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


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

Key Knowledge

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


  • “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. 


  • “Pearl Harbor Speech”

Analyze the rhetorical choices Roosevelt makes to develop his argument.


  • “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.


2 days




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


Core Standards