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. Americanrhetoric.com 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.