speech for rhetorical devices and their purpose.
  • identify an author’s purposeful manipulation of language.
  • identify elements of argument within a speech.
  • write an analysis of a speech with in-text documentation.

Lesson Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Extension suggestions: 
  • During the process of analyzing Queen Elizabeth I’s Speech, consider showing the related scene from the film Elizabeth: The Golden Age.  Though the text of the speech is drastically cut and altered, seeing one filmmaker's vision for the scene may help reinforce the notion of historical context and the importance of audience.
  • Allow students to read and/or perform parts of the speeches out loud.  Then, they can share some of their thinking about the argumentative structure and rhetorical devices used to make the speech effective.  This activity could happen as part of the prewriting process or after essays have been completed.
  • Require students to write a graduation speech or a speech on another topic.  They can peruse print or online news sources to select a current event that interests them.  Have them choose an audience to whom they would deliver an argumentative speech.

Helpful Hints


  • ReadWriteThink Notetaker
  • Teacher Background and Information Sheet
  • Student Assignment Sheet
  • List of Speeches for Students
  • Queen Elizabeth I’s Speech with Related Questions
  • Historical Speech Research Questions
  • Peer Response Handout
  • Essay Rubric