Common Core Standards: ELA
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.
Listening to speeches can be a real pleasure. They might be informative or persuasive or entertaining or descriptive. And, just like a good essay, a good speech is easy to follow because of its connections to the past, transitions between passages, and memorable word choice. The use of logos, ethos, and pathos form the argument for the speaker’s position on a topic. As listeners, students must be able to recognize these strategies, and how they are effective in developing and strengthening the message, moving us to action. The ability to synthesize information is a very liberating skill.
Here’s an assignment that will help your students practice this. They will realize that effective speeches rely on a combination of reasoning strategies, logos, ethos, and pathos. Also important is the speaker’s use of a variety of literary devices, such as allusion and metaphor, to connect and compare the past to the present. Tone is a window into the attitude of the speaker toward his subject. Understanding the fusion of these elements is key in students’ ability to evaluate the effectiveness of a speech.
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Using this Standard
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Sample Assignment: Have your students read or listen to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and ask them to analyze its effectiveness.
The speech was given to attendees at the March on Washington in August 1963. This was a demonstration of about 200-300,000 people, of whom about 75-80% were African Americans. The purpose of the speech was to call attention to the discrimination experienced by black Americans. A call to action was made, asking that all Americans be afforded their Constitutional rights -- that is, to pursue “life, liberty and happiness.” The speech? The famous “I Have a Dream” address given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Written from an African American viewpoint, the speech often uses allusion; that is, King refers to people, documents, and events of the past that connect with his present argument. These include “five score years ago, a great American…” in reference to Abraham Lincoln; “ “the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence” in reference to founding ideals; and “old Negro spiritual” in reference to freedom from slavery.
The speech often uses metaphor: King compares the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as a “great beacon of hope”; “this sweltering summer” as a time of great discontent; “an invigorating autumn” as a time marking freedom; and “beautiful symphony of brotherhood” as the splendor of all men working together as one. King also uses an extended analogy as he compares the promises of freedom to a bank check. He uses the following phrases: promissory note, heir, insufficient funds, bank of justice is bankrupt, and security of justice in his comparisons. These words imply that something is owed. A debt must be paid.
King uses repetition effectively. In this order, he repeats the words and phrases: one hundred years later, now, we can never be satisfied, I have a dream, and Let freedom ring. You’ll notice that, when put together, it forms the theme of the speech itself. King’s word choice contains key messages. References to freedom are described as: joyous, riches, security, sunlit path, lift, solid, warm, rolls, righteousness. Restraints are described as: seared, crippled, lonely, languishing, exile, shameful, dark and desolate, quick sands. Through these words, he creates tone, or speaker’s attitude toward the subject. It’s clear that King places a high value on freedom but discredits discrimination and racism. Right on!
The speech contains solid proof of King’s claim, or premise, that blacks are subject to discrimination. He lists several harsh and unfair realities: police brutality, discrimination at businesses, restricted mobility, lack of voting privileges, and unheard voice. He points to the South, to states such as Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina, as particularly prohibitive. Thus, he uses logic in his argument. He also uses pathos when he describes “Negro slaves who had been seared in flames of withering injustice,” and ethos when he says white America is responsible for a “shameful condition.”
King offers convincing evidence to support his stance. You’re a believer!
Quiz QuestionsHere's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.
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