Teach PA History
The Gettysburg Address: An American Treasure

To prepare, download and copy the combined worksheets for this lesson.

This lesson will begin with a "spirit reading" of the Gettysburg Address. To prepare for it, the students must become familiar with the words and the rhythm of the phrases. When they are ready to read, the teacher should pick two or three students to start reading at the same time. Then, it is up to each class member to decide when they will read and for how long. Some will read for a sentence or two and then stop. Others may choose to read much longer. The spirit reading will involve the whole class. At times all students may be reading in unison and at other times only one or two may be reading. This introductory approach will give special emphasis to this historic American document that they are going to spend several class periods examining.

The first activity will be to examine the Gettysburg Address critically to gain a basic understanding of the content of the speech. Each student should be given a copy of Worksheet #1: The Origins of the Gettysburg Address . They will use this introductory activity to become familiar with this primary source by answering some very straightforward questions such as why Lincoln said it wasn't necessary for the dignitaries to dedicate the cemetery.

The second activity will be done in groups of four or five students. The teacher will determine the size of each group based upon class size. It is recommended that for classes of thirty there should be five students in each of six groups. For purposes of clarity in directions, the teacher should call one collection of documents "Documents A" (marker Source #1: Wisconsin State Agriculture Society Speech, 1859; marker Source #2: Republican Party Platform, 1860; marker Source #3: First Inaugural Address, 1861; marker Source #4: President Lincoln's War Message, 1861; marker Source #5: Proclamation of Thanksgiving, 1863) and the other set of documents "Documents B" (marker Source #6: Emancipation Proclamation, 1862; marker Source# 7: Republican Party Platform, 1864; marker Source #8: Second Inaugural Address, 1864; marker Source #9: Letter to Mrs. Lydia Bixby, 1864; marker Source #10: Last Public Speech, 1865). Each group of students should receive a set of primary source documents created by Abraham Lincoln. Since there are ten primary source documents in this lesson, three groups will have the same documents ("Documents A") and another three groups will have the same documents ("Documents B").

Each group of five students should decide how they want to accomplish the task of reading and reacting to each primary source, but there should be a document for each student. Some are longer and more complicated so the group members may decide to have partners work on those documents. Students in each group are to use a highlighter to go over the documents. They should highlight key passages or phrases that contain sentiments similar to those expressed in the Gettysburg Address. Then, the group will complete Worksheet #2: Gettysburg Address Ideas Found Elsewhere in which they list the name of the primary source where they found a similar idea expressed as well as cite the passage. They will present their finding to the class and discuss what it means. Since three groups of students worked on the same documents, there may be different opinions expressed on each document.

The final required activity would be to take one of the ideas in the Gettysburg Address such as "government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth." Their task will be to write a persuasive speech focused upon the idea but updated to the present time period. Use Worksheet #3: Patriotic Speech. Specifically, they will create a patriotic speech that uses the ideas in the Gettysburg Address to commemorate the September 11, 2001 tragedy at the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

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