English Language Arts, Reading Literature
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Gettysburg Address
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Literary Devices
  • Rhetoric
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    Lincoln's Speech Addressing The Civil War & National Situation

    Lincoln's Speech Addressing The Civil War & National Situation


    In this lesson, students will read two speeches given by Abraham Lincoln and consider how he shaped his words to have the most impact on his audience. They’ll consider how these speeches reflect the national situation just before the Civil War and put themselves into the mind-set of a New Jersey state senator.


    • Read the lesson and student content.
    • Anticipate student difficulties and identify the differentiation options you will use for working with your students.
    • Plan how you will pair students for partner work.

    Who Is Abraham Lincoln?

    • Conduct a Whole Group Share to help students brainstorm what they already know about Abraham Lincoln.
    • Create a class list of facts on the board, on chart paper, or in whatever way works for your class.
    • Encourage students to generate questions. If they aren’t sure about a piece of information, add it to the list of questions.
    • Some basic facts you can elicit or offer include the following:
      • ✓ Lincoln served as president from 1861 to 1865, also the time of the Civil War.
      • ✓ He was born in a log cabin in Kentucky and grew up in what would later become the state of Indiana.
      • ✓ He was largely self-educated and became a lawyer as a young man.
      • ✓ He was the 16th president of the United States.
      • ✓ South Carolina seceded from the Union soon after he was elected, and Lee surrendered to Grant in 1865, just a few days before Lincoln was assassinated.
      • ELL: Keep in mind that ELL students who have recently moved to the United States may have very little knowledge about Lincoln. You may wish to provide them with a very brief biography of Lincoln written in their primary language.


    You’ve probably already learned a few things about Abraham Lincoln during your time in school. In this unit, you’ll read some of his speeches.

    Take a moment to brainstorm with your class.

    • What do you already know about Abraham Lincoln?
    • What questions do you have about his presidency and his life?

    Addresses to the New Jersey Senate and Assembly

    • For these first two short speeches, ask students to work with a partner to comprehend what they can and to generate questions for you and the whole class.
    • An annotated version of the speeches to the New Jersey Senate and Assembly is available to you (New Jersey Addresses Annotated). Share this with your students or use it for your own reference.
    • Call on partners to share their questions and spend some time reviewing definitions of challenging words and figuring out the allusions and intent of Lincoln’s speeches.
    • Questions about the context of this speech may come up. Let students know that they will be reading information about what is happening in the whole country at that time.
      • SWD: These speeches may be difficult for struggling readers to understand. Carefully consider how to pair struggling readers for this task to give them the best chance of success. You can also lead a Guided Reading Group as needed.

    Work Time

    After Lincoln was elected president, but before his inauguration, he gave two short speeches to the New Jersey Senate and General Assembly. The congressmen he addressed had not been his supporters during the election campaign, but he was going to be their president.

    • With a partner, read the two short speeches.
    • Stop every three or four sentences to check in with each other about what you understand.
    • Record any questions you have.
    • Annotate any unfamiliar words or phrases.

    Share your thoughts and questions with the class, and add to the class list of questions and facts about Abraham Lincoln.

    New Jersey Speeches Paraphrase

    • Use the annotated version to model for students how to read for understanding.
    • Model chunking the text into sections of two-to-three sentences and paraphrasing each chunk individually.
    • Encourage students to paraphrase to capture the main ideas instead of word-by-word, which can lead to unintentional plagiarism.
    • After you have modeled two chunks of text, direct students to paraphrase the rest of the speeches with a partner.
    • Students can complete their paraphrases in their annotations, their Notebook, or on paper.
    • While they are working, circulate through the room to make sure students are making good sense of the text. Provide guidance as needed.
    • Conduct a Whole Group Share and call on several students to share their ideas about what is most important and any questions that they have.
    • After they have had a chance to share and compare notes, help students clarify any misunderstandings.
    • One important point is that Lincoln knew that even though his audience did not vote for him, he was fairly sure they would support him in his attempts to hold the country together.
    • If it’s appropriate for your class, point out some of the literary and rhetorical devices Lincoln used in these speeches: in particular, point out allusion, metaphor, and maybe the way Lincoln ingratiates himself to these lawmakers.
      • ELL: If you have ELLs with limited English vocabulary, they may encounter unfamiliar words in these speeches. Depending on their English proficiency, you may wish to provide them with a list of words and definitions or have them look up the words in bilingual or multilingual dictionaries.

    Work Time

    Follow along as your teacher demonstrates how to chunk and paraphrase the text.

    • With your partner, read through the speeches again and write paraphrases of every two or three sentences.
    • Once you’ve finished paraphrasing, make a list of the ideas that you think are most important in these two speeches.

    Open Notebook

    Share your ideas about what’s most important in Lincoln’s two speeches. Did you come up with some of the same ideas as your classmates?

    The Great Struggle

    • Once students have identified Lincoln’s meaning, ask why Lincoln might have avoided using the term “slavery.” What does using the term “great struggle” add to the speech?
    • Have students consider Lincoln’s audience and purpose.

    Work Time

    In his address to the New Jersey Senate, Lincoln said the following:

    “I shall be most happy indeed if I shall be an humble instrument in the hands of the Almighty, and of this, his almost chosen people, for perpetuating the object of that great struggle.”

    Consider this quote carefully and complete a Quick Write.

    • What do you think Lincoln meant by “great struggle”?
    • Refer back to the speech as you write to support your answer.

    Open Notebook

    Support From Non-Supporters

    • Circulate and provide guidance as needed.
    • Allow students time to share their Quick Write responses before moving to a Whole Group Discussion.
    • After getting enough responses so that you’re sure students understand how Lincoln used compliments to put a positive spin on the fact that these are not the people who elected him, point out any other details about the construction of the speech.
      • SWD: A Quick Write can be very difficult for struggling writers. It is important to gauge student comprehension of the key elements of the speech, so you may wish to alter how struggling writers complete the assignment. Options include having students write an outline rather than a full text, allowing students to dictate their ideas to a scribe or to use dictation software or apps, asking students to share their ideas with you in conversation rather than writing them down.


    Frequently in a democracy a newly elected president needs the support of people who did not elect him. This is the situation that Lincoln was in as he addressed the New Jersey Senate and Assembly.

    Complete a Quick Write.

    • How did Lincoln respond to the potentially embarrassing fact that the majority of the senators and representatives did not vote for him for president?
    • How do you think you would respond to Lincoln’s speech if you were a New Jersey senator who didn’t vote for him?

    Open Notebook

    Share your response with your classmates. Take notes on any new information your teacher gives about these two short speeches.

    Lincoln and Slavery

    • Let students know that they will be reading excerpts from Lincoln’s first inaugural address in the next lesson and that they should keep an eye out for any context that their homework reading provides.
      • ELL: Keep in mind that some ELLs may need additional context to appreciate the first inaugural address. These students may lack basic knowledge of the Civil War or how slavery worked in the United States. Depending on the students, you may wish to supplement or replace the homework reading with different material. If you will be adding more reading, try to choose materials that are written in simple English (such as children’s books) so students can focus on understanding the content. Another option would be to provide them supplemental materials written in their primary language.


    In the next lesson, you’ll be reading an excerpt from Lincoln’s first inaugural address. But before you do that, it’s important to review what was going on in the nation at this point in time. The article “Lincoln and Slavery” will provide some context.

    • Read and annotate “Lincoln and Slavery.”
    • Keep an eye out for information that’s relevant to the speeches to the New Jersey Senate and Assembly that you read today.