The Inaugural Assignment

My students are going to have week three of eleven weeks completely off from our class.  Monday the 19th is the Martin Luther King holiday and, on Wednesday, I’ll be coming home from DC with my family after having (hopefully) witnessed the inauguration ceremonies in person (I know, I know… us and five million other people).

I’ve decided, though, that we’ve got too little time together to give my students the week “off” – especially with the weather in the winter cutting into class meetings – so I’ve been thinking of a meaningful and relevant assignment for them to complete in my absence.  Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

An important component of this class is comprehension; you’re not here just to learn how to speak in public settings, but also to understand more completely what’s being said to you.  Being able to analyze incoming messages, and to make connections to new information and your own life, is a skill that will serve you well regardless of your career path.

The U.S. is getting ready to inaugurate its 44th president.  Without getting into the fact that a peaceful handover of governmental power every four to eight years is remarkable in and of itself, I want to call your attention to the fact that President-Elect Obama is a particularly articulate man and quite a remarkable rhetorician (look it up).


Your assignment for week three has three parts.  First, you will conduct a thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of President Obama’s inaugural address.  Start with an overview of what he said, move on to consider how he said it, and investigate the speech for any underlying implications or ideas that struck you as particularly meaningful or important.  That’s part one.

Once you’ve taken a good look at Obama’s speech, find the inaugural address of any other American president you choose. is an excellent resource for finding speeches, but I’m certain that a Google search with your president’s name and “inaugural address” will yield some useful results, as well.  Conduct a similar analysis of this president’s speech, (that’s part two) and then compare the two (that’s part three).  What similarities can you draw?  What do you know about the historical, political, and social conditions of the time that influenced what your president had to say to the people of the country?  Which president’s speech seemed more effective to you and why?

These are to be written in a single, cohesive essay (be mindful of your transitions), typed and proofread, and handed in during class on Monday, January 22nd.  The essay will count as a test grade, so please put a genuine and focused effort into this work.  As always, contact me if you have any questions or problems, or if you need some guidance in essay writing.

My objectives for this assignment are to get my students writing (I’m not yet familiar with their writing voices), to see how well they are attuned to the subtlety of language, and to assess their ability at close reading.  Since comprehension is such a big component in the objectives of the course, I would like to get a baseline for how well they can do analysis on their own.

This is just a first draft of the assignment idea.  I’m completely open to any suggestions that any of you might have to offer.



Filed under analysis, Civics and Citizenship, critical thinking, out in the real world, politics, rhetoric

9 responses to “The Inaugural Assignment

  1. Dudley

    If I was a Young Republican, and taking your class, this assignment would scare the hell out of me.

    Now “I” know that you wan’t hold any contrarian views against your students, but if they have gleanned anything about your political leanings, they may try to write something they don’t believe in order to influence their grades.

    You may want to assure them that won’t be something, about which, they have to worry.

  2. GOOD point.

    I’m less interested in their telling me how they FEEL about what was being said and more interested in their ability to get underneath the message, though you’re absolutely right that – interpretation is a huge part of analysis. I’ll make a point, both as I always do when when I hand out the syllabus and when I re-write the assignment, to make sure that they know that I don’t have to LIKE their assessment, but I do have to be able to follow them to it.

  3. The difficulty early in the semester (and with some students even later) is that I always get a summary of the speeches rather than an analysis — no matter how many times I explain the difference.

  4. Is there a rubric for this assignment that you’ll be distributing to the students? You said something in a prior post about including those.

  5. I love the assignment, and would love to see how some of the comparisons with earlier addresses turn out.

  6. I’m going to use your assignment with my gifted 6th graders. They don’t get grades in my class so it’ll be interesting to see if they can do anything with this. Thanks N

  7. Ms. Chili, I wanted to tell you that I used your assignment with my gifted 6th graders. I told them it was going to be really hard, different from anything they’d be asked to do in their regular classrooms and had come from a college class. We watched the festivities last Tuesday–they were so quiet and reverent; when Obama took the oath they all stood and put their hands over their hearts. It was a precious moment.

    The assignment was due today and only two students didn’t turn it in (honestly I was surprised, since they don’t get a grade in my class). I haven’t read them all yet but some are pretty darn good–I threatened that I was going to send some of them to you for evaluation!!

    The essays range in length from a half page, most were about two pages and then theire was Molly–39 pages!! She analysed three different speeches paragraph by paragraph! What a hoot. The thing I liked best was them telling me about their sense of accomplishment. So many times my students recieive ‘A’s for work that is way too easy. I think true self esteem is developed by accomplishing something one percieves as difficult. Thanks for the assignment!! N.

  8. I made enquiries about which new, different, possibly promising new candidates for parliamentary office are popping out of the woodwork. ,

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