Standard Lesson

Myth and Truth: The Gettysburg Address

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 50-minute sessions
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Behind every myth are many possible truths allowing us to discover who we were as peoples and who we are today. By exploring myths surrounding the Gettysburg Address, this lesson asks students to think critically about commonly believed “facts” about this important speech and the Civil War. Students first freewrite and discuss questions about how to tell truth from fiction. They then read or listen to the Gettysburg Address and analyze its audience, purpose, content, tone, structure, and delivery. Finally, students research to find the truth behind common myths about the Gettysburg Address and present their findings to the class.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In his reflection on teaching reading in the social studies classroom, Richard H. Chant asserts: "As much as content-area teachers need to enhance their students' reading proficiency, reading teachers can (and should) enhance subject matter content through their selection of strategies and texts." This lesson promotes just that by not only incorporating an historical document, but by encouraging critical thinking and research to understand the historical context of the document.

Reports of historical events often seem like absolute truth to students; yet behind these events are many possible myths and stories, allowing us to discover who we were as people and who we are today. Although few students realize it, understanding these truths and myths illuminates the ways that their values and beliefs have been shaped by the stories they have grown up knowing, by the education they have received, and by the landscape within which they have lived. All these contexts have contributed to their world views as individuals, as members of families, and as members of communities. These activities explore stories, myths, and truths regarding the Gettysburg Address by considering its composition, its presentation, and other stories related to the speech.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.

Materials and Technology

  • General classroom supplies (paper, pens or pencils, chart paper or board, and so forth)

  • Gettysburg Address Books and other related reference material




  • Arrange for Internet access to the speech, or prepare print copies. Links to the speech are included in the Gettysburg Address Web Resources. The piece is also available in most American literature anthologies and history books as well as in the encyclopedia.

  • Gather reference material for the lesson. Choose fewer resources if time is limited, or more to allow students more time for research and exploration.

    • Gather library resources such as reference books, encyclopedias, and specific texts, examples of which appear in the Gettysburg Address Booklist. Provide a copy of books for each group if resources allow. Groups may have slightly different reference resources (for instance, encyclopedias from different publishers), but all groups should have relatively the same collection of materials on hand. Naturally, you can encourage sharing among groups in the case of scarcer resources.

    • If Internet access is limited, provide Internet printouts of relevant sites from the Gettysburg Address Web Resources. Because students will work in small groups, create a copy of the printouts for each group if computer access is not available.

  • Make copies of the Common Myths about the Gettysburg Address and the Myths and Truths Presentation Rubric for all students or prepare overheads or chart paper with the information.

  • Choose an introduction to the Gettysburg Address from one of the Web Resources or one of the books you have collected. You might also use the introduction in your class textbook.

  • If students will use the tools to prepare their presentations, test the ReadWriteThink Printing Press on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • develop strategies for critically examining the origin and characteristics of myth.

  • develop an awareness of the diversities, similarities, and values in various cultural and story traditions related to the Gettysburg Address.

  • develop strategies for examining messages for bias and missing information.

Session One

  1. Students can complete the following prereading questions as homework, as an in-class freewrite before the reading, or in oral class discussion.

  2. What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the truth?

  3. How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story was fictional?

  4. Have you ever read something that was presented as nonfiction but that you knew was fiction?

  5. Spend ten to fifteen minutes going over students' responses to the prereading prompt. Write their answers on chart paper or an overhead. (You'll return to these answers later in this lesson, so save their responses.)

  6. Read the introduction to the Gettysburg Address that you have chosen. As students read along or read silently to themselves, ask them to pay particular attention to the historical details that the introduction includes.

  7. After reading, ask students to write two questions of their own for the class to consider: one question that is answered in the introduction text and an "I wonder why" question. Use a writer's notebook or response journal for this writing.

  8. In small groups, have students share their questions and discuss answers. Monitor student discussion by circulating among the groups.

  9. Pass out copies of "The Gettysburg Address" to students, and read the address as a class. Alternatively, several of the sites listed on the Gettysburg Address Web Resources include audio versions of the speech. Play one of these versions for students.

  10. Once you've read the address, go back through the text defining unfamiliar words for students. If desired, use the demo from Lexiteria to explore the meanings of the words in the speech. See the instructions about the speech for how to use the demo, which requires Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox.

  11. Explain that the evaluation of historical speeches requires the reader to research the context. To understand the points, readers need to know more about the situation of the speech.

  12. If students need a review on purpose and audience, point to information from Define the Purpose, Consider the Audience, and Develop the Thesis.

  13. Emphasize the significance of purpose and audience in the Lincoln's speech. Explore how his awareness of the interests and needs of his audience (both listening and reading) influenced the address.

  14. For homework, ask students to complete the Speech Analysis Questions for the Gettysburg Address.

Session Two and Additional Sessions as Required

  1. As a warm-up activity, ask students to think about their answers to the Speech Analysis Questions and the introduction to the speech that they discussed in the last session.

  2. Ask them to spend a few minutes freewriting in response to these questions:

    • What do you notice about the introduction that fits with your ideas about the Gettysburg Address now that you have explored it in detail?
    • What seems unusual or seems to have been left out?

    In full-class discussion, have students share their thoughts on the Gettysburg Address from their freewriting as well as the homework questions. Write their ideas on the board or on chart paper. The idea is simply to brainstorm a list for now.

  3. Pass out the Common Myths about the Gettysburg Address Handout, or show the list on an overhead projector. As you read through the list, encourage students to connect items from their brainstorming list with the myths on the sheet.

  4. Go over the activity that students will complete:

    1. Explain your myth answering these three questions:

      • What is a truth in this myth?

      • What are other truths behind this myth that might contradict it?

      • What does the myth reveal about those who believe it?
    2. As a group, you may use any of the materials available to help you understand and explain the myth.

    3. Prepare a five-minute presentation to the class that explains your understanding of the myth, using creative drama, visual aids such as posters, music, illustrations, or an oral presentation. If desired, you can use the ReadWriteThink Printing Press to create posters and other displays for their presentations.
  5. Divide students into four to five groups, assigning each group a myth from the sheet or a topic from their own list of "I wonder why" questions from the first class session. More than one group can work on the same myth if class size requires.

  6. Give groups a variety of resources (books, reference materials, Internet sites, and so forth) that they can use to uncover truths about the Gettysburg Address.

  7. If resources allow, share the C-SPAN video resources on Lincoln as materials for students' research. Individual video clips are listed in the Web Resources (below).

  8. Pass out the Presentation Rubric for the activity, or show the list on an overhead projector, and discuss the requirements for the activity.

  9. As students work in their groups, circulate and monitor student progress. Let them know a few minutes before the work period will conclude so that they have time to wrap up their thoughts.

  10. Allow additional sessions for research as necessary for students to complete their research.

Session Three

  1. Give students five to ten minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentations.

  2. Have groups present their myth to the entire class, sticking closely to the five-minutes-per-group guideline that you've established.

  3. Once all of the groups have presented, return to the original prereading questions:

    1. What difference does it make who writes a story as long as they tell the "truth"?

    2. How can you tell when a story is true? What would indicate a story wasn't true?
  4. Read through the student responses, and conclude the lesson with a discussion of their original perceptions of "truth." Which observations do they still agree with? Which would they change? What would they add?


See the ReadWriteThink Calendar Entry: Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address in 1863 for additional lessons and activities to extend your study of the Gettysburg Address.

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Monitor student interaction and progress during group work to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the project.

  • Use the Myths and Truths Presentation Rubric to assess group presentations.


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