The New York Times this weekend posted a fascinating interactive feature at their web site: Inaugural Words – 1789 to the Present. (Thanks, by the way, to Angela Maiers for pointing me to this, via Larry Ferlazo’s blog.) The site gives a word cloud based on the inauguration speeches of each president.

Here are a few ideas about how you could use this with your gifted students:

  • Select one of the speeches and have the students infer whatever they can about the historical context in which it was given.
  • Research the historical period and compare/contrast what was mentioned in the speech with things that were left out.
  • Compare how vocabulary has changed over time. Figure out a way to illustrate these changes (perhaps with a graph or timeline).
  • Combine the text from several speeches (perhaps all the speeches over a 50-year span, or all the speeches from the top-ranked Presidents) and create a Wordle to look for broader patterns of words.
  • Create a Wordle from President Obama’s speech and compare it to those from other Presidents. (Thanks to Lee Kolbert for this idea.)
  • Imagine you’re elected President. Which other Presidents would you emulate? Use words from their speeches to begin building your own.
  • Research which Presidents wrote their own speeches and which used speechwriters. Is there any difference in the vocabulary?

This is admittedly a very rough list of ideas, and none of these are fully fleshed-out lessons. What other thoughts do you have?