For Black History Month, take a look at some of the speeches that have inspired progress towards racial equality in America. Beyond looking at the historical context of each speech, students can use VocabGrabber to analyze the linguistic patterns in a particular speech to gain insight into what rhetorical devices made those spoken words so memorable.

For example, VocabGrabbing Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech reveals how King's repetition of key phrases advanced his vision of racial justice. Give it a try: copy and paste the "I Have a Dream" speech from an online source (such as here) into the white text box on the VocabGrabber page. Click on the "List View" of the speech's vocabulary and sort by "Occurrences" in order to display which words King repeated most frequently.


In addition to looking at the individual words that were most often repeated (i.e., will, ring, freedom, etc), have students click on each of those top words to see how they were used together in repeated phrases for rhetorical effect. For example, an exploration of King's sentences that began with the phrase "Let freedom ring..." can reveal how far-reaching King's vision of racial equality was; he would not be content until freedom had reached "every village, every hamlet, every state, and every city."


Students can continue their linguistic inquiry by exploring King's repetition of other key phrases in the speech. Why did King repeat "Now is the time..."; "We can never be satisfied..."; or "I have a dream..."? Listen to an audio version of the speech. What effect does such repetition have on King's audience? How does the experience of listening to the speech differ from the experience of reading it?

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Georgia Scurletis is Director of Curriculum for the Visual Thesaurus and Before coming to Thinkmap, she spent 18 years as a curriculum writer and classroom teacher. Georgia has written curriculum materials for a variety of Web sites (WGBH, The New York Times Learning Network, Edsitement) and various school districts. While teaching high school English in Brooklyn, she was a recipient of the New York State English Council's Educators of Excellence Award, the Brooklyn High Schools' Recognition Award, and The New York Times' Teachers Who Make a Difference Award. Click here to read more articles by Georgia Scurletis.

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