The Gettysburg Address

History Lesson Plan
Students will become familiar with the Gettysburg Address and the historical importance of this document. They will be able to understand some of the language used during this time period and translate the address into modern day terminology.

Lesson Plan graphic

copies of the Gettysburg Address (available here) for each student; various books on Abraham Lincoln, the Address, the Civil War

About the Address

  1. Pass out copies of the Gettysburg Address and read aloud to your class while they follow along.
  2. Ask them read it silently a few times to try to understand the meaning of Lincoln's words.
  3. As a class, brainstorm what they can do understand about the speech. What can they infer from some of the words? What can they figure out about the time period? What does the title indicate?
  4. After all of the remarks have been made and recorded, have students research to find out more about the address.
  5. Provide several books for each table that students can use for research or visit the library as a class. Have students take notes about their findings.
  6. After giving them sufficient research time, have the kids form groups and try to figure out the address once again. The background information they have researched should enable them to get the general understanding of the Address.
  7. Have the groups "translate' the speech into modern-day language. This doesn't need to be word for word, but just enough so that they can fully appreciate the power of the words.
  8. Discuss with students some of these questions:
    • Who wrote this speech? Why?
    • What events in history occurred during the time this oration was given? [November 19, 1863]
    • In 1865, the 13th Amendment was added to the Constitution of the United States, abolishing slavery. What effect might the Gettysburg Address have had on this change?
    • The speech only lasted two minutes, but is among the most famous ever made. Why do you think it is so well renown? Do you think Lincoln got his point across in this short time?

Have students share their modern-day versions of the speech with the class. Discuss the versions they have made; help to adjust/rectify any misunderstandings. Help to define words that are not understand using context clues. Have students reflect on the Gettysburg Address. How do your speeches compare to Lincoln's in form and style? Does the language make a big difference in the whole meaning and sound of it?

Were any students able to understand the Address before their research? Were they able to translate the majority of the speech correctly? Did they understand the meaning of the speech? Could they appreciate the language that Lincoln used? Were they able to use context clues to figure out some of the difficult words?