Famous Speeches

Students analyze and interpret speeches, honing their rhetorical analysis skills and deepening their understanding of how authors use particular strategies to effectively communicate their ideas to a given audience.

Unit Summary

In Unit 4, students will refine the skills required for rhetorical analysis. Students will analyze and interpret samples of purposeful writing, in this case speeches, then identify and explain the author’s use of rhetorical strategies. This process includes understanding what an author is saying, how an author is saying it, and why an author is saying it. When we read written texts rhetorically, we are always asking, “What are these words on the page doing?” along with, “What do these words say?” Reading instruction will increase students’ appreciation of audience as a complex and varied concept. Students should develop the capacity to anticipate and consider interpretive responses different from their own.

This unit focuses on four goals:

  • Describing the rhetorical situation: Intersection between speaker, audience, and purpose
  • Identifying an author’s complex and specific purpose for an intended audience with specific needs and values
  • Identifying rhetorical appeals (within—but more specifically than—logos, ethos, and pathos)
  • Analyzing common rhetorical strategies, including diction, figurative language, syntax, exemplification, tone through patterns (repetition, contrast, juxtaposition), and shifts in patterns.

While we have provided links to text versions of these speeches, it is highly recommended that teachers also employ audio versions of the speeches at various times throughout the unit. Hearing, in addition to reading, the speeches can aid in rhetorical analysis.

This entire English unit focuses on rhetorical analysis, developing skills needed for FRQ 2 on the CollegeBoard AP Language and Composition exam. Therefore, there are no supplemental AP Projects for this unit. To learn more about Supplemental AP Projects and how they are incorporated into our other English 12 units, please see our Guide to Supplemental AP Language and Composition Projects.

Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies Unit 4 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Intellectual Prep


Intellectual Prep for English Lessons

  1. Read and annotate each of the speeches for this unit.
  2. Identify video or audio versions of speeches if necessary. (There are many options available online, so we are not listing them here and will leave it to the teacher’s discretion.)
  3. Review the basics of rhetorical analysis by reading What Do Students Need to Know About Rhetoric? by Hepzibah Roskelly.
  4. Depending upon your level of familiarity with the CollegeBoard AP English Language and Composition exam, you may wish to spend more time exploring other resources on the College Board AP English Language and Composition Course website.
  5. Read FRQ 2 in the CollegeBoard 2018 AP English Language and Composition Free-Response Questions.
  6. Read the CollegeBoard 2018 AP English Language and Composition Sample Student Responses and Scoring Commentary for FRQ 2.
  7. Read the Chief Reader Report on Student Responses: 2018 AP English Language and Composition Free-Response Questions.

Essential Questions


  • Rhetorical Analysis: What is the author saying? How is the author saying it? Why is the author saying it this way?

Writing Focus Areas


Students will be focused on the reading skill of rhetorical analysis and the corresponding writing skill of staying focused on the task of sharing these analyses as they craft their essays. Thus, the primary areas of focus will be (1) students’ idea development, specifically the ability to effectively convey comprehensive reasoning through writing, and (2) students’ crafting of an essay that contains all of the necessary parts of a rhetorical analysis.

Spiraling Literary Analysis Writing Focus Area

  • Analysis: Demonstrates effective and comprehensive reasoning
  • Analysis: Effectively and smoothly incorporates evidence
  • Focus on Task: Comprehensive and consistently appropriate to the task, purpose, and audience



Literary Terms

rhetorical situation, devices, appeals, Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle, logos, ethos, pathos, tone, organization, compare/contrast, diction, parallelism, antithesis

Content Knowledge and Connections


Students will read speeches on a wide variety of topics, such as World War II, women’s rights, abolitionism, racial relations in America, the Eastern Roman Empire, and temperance. Some background knowledge on these topics will be helpful for students’ comprehension.

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

  • Students have experienced some basic rhetorical analysis in both 9th and 10th grade composition courses.

Lesson Map


  • “The Whiskey Speech”

Identify the rhetorical situation and explain its significance.

Identify the appeals present within the text and the devices/strategies used to generate that appeal.


  • “Purple is the Noblest Shroud”

Identify the rhetorical situation and explain its significance.

Identify the appeals present within a text and the devices/strategies used to generate that appeal.


  • “The Whiskey Speech”

  • “Purple is the Noblest Shroud”

Analyze how an author uses devices to generate an appeal and ultimately achieve his or her purpose.


  • “A More Perfect Union”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Obama makes to develop his argument.


  • “A More Perfect Union”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Obama makes to develop his argument.


  • “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Henry makes to develop his argument.

Draft an analysis that demonstrates effective and comprehensive reasoning.


  • “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Churchill makes to develop his argument.


  • “Pearl Harbor Speech”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Roosevelt makes to develop his argument.


  • “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”

  • “Pearl Harbor Speech”

Compare and contrast rhetorical strategies in speeches by Churchill and Roosevelt.

Evaluate how both authors use specific devices to develop the central idea or purpose of the speech.



  • “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”

  • “Pearl Harbor Speech”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Churchill or Roosevelt makes to develop his argument.



  • “Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat”

  • “Pearl Harbor Speech”

Draft an effective introduction that establishes the rhetorical situation and provides a comprehensive thesis describing the rhetorical techniques the author uses to achieve his purpose.


  • “Ain't I a Woman?”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Truth makes to develop her argument.


  • “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Stewart makes to develop her argument.


  • “Ain't I a Woman?”

  • “Why Sit Ye Here and Die?”

Compare and contrast the rhetorical strategies employed by Sojourner Truth and Maria Stewart in their speeches.


2 days




Complete an optional extension project by writing a speech on a topic of his or her choosing.

Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.11-12.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.11-12.2 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

  • L.11-12.3 — Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

  • L.11-12.6 — Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.11-12.1 — Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.

  • RI.11-12.2 — Determine two or more central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to provide a complex analysis; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RI.11-12.3 — Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.

  • RI.11-12.5 — Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.

  • RI.11-12.6 — Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness, or beauty of the text.

  • RI.11-12.7 — Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.11-12.1 — Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11—12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

  • SL.11-12.2 — Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.

  • SL.11-12.3 — Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

  • SL.11-12.6 — Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Writing Standards
  • W.11-12.1 — Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • W.11-12.4 — Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

  • W.11-12.5 — Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

  • W.11-12.6 — Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products in response to ongoing feedback, including new arguments or information.