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Abraham Lincoln: Seizing the Moment of the Gettysburg Address to Inspire the Nation

Created by:
Katie DeRichie
Oakcrest High School

Jim Erney
Oakcrest High School

Abraham Lincoln

Grade Level:
9 to 12


The art of communication is an important skill to master in today's global community. The writing and delivery of a public address is an inherent skill of communication.

The purpose of this lesson is to teach students modern day skills through the examination of the genius of America's past orators. Abraham Lincoln proved to be a master of such skills as he displayed in his delivery of the Gettysburg Address in 1863.

Through the analysis of several motivational speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, students will be able to model the characteristics of effective public speaking. At the culmination of this activity, students will exhibit an understanding of the purpose of the Gettysburg Address and the skills necessary to write and deliver a motivational speech.

Historical Context

In the summer of 1863 the Civil War was going poorly for the Union both on the battlefield and on the homefront. On the battlefield, the Army of the Potomac had transitioned through many generals after several years of consistent defeat. While politically, Lincoln struggled with maintaining citizen support for the war. For example, in July of 1863 the famous 'New York Draft Riots' took place as a statement of discontent within the Union. With waning support, the original objectives of Lincoln and the Union seemed to be crumbling.

With Northern hope fading and Southern success at its peak, Confederate General Robert E. Lee opted to make a bold move to essentially end the war. Lee wanted to ultimately eradicate any glimmer of optimism that remained in the Union with a victory on Northern soil. This victory was to be followed by a peace offering from the Confederate government to Abraham Lincoln. The battle that ensued took place in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania over a three day period in July of 1863. With approximately 50,000 casualties, the Battle of Gettysburg proved to be potentially the greatest victory for the Union and Lee's worst defeat and is often referred to as the turning point of the war.

Following the historic clash at Gettysburg, Lincoln traveled to the town in November of 1863. The official purpose for this visit was to dedicate a portion of the land to serve as a cemetary for the fallen soldiers. Prior to this journey, Lincoln carefully scripted a speech that would capture the significance that the Battle of Gettysburg had on the war and to honor those who sacrificed their lives for the call of freedom.


sacrifice, human rights, emotive rationale, loyalty

Goals and Objectives:

At the conclusion of this lesson students will be able to:

1. Assess the status of the Union Army following the Battle of Gettysburg.

2. Analyze Lincoln's actions to build the morale of the Union war effort in the delivery of the Gettysburg Address.

3. Evaluate successful methodologies of motivational speaking.

4. Write a motivational speech by synthesizing the elements present in the Gettysburg Address and other speeches introduced in class.

5. Practice public speaking in the delivery of a motivational speech.


STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills) All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics) All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

STANDARD 6.4 (United States and New Jersey History) All students will demonstrate knowledge of United States and New Jersey history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and future.

G. Civil War and Reconstruction (1850-1877) Analyze key issues, events, and personalities of the Civil War period, including New Jersey's role in the Abolitionist Movement and the national elections, the development of the Jersey Shore, and the roles of women and children in New Jersey factories.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

1. LCD projector with DVD player

2. Gettysburg Address Primary Source

3. Motivational Speech Analysis Worksheet

4. Gettysburg Address Guide Worksheet 5. Video clips/sound bytes of motivational speeches

Details of Activity

Day 1

Class discussion on motivational speeches. Students are encouraged to share their personal experiences with motivational speeches.

Students will then view four video segments from contemporary movies displaying motivational speeches. As students view the segments, they will complete the 'Motivational Speech Analysis Worksheet,' identifying the key components of motivational speeches.

Following the movie segments, the teacher will review the student responses to the 'Motivational Speech Analysis Worksheet.'

For the last activity of Day 1 each student will recieve a copy of the primary source of President Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. The class will then listen to an audio version of the speech while reading the primary source. After listening to/reading the speech, students will complete the 'Gettysburg Address Guide Worksheet.'

Day 2

Class will begin with a brief review of the 'Gettysburg Address Guide Worksheet.' Students will be encouraged to share their letters to the editor.

The culminating activity for this lesson will enable students to write a motivational speech to be delivered to the class. Each student will select a representative from society that was present during the Civil War such as freedmen, slaves, women, Union soldiers, Confederate soldiers, Copperheads, etc. Next, students will choose the type of motivational speech that they find to be the most effective. The 'Motivational Speech Analysis Worksheet' will aid in this process. Students will spend the remainder of the period writing their motivational speeches. Speeches may be finished for homework.

Day 3

Teacher will review the necessary elements of effective public speaking. Each of the students will then read their motivational speech to the class. At the end of the period the class will discuss the speeches and review the significance of Lincoln's technique and strategy in delivering the Gettysburg Address.

Practice and Reinforcement

Additional Activities:

Using computers, the class will view http://rmc.library.cornell.edu/gettysburg/ideas_more.htm and read the reviews contemporary newspapers published in response to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. Students may compare and contrast the differing viewpoints present in these reviews. Students should also attempt to identify why different newspapers criticized or praised Lincoln's address.

Students may create a timeline or map of events following the Gettysburg Address to the end of the Civil War.

Students may visit http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/previous and read other motivational speeches from history. Students will select one speech found on the website and write a comparison of that speech to the Gettysburg Address noting the difference in tone, purpose and effectiveness.


Cornell University Library: 2008 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections

The Gettysburg Foundation

Web Links:
Collection a great historical speeches

Contemporary reactions to the Gettysburg Address

Grammar and Composition: The Gettysburg Address

Historical and tourist information

School of Rock video segment

Talladega Nights video segment

Remember the Titans video segment

Kicking and Screaming video segment

Supplementary Materials


For more information about the Teaching American History Program click here