The view from the Ford’s Theatre stage looking out to the audience. To the left of the stage is the President Box with an American flag, a framed picture of George Washington and American flag bunting draped over the box. To the right is another box with yellow and white curtains. In the center of the stage is a wooden desk. The view includes two levels of seating and rows of lighting equipment on the third level.
View from the stage of Ford’s Theatre. Photo © Maxwell MacKenzie.

Analyzing a Speech

Students learn to annotate and interpret an historical speech to identify and articulate the author’s point of view.

Common Core Standards


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

LEARNING OBJECTIVESCite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.
Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source.
Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text.
Identify how the historical context informs analysis of the text.
GUIDING QUESTIONSHow does understanding historical context influence our ability to analyze a speech?

Classroom Activities

  • Lesson Activity One: Historical Context of Speech
    Students watch a short video about the relationship between Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass and discuss its content
  • Lesson Activity Two: Analysis of Speech
    Pre-reading, While-reading and Post-reading activities are provided.
  • Lesson Activity Three: Oral Presentations
    Students present a speech explaining their analysis of Douglass’s speech

Classroom Activity One

Historical Context of Speech

Introduce the relationship between President Lincoln and the abolitionist Frederick Douglass by watching Lincoln and Douglass (Produced for Ford’s Theatre by the History Channel).

After watching the clip, facilitate a class discussion that answers the following questions:

  • How did the Emancipation Proclamation redefine the Union cause halfway through the Civil War?
  • How did the ideas of Lincoln and Douglass differ about what roles African Americans should play in the war effort?
  • According to Douglass, what was the purpose of the Civil War?
  • How did Lincoln respond to Douglass’s concern about pay inequality among soldiers of different races?
  • How did the relationship of Lincoln and Douglass develop during the war?
  • Discuss the quote, “Here comes my friend, Douglass.”

Classroom Activity Two

Analysis of Speech

After discussing the relationship between Lincoln and Douglass, give students an excerpt of “What to the American Slave is your Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass and a Reading Reflection form. Students should answer the pre-reading questions before annotating text. Read outloud the excerpt of speech. You should be familiar with the full text of the speech before using it with students. Key vocabulary words should be defined using context clues, including tumultuous (loud and emotional), grievous (causing great suffering and pain), intolerable (too bad to be acceptable), cleave (hold true to), and reproach (act of disapproval).

Using the Annotation Guide, students will reread the speech, making annotation marks and comments as they go. The Annotation Guide provided is a beginner guide to understanding annotation. For a more intermediate guide, you can use Teaching Tolerance Guide to Thinking Notes and for an advanced guide you can use the English Journal article titled, “Beyond the Yellow Highlighter: Teaching Annotation Skills to Improve Reading Comprehension.”

Next, students will complete the post-reading column on the Reading Reflection form.

Classroom Activity Three

Oral Presentations

Students will orally share their analyses of Frederick Douglass’s speech using the Presentation Rubric. Using evidence and vocabulary from the text, students will share their interpretations of Frederick Douglass’s speech in two-minute oral presentations. Students will demonstrate their understanding of the speech’s significant ideas and historical context, and the author’s perspective and purpose. This can be done in groups or individually.


Use the provided rubric to assess student learning.

What You Need

Materials and handouts you will need to complete the below activities.