English Language Arts
Material Type:
Lesson Plan
High School
  • Assessment
  • Grade 12 ELA
  • Reading Comprehension
    Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial

    The Gettysburg Address

    The Gettysburg Address


    In this lesson, students will continue analyzing Lincoln’s first inaugural address. They’ll read two more of his speeches, including the Gettysburg Address. Then, they’ll analyze his themes and the ways that he used literary and rhetorical devices.


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

    First Inaugural Main Ideas

    • Allow the class time to share, compare, and discuss their notes on Lincoln’s first inaugural address.
    • Facilitate a discussion about this inaugural speech.
    • Remind students that with the attack on Fort Sumter in South Carolina, the Civil War began—a little more than a month after Lincoln was sworn in as president and delivered his first inaugural address.


    • Share your notes and questions from the final section of the First Inaugural Address with a partner.
    • Decide together which two or three ideas you would like to share with the whole group.
    • Alternately, you can also share questions you have.

    Share your ideas and questions with the whole group.

    Response to a Serenade

    • This speech is not nearly as dense as the First Inaugural Address; it should take students less time to read and annotate.
    • Have students work individually or in partners for this task.
    • After students have responded to the questions, facilitate a brief Whole Group Discussion.
    • An annotated version is available (Response to a Serenade Annotated).
      • ELL: Some ELLs may not be familiar with the Declaration of Independence. Consider providing them with a brief explanation (written or oral) of the importance of the Declaration. You may also wish to share the opening lines (which Lincoln quotes from).

    Work Time

    Read the short speech Lincoln delivered to a group that came to serenade him after the North’s victories in the Civil War.

    Then, answer these questions.

    • How long before the date of the serenade speech had the Declaration of Independence been signed?
    • What is the one quotation Lincoln takes from the Declaration?
    • What events, besides the Declaration of Independence, have occurred on July 4?

    Open Notebook

    Submit your written responses to your teacher.

    Then, join in a class conversation about the Response to a Serenade and share answers to the questions.

    Lincoln's Literary and Rhetorical Devices

    • Ask students to go through the speeches they have read so far to make a list of the themes as well as literary and rhetorical devices they have noticed in Lincoln’s work.
    • Students might bring up any or all of the following themes:
      • ✓ Liberty (freedom) for all
      • ✓ The importance of the Union
      • ✓ No vengeance or hard treatment for those who have rebelled
    • Among the literary and rhetorical devices, the following might be listed:
      • ✓ Allusion (to Revolutionary War, Declaration of Independence, Bible and religion, other books)
      • ✓ Metaphor
      • ✓ Rhetorical questions
      • ✓ Sentences of varying length
      • ✓ Repetition
      • ✓ Parallel construction
    • Students may need a list of rhetorical devices with definitions to use as reference.
    • Add any additional devices that you and your students noticed.
      • SWD: It may be difficult for students with certain learning issues to recall the literary and rhetorical devices or to easily identify them. Provide a reminder list of rhetorical devices with an example of each to help stir students’ ideas.

    Work Time

    Now that you’ve read several of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, you’re ready to identify some of his themes and discuss the literary and rhetorical devices he used.

    • With your class, generate two lists of elements you can identify in the speeches you’ve read. Create one list for themes and one for literary devices.
    • Put this information into your own Themes and Literary Devices chart. When you read the next speech, you’ll refer back to this chart.
    • Don’t forget to identify where in the speeches you see Lincoln employing these techniques.

    The speeches and chart are in the next task.

    Gettysburg Address

    • Give students time to read and annotate the Gettysburg Address. They can complete this task individually or with partners, depending on what works best for your students.
    • An annotated version of the Gettysburg Address is available for you to reference and/or share with your students (Gettysburg Address Annotated).
    • Facilitate a sharing of ideas about the Gettysburg Address.
    • Have students add to the list of themes and literary and rhetorical devices they have noticed in Lincoln’s speeches.
      • SWD: Certain students, such as those with visual impairments, may benefit from hearing the speech aloud. You can read the speech yourself, activate a text-to-speech feature, or play a recorded version of the speech. NPR has a good recording of actor Sam Waterston reading it aloud.

    Work Time

    Even if you haven’t read the Gettysburg Address before, you may recognize some of the language in it, especially the first line. This is perhaps Lincoln’s most famous speech and is considered by many experts to be one of the most important speeches in American history.

    • Read and annotate the Gettysburg Address.
    • As you read, take a look at your Themes and Literary Devices Chart. Are there any themes and literary devices in the Gettysburg Address in common with other speeches you have read?

    Join your classmates in a conversation about the Gettysburg Address.

    A Great American Speech?

    • Time the students in their writing.
    • Allow students time to share with their partners.
    • If you have enough time, ask one or two students to share with the whole group. Encourage students to reference the speech itself to support both their analysis of why it is considered a great American speech and their own opinion.
      • ELL: If you have a large number of ELL students in your class who have emigrated from other countries, they may have difficulty evaluating where this speech stands in American history. Consider broadening the question: is this a great historical speech? Why or why not?


    Complete a Quick Write.

    • Many historians argue that Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address is one of American history’s great speeches. Why do you think they make this argument?
    • Do you agree? Why or why not?

    Open Notebook

    Share your response with a partner.

    Rhetorical Devices and Themes

    • This review can help students begin the assessment tasks during the next two lessons with their analysis of Lincoln’s speeches fresh in their minds.
    • Have students submit these charts for further review and understanding checks if you wish.
    • The texts can be found in Tasks 4 and 5.


    • Review your chart of the themes and literary and rhetorical devices in Lincoln’s five speeches.
    • If you notice something new, go ahead and add it to your chart.