English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address


In this lesson, students will read an excerpt from Lincoln’s first inaugural address and analyze how he used this speech to express his ideas at a critical point in history.


  • 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.
  • Prepare to model annotation of Lincoln’s first inaugural address. If you are interested, discuss the context and content of this speech with a U.S. history teacher.

Lincoln in Context

  • Give students time to share their homework notes and make some decisions about what they would like to share with the whole class.
  • Facilitate a brief discussion about the informational piece covering the context of Lincoln’s speeches, especially his speeches in New Jersey. Possible topics and questions you can use include the following:
    • ✓ Although Lincoln referred to a growing crisis in the country, he did not specifically mention slavery, but in the speech to the Senate, he said, “I am exceedingly anxious that this Union, the Constitution, and the liberties of the people shall be perpetuated . . . .” Ask students if by referring to “liberties of the people” Lincoln could have been talking about slavery.
    • ✓ Clarify any questions students may have about the Civil War or about politics at that time.
    • ✓ According to the essay “Lincoln and Slavery,” what were the various attitudes about slavery during and after the Revolutionary War?


Share your notes from reading the informational article about Lincoln and the context of the speeches.

Decide what you would like to share with the whole class to answer the following questions.

  • What specific information did you see in the article about the speeches Lincoln made in New Jersey?
  • In his speeches in New Jersey, what reference, if any, did Lincoln make to slavery?
  • What ideas were most important in “Lincoln and Slavery”?
  • What questions do you have about the informational text?

Share your thoughts in a Whole Group Discussion.

Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

  • You may need to explain inauguration and inaugural address so students understand where that speech will fit in to the overall context.
  • Give students time to look again at the informational piece to see what it says about the context of Lincoln’s election and his first inaugural address.
  • Review the historical context with students, paying special attention to both the positions Lincoln ran on during the election campaign and the nation’s response to his victory.
  • If discussion lags, encourage students to consider the national situation from Lincoln’s perspective, without the benefit of hindsight.
    • SWD: Students who struggle with reading comprehension may need additional support during this task, as they may not have drawn the correct conclusions from the homework reading. You may wish to provide students with a partially completed graphic organizer or a short list of notes that capture key information they will need to understand the inaugural address.

Work Time

The next document you are going to read is an excerpt from Lincoln’s first inaugural address, delivered in 1861. This address is difficult reading, but it is important because of what Lincoln and the country were facing in the immediate future.

So first, with a partner, take a moment to review the historical context.

  • Take another look at “Lincoln and Slavery,” paying special attention to what was going on around Lincoln’s election and inauguration.
  • What issues faced the nation?
  • If you were in Lincoln’s position, what would you think was most important to say to the nation at this point in history?

Share your thoughts with the class.

First Inaugural Annotation, Round 1

  • Read aloud through the first two or three paragraphs of the speech, modeling how to annotate by stopping one or two times to summarize what you’ve read, ask questions, or draw inferences. Draw attention to words you think students may not know and pause to check the definition.
  • The students will see an excerpted version of this speech. The complete version is available for you to share with students as you choose.
  • An annotated version of the complete First Inaugural Address is available for your reference and/or to share with students (First Inaugural Annotated).
  • Give students a stopping point for this round of annotations. The paragraph numbers correspond to the paragraphs in the complete version. One easy place to have them stop is after paragraph six.
  • While students read, take notes, and discuss, circulate through the room to assist and encourage.
  • If there are some students who would benefit from your presence, work with a small group that includes them.
  • Facilitate a discussion about the meaning of the first six paragraphs of Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
  • Ask the class what issues Lincoln was concerned with in the speech so far.
  • Ask whether Lincoln used metaphor or allusions similar to his speeches to the New Jersey Congress.
    • SWD: Students who struggle with reading comprehension should be exposed to many different methods of annotation (highlighting, underlining, color-coding information, and so on). Keep in mind that some students who struggle with reading comprehension may also have visual processing or visual impairment issues. These students may benefit from a differently formatted version of the reading, such as one in a different font or larger text.

Work Time

Follow along as your teacher demonstrates how to annotate Lincoln’s speech.

  • With a partner, continue making annotations. Read through each paragraph and write a brief summary of what you have read.
  • Look for places to make inferences. If there are parts you don’t fully understand, generate questions to ask the whole class and your teacher.
  • Your teacher will give you an initial stopping point. Work until you get to that paragraph.

Share your ideas about what you’ve summarized with the whole class. Be sure to take notes if you hear helpful ideas from other sets of partners.

First Inaugural Annotation, Round 2

  • Assign students their next stopping point. Depending on how quickly they’re working, you can choose to have them stop after paragraph 13. Be aware that what they do not finish in class they will work on for homework.
  • While students read, take notes, and discuss, circulate through the room to assist and encourage.
  • If there are some students who would benefit from your presence, work with a small group that includes them.
  • Some students may want to get a start on their homework by continuing to read and annotate the speech.
  • Facilitate a discussion on the inaugural address.
  • Some historians say that Lincoln knew how important this speech would be because of unrest around the country, so he carefully addressed legal issues about secession.
    • ELL: Some ELL students may benefit from working in a group with help from you or another support professional. Be aware of their reading and annotating pace so that they aren’t overwhelmed with out-of-class work. Take this time to work with them on comprehension and annotation skills so they are prepared for the homework.

Work Time

Your teacher will assign you the second portion of the First Inaugural Address to annotate with a partner.

  • Continue to work with a partner to read and annotate Lincoln’s address by writing summaries of each paragraph and noting any inferences you can draw.
  • Generate questions about parts of the speech that are confusing or unclear to you.
  • Decide together on two or three ideas or questions you would like to share with the whole class.

Participate in a Whole Group Discussion and share the ideas and questions that you and your partner have.

Be sure to take notes if you hear helpful ideas or interesting questions.

First Inaugural Address Quick Write

  • Time students for the Quick Write.
  • Take time to hear from several students before setting them on their own to read the remainder of the speech.
    • ELL: Quick Writes can be particularly daunting for some ELL students. Consider how you can support them. Options include allowing students to take more time with the writing assignment, giving students the opportunity to discuss their ideas with a classmate who speaks the same primary language before they begin writing, providing bilingual or multilingual dictionaries for students to use, and/or offering sentence prompts to help students construct their response.


Complete a Quick Write.

  • What is the most important idea that came from the Whole Group Discussion on Lincoln’s first inaugural address? Give credit to the student whose idea you think is most important.

Open Notebook

Share your Quick Write response.

First Inaugural Annotation, Round 3

  • Determine if there are students who would benefit from or require support with the assignment of reading the remainder of the speech. During Lesson 4, students will be required to work alone, so you may want to encourage them to try reading independently now.


  • Continue to read and annotate the remainder of the First Inaugural Address. You will have the opportunity in Lesson 3 to share and compare your responses and notes with classmates.