When you are short on time, need a sub plan, or simply want a good assessment that is not a multiple choice test, consider using primary sources such as the State of the Union. They are usually chock full of great examples of political ideology, roles of the President, and powers of the President. I used to play SOTU Bingo on Twitter with my students. It became an easy way to assess what they knew and where I needed to reteach.

This lesson is quite simple and requires you to choose the speeches.

Choose a few State of the Union Speeches

Things to consider as you choose:

  • Different periods
  • Different political affiliations
  • Consider what else is happening in the world (WWII, Cold War, etc.)
  • Domestic issues (Great Depression, gas shortages, etc.)
  • Written vs. spoke in front of Congress

Day One:

In groups, students will take a paper copy of the State of the Union and find the following:

  • Examples of each of the roles of the President
  • Examples of powers of the President
  • Examples of actions that benefit the President’s party
  • Examples of checks and balances

You can have students annotate the speech (highlight and label) and discuss it in their groups. The formative assessment can be beneficial as you walk around the classroom.

Summary: The group can write a quick paragraph that answers the following: The President, the year, written or spoken (and why that matters), any significant foreign or domestic issues, and if the President is new, midterm, or seeking reelection.

Day Two:

Five-Minute Socratic Seminars: Give each group five minutes to discuss their SOTU speech and what they found. The short period requires the group to focus on the main points. You can absolutely change the time allotted. They need to include their summary and some examples in the five minutes.

Whole class seminar: Once every group has gone, have an entire seminar in which the discussion is the relevance and importance of what students have learned.

Assessment: Consider an argumentative essay or even just a thesis statement: The State of the Union Address has been a powerful communication tool for the President.

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