Activities & Lessons

2024 State of the Union Activities and Lesson Plans

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State of the Union Address Activities Hero

President Joe Biden is scheduled to give the 2024 State of the Union Address before Congress. The speech will provide a platform for the president to highlight key priorities for the coming year. Students can catch the address on major TV stations, on the radio, as well as on the Internet.

Giving the speech is a job requirement. The U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 3) requires that the president “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Scroll down for a State of the Union lesson plan for 2024, including classroom activities you can have students do before, during, and after the speech.

History of the State of the Union Address

The first Annual Message (known today as the State of the Union address, or SOTU) was delivered by George Washington on January 8, 1790. He made the speech to Congress in person, as John Adams would after him. The nation’s third president broke with precedent. Known more for his writing than his oratory, Thomas Jefferson sent an official letter. The custom of the direct speech was not revived until more than a century later, in 1913, by Woodrow Wilson.

The State of the Union address has undergone other changes, too. In the 19th century, the message focused on the budget and the economy. But after Wilson revived the in-person speech in 1913, it became a platform for drumming up support for the president’s agenda.

Technology has also changed the State of the Union address. The SOTU has been broadcast on radio since 1923, televised since 1947, and webcast live since 2002. And beginning in 1966, a spokesperson for the opposition party has been given airtime for a rebuttal.

The SOTU address is now one of the most important events on the nation’s political calendar, attended not only by members of Congress, but by military leaders, Supreme Court justices, and invited guests.

State of Union Address Woodrow Wilson

State of the Union Lesson Plan and Activities Ideas

The State of the Union speech presents so many opportunities for learning. Try these activities with your students.

Activity 1: Explore the Purpose of the Speech (Grades 4–12)

Tell students that Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution requires the president provide a “State of the Union” message to Congress. Here is the exact language:

“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient . . .”

In the message, the president talks about issues facing Americans and lays out a plan for addressing them.

Start a discussion: What is the purpose of the State of the Union address? Why do you think the Constitution requires it? What issues, or topics, do you think the president will address in the speech? Make a list of the issues and provide students with a copy they can refer to during the speech.

Activity 2: Report on Fun Facts about the Speech (Grades 4–12)

Tell students to imagine they're the editor of a magazine that's reporting on the State of the Union address. Their assignment is to find an engaging way to share fun facts about the speech. They might design a page in a magazine, create an infographic, or produce a video or podcast. Provide them the list of SOTU facts below, or have them do the research on their own. Which facts will they feature? How will they illustrate the facts, or make them appealing to readers or viewers?

  • George Washington delivered the first State of the Union message on January 8, 1790.
  • In 2000, Bill Clinton gave the longest spoken State of the Union address, at 1 hour and 28 minutes.
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave 12 State of the Union speeches, more than any president.
  • In 1923, Calvin Coolidge delivered the first State of the Union address over the radio.
  • In 1947, Harry Truman delivered the first State of the Union address on TV.
  • In 2002, George W. Bush delivered the first State of the Union address via webcast.
  • In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson delivered the first nighttime State of the Union address.

Activity 3: Play State of the Union Bingo (Grades 4–12)

Brainstorm with the class a list of current issues or topics the president will likely address in the State of the Union. These will be your bingo terms. You’ll need 24 of them. Students might suggest war, education, taxes, inflation, economy, health care, infrastructure, and the like.

Create your SOTU bingo cards for free, courtesy of myfreebingocards.com. Bingo cards have 25 spaces. Label the middle space “Free.”

Provide each student with a card. Play the game in class while watching a recording of the speech, or have students play for homework. Have them follow these directions:

1. Watch the address, listening carefully for the words featured on the bingo card.

2. When you hear the president say one of the words on the cards, circle it.

3. Shout “Bingo!” when you’ve circled five words in a row. The words can appear horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

Activity 4: Analyze the State of the Union Address (Grades 7–12)

After students have brainstormed a list of issues or topics the president may address in the speech, have them choose one that they will analyze with a K-W-L chart. They should fill out the first two columns before the speech:

  • What I Know
  • What I Want to Know

After listening to the speech, students can complete the last column:

  • What I Learned

Tell students that their response in the last column should describe what the president plans to do to address the issue. Allow time for students to share what they learned with the class.

