Engaging with Speeches as a Primary Source

*Regardless if the class is listening to or reading, the teacher should provide the transcript for students to follow along with. 

For a downloadable version of this guide, click here


  1. Before you read/listen:
    1. What is the title?
    2. What do you predict this speech will be about?
    3. Who is the speaker? What do you know about them?
    4. When was this speech given? What do you know about this time period? What is the context for this speech? Why is it being given?
  2. Read/listen to the speech for the first time
    1. As you read
      1. Circle any vocabulary words that you don’t know
      2. Underline anything you find important
      3. Put a question mark “?” after anything you have a question about 
      4. Highlight anything you found particularly striking?  
  3. After the first reading:
    1. Write a short summary of the piece (3-5 sentences)
    2. What do you think the purpose of this speech was? Do you think it accomplished its purpose?
  4. Read/listen to the speech for the second time
  5. After the second reading:
    1. Who do you think the audience of this speech is? Why do you think this?
      1. Go back to the speech and underline three places that help you understand the audience. Next to the text, write “audience”
    2. What type of speech was this – Informational, argumentative, or narrative? How do you know? 
      1. Put a spiral next to three places you find evidence for the type of speech this is. 
    3. What is the tone of this speech?
      1. Put a box around five words/phrases that show you the tone
  6. Connect this speech to history: Provide contextual analysis for this speech 
    1. What did you find from this speech that you might not learn anywhere else?
    2. Did this speech support or contradict what you knew about this event already? How so? 
    3. What other documents or historical evidence are you going to use to help you understand this event or topic? 
    4. Compare this historical speech to a speech you’ve heard recently (state of the union, etc.). How is it similar or different?
    5. Compare this speech with previous speeches we’ve listened to. How does it differ or stay the same? What themes do you notice?  
    6. How does this speech help us see a broader historical event, theme, or epoch?