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State of the Union Lesson Plan

Use Word Clouds to Analyze the President’s State of the Union Address

Each year the president must address the nation. And since 1790, when George Washington gave the first State of the Union, the nation has listened closely to learn about the president’s leadership priorities. But somewhere between 1790 and 2014, a new speech analysis was invented: the word cloud. In this lesson plan, students will use the word cloud to analyze previous State of the Union speeches, make predictions about this year’s State of the Union speech, and then reflect on their predictions after they watch.

The Lesson Plan

1. Introduce the concept of the Word Cloud. It’s simple: the more a word is used, the large the word will appear. And people who analyze political speeches believe that if a president is using a word more, the idea is probably more important to him. To help students understand the concept of the Word Cloud, you can use Flocabulary’s video, “Five Things.” Play the video and ask students to predict which words from the song will be largest in a word cloud. Then show them this word cloud of the lyrics:
Five Things word cloud
Ask students:

  • Were the words you predicted the largest?
  • When you look at a word cloud, what is the significance of the largest words?

2. Tell students that they will now apply their knowledge of word clouds to the State of the Union. Give some background on the State of the Union. Have students look at the 2013 State of the Union word cloud (at the top of this post), as well as the 2012 State of the Union word cloud here:

Ask students:

  • Based on the word clouds, what do you think were the most important issues each year?
  • Based on the word clouds, how do you think President Obama’s priorities changed from 2012 to 2013?

If you’d like, have students read the texts of the 2012 and 2013 State of the Unions, and see if they think that the word clouds accurately represent the key points.

3. Now it’s time to predict. Ask students to make a list of the words that they think will be prominent in a word cloud of this year’s State of the Union, and have them justify their choices.

4. Assign students to watch the State of the Union for homework. They can even tally how many times they hear each of their big words while watching.

5. On the day after the State of the Union, search for the text of the speech. Go to the free word cloud program Wordle, and paste in the full text. When the word cloud appears, ask students:

  • How many of your predicted words made it on to the word cloud? Discuss any key differences between your predictions and the actual speech.
  • After watching the speech in full, do you think the word cloud accurately captured the president’s key points?

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