Speech! Speech!

Comparing and Contrasting Presidential Speeches


Lesson Overview                                                                                                            

Presidential candidates and presidents make lots of speeches. On the campaign trail a candidate will deliver her or his stump speech dozens of times, often multiple times a day. If a candidate wins his partyÕs nomination, he makes a formal acceptance speech on the last night of his partyÕs national convention. And if heÕs fortunate enough to win the general election, he will make a victory speech (typically on election night) and deliver a formal inaugural address the day heÕs sworn in as president. Once in office a president will make innumerable speeches to various audiences, but his most widely watched each year is usually his State of the Union address, in which he reflects on the state of the nation, outlines his administrationÕs accomplishments over the past year, and outlines his agenda for the year ahead. In this lesson, students will select two or more speeches by presidents or presidential candidates to compare and contrast in an essay.




Lesson Author


Todd Crites


Grinnell High School




Lesson Audience

Grade Level


# of Class Periods



American Government

Length of Period

60 min




Objectives                                                                                                               Back to Navigation Bar

Student will:

1.     Compare and contrast two or more speeches by presidents or presidential candidates.

2.     Students will write a compare-contrast essay to report the results of their comparative analysis.



Materials                                                                                                                 Back to Navigation Bar



a computer for each student


Online Resources


American Presidency Project resources

¥           Inaugural addresses

¥           Democratic (1916-2008) and Republican (1864-2008) nomination acceptance speeches/letters (text)

¥           State of the Union addresses/messages

¥           1960 campaign speeches

¥           2004 campaign speeches

¥           2008 campaign speeches

¥           2012 campaign speeches


American Presidency Project audio & video from Hoover to Obama (includes various speeches)


The New York Times: 2008 stump speeches & nomination acceptance speeches (video & text)


The New York Times Interactive: Inaugural Addresses from 1789-present




Compare-contrast graphic organizer


Compare-contrast essay rubric









Classroom Procedures                                                                 Back to Navigation Bar

Prior Learning (background information, vocabulary)

1.     This lesson is designed to be taught around the time of a major presidential speech -- a nomination acceptance speech, election night victory speech, inaugural address, or State of the Union address. 

Day 1:

1.     Talk with students about the speech the president or presidential candidate is preparing to deliver or has recently delivered. Discuss with students the basic similarities and differences between the various types of speeches presidents or presidential candidates deliver. Points of comparison could include the audience, purpose, and tone for different types of speeches. 

2.     Introduce the assignment:


For this assignment you will select two or more speeches by presidents or presidential candidates to compare and contrast in a comparison essay. Use one of the analytical approaches described below to help determine which speeches you will analyze. After you have selected an analytical approach and identified appropriate speeches to compare and contrast, use the compare-contrast graphic organizer to record the ideas you will include in your essay.  Below are links to instructions for writing a comparison essay, to the compare-contrast graphic organizer, and to the rubric that your instructor will use to score your essay.


Instructions for writing a comparison essay

Compare-contrast graphic organizer

Compare-contrast essay rubric


Analytical Approaches

Campaigning vs. Governing -- How does a presidential candidateÕs speech (a stump speech or nomination acceptance speech) compare to a speech he makes as president (his inaugural address or a State of the Union message)?

Partisanship: Compare what Democrats and Republicans say in the same type of speech (e.g., recent Democratic stump speeches vs. recent Republican stump speeches).

Historical Parallels: Compare the speeches of different presidents facing similar historical circumstances -- war, economic turmoil, domestic conflict, etc.

Change/Continuity: How have what presidents say in a certain type of speech changed and/or stayed the same over time?

The 2012 Victor vs. The Greats: Compare the inaugural address of the winner of the 2012 election with one of the great inaugural addresses of all time -- LincolnÕs second, FDRÕs first, KennedyÕs, or ReaganÕs first.

Election vs. Re-election: Compare campaign speeches of candidates seeking election to the presidency for the first time to those seeking re-election.  

First vs. Second Inaugurals: Compare the first and second inaugural addresses of two- (or four-) term presidents.


3.     Walk students through an example to illustrate how to apply an analytical approach and how to use the compare-contrast graphic organizer to record conclusions.  Then give students the remainder of the class period to browse the speeches.

3.     Homework: Students should select an analytical approach and the speeches they intend to use by the time they arrive in class the next day.

Day 2:

1.     Students should share their plan (analytical approach + speeches) with a partner, explaining why they selected the approach and the speeches.

2.     Students should work the remainder of the class period, filling out the compare-contrast graphic organizer as they work.

3.     Homework: Students should complete the compare-contrast graphic organizer by the time they arrive in class the next day.

Day 3

1.     Walk students through the instructions for organizing a compare-contrast essay using whole to-whole, similarities-to-differences, or point-by-point structure.  Provide students the compare-contrast essay rubric and discuss the categories and quality descriptors.

2.     Students should use their completed compare-contrast graphic organizers to develop an outline for their essays.

3.     Homework: Give students 2-3 days to work outside of class on their essays before turning in their final draft.





Extension                                                                                    Back to Navigation Bar

Below are ideas for altering this lesson to meet your needs:


If youÕre working with less capable students, wish to devote less time to this lesson, or donÕt care to emphasize writing skills...

¥           The compare-contrast graphic organizer can be the final product on which students report the results of their analyses.


If you are working with a struggling learner or wish to expedite the lesson...

¥           Select the analytical approach and/or speeches students are to utilize.

¥           Provide students one or more of the characteristics to be listed on the compare-contrast graphic organizer.


You and your students may find the websites below to be of interest:


National Constitution Center: Write a six-word stump speech


New Yorker article: "The Speech: Have Inaugural Addresses been getting worse?"









Evaluation                                                                                                              Back to Navigation Bar


Compare-contrast essay rubric



Appendix                                                                                     Back to Navigation Bar