Analyzing Great Orators


This resource is aimed at enhancing students’ public speaking and debate skills by closely examining the techniques of renowned orators throughout history. Students will analyze famous speeches, identify key elements of effective oration, and apply these learnings to their own speaking styles.


Ideal for high school speech and debate teams or classes, this resource can be used as part of a curriculum unit on public speaking, rhetorical analysis, or as a supplemental activity for debate team practices.

Learning Outcomes

  • Rhetorical Analysis Skills: Students will develop the ability to critically analyze speeches, identifying persuasive techniques and rhetorical strategies.
  • Historical Context Understanding: Gain insights into the historical and cultural contexts of famous speeches.
  • Public Speaking Enhancement: Apply learned techniques to improve their own speech delivery, structure, and persuasiveness.
  • Critical Thinking: Enhance critical thinking skills by comparing and contrasting different oratory styles and their effectiveness.


  1. Speech Selection and Research:

    • Provide a list of famous speeches from various periods and contexts. See below for some options!
    • Assign students to select a speech and research the historical context and background of the orator.
  2. Speech Analysis Workshop:

    • Hold sessions where students present their chosen speeches and lead a discussion on the rhetorical techniques used.
    • Analyze the structure, use of language, persuasive techniques, and emotional appeals.
  3. Comparative Analysis:

    • Encourage students to compare and contrast two or more speeches, discussing how different orators use different techniques based on their context and intended audience.
  4. Imitation Exercise:

    • Students practice delivering excerpts from these speeches, focusing on mimicking the orator’s style, tone, and body language.
    • Discuss how different delivery styles can affect the audience’s reception of the speech.
  5. Application to Personal Style:

    • Have students write and deliver their own speeches, incorporating techniques learned from the analysis.
    • Peer review sessions can be conducted for constructive feedback.

Speech Options

Below is a small selection of speeches widely seen as impactful by some of the best orators in modern history. This is not a comprehensive list by any means, but it might serve as a starting point for options to give to your students.

  1. “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. – A quintessential example of inspiring oratory, rich in rhetorical devices like repetition and metaphor.

  2. “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” by Winston – A speech that exemplifies resilience and determination, known for its stirring rhetoric and powerful delivery.

  3. “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth – A poignant and impactful speech advocating for women’s rights and racial equality, demonstrating the power of personal narrative.

  4. “The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln – A historic speech that is concise yet impactful, demonstrating the effectiveness of brevity combined with poetic language.

  5. “JFK’s Inaugural Address” by John F. Kennedy – Known for its persuasive call to action and memorable phrases, this speech is a study in crafting motivational rhetoric.

  6. “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” by Hillary Clinton – A modern speech advocating for women’s rights, demonstrating how to effectively argue for social change.

  7. “Pearl Harbor Address to the Nation” by Franklin D. Roosevelt – A speech marked by its strong call to action and clear communication in the face of crisis.

  8. “Quit India” by Mahatma Gandhi – An example of persuasive speech that urges for action through non-violent means, reflecting deep conviction and moral authority.

  9. “The Hope of a Young Nation” by Barack Obama – Known for its inspirational tone and eloquent appeal to unity and hope.

  10. “The Lady of the Lamp” by Florence Nightingale – An influential speech in the context of social reform and healthcare, demonstrating advocacy through speech.

  11. “The Perils of Indifference” by Elie Wiesel – A powerful speech about human rights and the dangers of apathy in the face of injustice.


By studying the methods of history’s great orators, students can not only enhance their understanding of effective public speaking but also draw inspiration for their own oratory development. This resource offers a dynamic approach to learning, blending historical appreciation with practical speech skills enhancement.

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