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2016 #SOTU, word clouds, blackout poetry, and thinking historically

“He shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Article II, Section 3, US Constitution

Back in the day, George Washington delivered the first state of the union address to Congress in New York City in 1790. Thomas Jefferson believed that a face to face version was too much King George the IIIish and so began sending written reports instead. Other presidents followed suit with the report being read to Congress by a clerk. Woodrow Wilson re-started the face to face idea in 1913.

Other #SOTU trivia?

Jimmy Carter delivered the last written message to Congress in 1981. Of course, it was also the longest message at over 33,000 words, so maybe that was a good thing. Nixon’s 1972 speech was the shortest at just over 28 minutes.

But enough poly sci nerd talk. How best to use last night’s festivities? Some quick thoughts:

1. Use the official White House site for video clips, official transcripts, behind the scenes, and other goodies.

2. Have kids fact check both the SOTU and the different Republican responses. Discuss sources for this information – where can we find the facts? Are there citations available from the White House and the Republican party? FactCheck and PolitiFact are also good for that sort of thing. Have them compare two different news sites to see how the fact checking might be different – CNN (or here) and Fox News, for instance.

3. Using either the Library of Congress and National Archives document analysis worksheets, have students break down both the speech and the social media response to the speech.

4. Use the transcript of the speech and of the Republican response with kids to create blackout poetry. Thanks @SarahTHN!

SOTU blackout poetry

5. Use to help kids visualize themes in both the SOTU and the Republican response. (You might also use the Spanish version of the Republican response. It differs from the English version, especially on the issue of immigration.)  How are they different? The same? Why are they different? Why the same?

President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union

sotu 2016

Governor Haley’s Republican Response

repub response

I’m curious. What do you do with the #SOTU?


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jennifer #

    Hi Glenn,
    Love the Blackout Poetry idea and the fact checking. Good tie in to assessing the credibility and reliability of sources. This year, my students participated in Big Block of Cheese Day. They read about the different topics from his speech on the SOTU website. We tweeted questions to various members of White House staff. I am hoping to get some responses. Kids were really excited and engaged with the lesson. Their conversations were awesome!


    January 13, 2016
    • glennw #


      I love Big Block of Cheese Day! So glad your kids did to. The SOTU is just such a great opportunity to practice analysis skills. Thanks for sharing what sounds like an awesome learning experience!


      January 13, 2016

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