An exterior view of historic Ford’s Theatre, a three-story brick building with five arched windows on the second and third floor. The bottom floor is white and has five arched entryways.
Photo © Maxwell MacKenzie.

Getting Students to Write and Analyze: Close Reading Strategy

Students will use Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech to gain a better understanding of close reading historical texts.

By annotating and discussing the contents of a complex historical speech, students will begin to gain vital analytical skills. This is a complex speech and a teacher would be wise to give the students some background information about WHY Lincoln was giving this speech. For example, that this was not a speech given while he was president and it references division in the country.

Common Core Standards:


Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative language such as metaphors and similes.


Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.

Learning ObjectivesStudents will analyze a primary source/speech to develop a sense of historical perspective.
Students will use a graphic organizer to interpret a primary source/speech.
Students will use annotation to help develop their own understanding of a primary source/speech.
Students will identify elements of an argument in a speech.
Guiding QuestionsWhy does a speaker use emotion when conveying his or her own written words?
How does a speaker’s own experience influence his or her argument when giving a speech? (Explain)
Do speeches from the past still influence our values, beliefs and ideas today? (Explain)
Socratic Seminar questions: Are we a house divided today? What are some examples of things our country is still divided on? Do you agree or disagree with these examples?
Prepared byGradeLength
Joseph MoneymakerElementaryThree Days

Classroom Activities

  • Lesson Activity One: Annotating a Speech
    Students will be given a shortened version of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech to read and annotate as a class (or groups depending on level).
  • Lesson Activity Two: Organizing Your Thoughts
    Students will use their annotated speeches to fill out the Graphic Organizer and brainstorm the answer to the Socratic Seminar Questions.
  • Lesson Activity Three: Socratic Seminar
    Students will use their speeches and graphic organizer to engage in a Socratic seminar answering the proposed questions.


Lesson Activity One: Annotating a Speech

  • Hand out the abridged version of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech. In small groups or as a class, students will read the speech. While they read they will utilize the “Annotation Guide” provided by Ford’s Theatre to help organize what the speech is saying. Teachers should be actively monitoring and providing students with assistance during analyzing and annotating, especially if annotating is a new skill.

Lesson Activity Two: Organizing Your Thoughts

  • Using the Graphic Organizer, students will process what they read and begin forming their argument for the Socratic seminar. This can be achieved individually or as small groups. The teacher should make sure students are fully aware of the questions they are answering and that they must provide evidence from the text to support their opinions. If using small groups, students can debate their ideas and arguments within their groups in preparation for the class Socratic seminar the following day.

Lesson Activity Three: Socratic Seminar

  • At the beginning of the activity the teacher should ensure that students are familiar with how to properly participate in a Socratic seminar and how to be respectful of varying opinions. Give students the first 10-15 minutes to look over their annotations and graphic organizer before beginning the Socratic seminar. The teacher should pick a student to begin the discussion, ideally this will be a student with a well-organized graphic organizer who is willing to begin the discussion. The questions should be visible to students throughout the entire activity.While students are voicing their ideas, the teacher should be recording their thoughts on chart paper at the front of the class. Student responses should be limited to :30 seconds to 1:00 minute in length to ensure all students have the chance to participate. The selected student will begin by answering the question and explaining their reasoning. Students then have the chance to raise their hand to be selected for the next response. The teacher will then select the next student to respond to the first student’s argument using the phrase “I respectively agree (or disagree)” and state their reasoning. The responder then has a chance to add anything to make their argument stronger. The activity will continue in this manner until all students have participated. (To save time, small group responses can be utilized.)At the end of the activity, the chart paper at the front will have a variety of student responses and current events. This can be used for the classes choosing to do the written assessment at the end of the activity. Following the Socratic seminar, the teacher should reconvene and summarize for students that may be lost or confused after the seminar.


Assessment can be based off student participation and their annotated speeches. Or, teachers can have students do a short writing assignment about their thoughts during the Socratic seminar.

What You Need

To complete the below activities you will need the following materials, in addition to chart paper, colored pencils/crayons and pencils.