Activity 5: Write a News Story About the SOTU (Grades 4–8)

Tell students that they will write a news story about the speech. First, to organize their thoughts, have students complete a 5Ws chart about the State of the Union speech:

  • What happened?
  • Who was there?
  • Why did it happen?
  • When did it happen?
  • Where did it happen?

Most of the questions can be answered before the speech. During the speech, tell students to concentrate on answering the first question: What happened? Challenge them to describe at least one important issue highlighted and how the president plans to address it. They should also write a headline for the article.

Activity 6: Analyze State of the Union Stats (Grades 4–12)

Provide pairs of students with a copy of the State of the Union address. First, have them scan the speech for statistics and circle them. Then, have them choose one of the statistics to analyze. They should answer these questions about the stat:

  • What is the statistic?
  • What point is the president trying to make by highlighting the statistic?
  • Why do you think the president included the statistic? Was the goal to support a point or cause an emotional reaction? Explain.
  • Do you think it was a good idea for the president to include the statistic? What do you think it will achieve?

Activity 7: Create Data Visualizations (Grades 9–12)

Students can mine State of the Union addresses for data and create graphs using Excel or an online graph maker to illustrate their findings. One way to gather data is by copying and pasting a SOTU speech into a Microsoft Word document and then checking its reading level and other statistics like word count. Here are directions for accessing stats in Word.

The readability statistics on Biden's 2022 State of the Union address reveals the speech to be 1,237 words, at a reading level of about 7th grade. Students could find the reading level or word count of SOTU speeches going back to 1913 and graph their findings.

Another way to mine data in a SOTU address is to predict words presidents are likely to use, such as American, democracy, freedom, military, economy, or education, and then compare their frequency in various addresses, or simply count the use in a single address.

Below are a few data quest ideas. For each quest that students complete, have them create a graph with the data. You might also discuss what they can infer from the data about the time period in which the speech was given, or about the concerns of the speech writer and the American people.

  • Which word comes up more in the address you're analyzing: education or economy?
  • Which word comes up more in the address you're analyzing: I or you?
  • Which SOTU addresses in the past 10 years use "education" the most?
  • Which SOTU address in the past 20 years uses "economy" and related words the most?

Activity 8: Remake the State of the Union Address (Grades 6–12)

Tell students that some U.S. presidents delivered their speech in writing. Others spoke before Congress. The State of the Union has been aired on the radio, TV, and the Internet.

Separate students into groups to discuss these questions: Are there more powerful ways to deliver the State of the Union address? How would you deliver the address to appeal to young people? How would you revolutionize or innovate on the State of the Union address?

Challenge each group to brainstorm a list of new ways the president can deliver a message about the nation to Congress and the American people. Tell them the ideas they come up with must be appealing to young people.

Have each group present their best idea to the class. After each group presents its idea, ask the class: Do you think this mode of delivery will appeal to young people? Why or why not? Do you think the mode of delivery will allow the president to get across ideas effectively? Explain.

Activity 9: Write a One-Minute Speech (Grades 4–12)

What is your students’ perspective on the state of our country? Do they see a country that has lost its way or one that is heading in the right direction? What is the biggest issue we face, and how can it be solved? Tell students to write a one-minute speech that describes the state of our nation as they see it.

As an alternative, students can write a speech about the state of their school, neighborhood, town, city, or state. Allow time for students to deliver their speeches to the class.

Activity 10: Compare State of the Union Addresses (Grades 9–12)

Challenge students to compare and contrast the State of the Union address with earlier ones by George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, or Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Here is a link to all the SOTUs. Have students take notes in a graphic organizer, like a Venn diagram, on the similarities and differences between the issues highlighted and the rhetoric used.

Invite students to share their findings with the class. Ask: What did you learn by comparing the speeches? How do the issues compare? What about the rhetoric? Which of the speeches did you find more persuasive? Encourage students to cite evidence from the speeches to support their ideas.

Activity 11: Write a Letter to the President (Grades 4–12)

Have students write a letter to the president about an issue mentioned in the State of the Union address. Tell them to describe why the issue is important to them, how they think the president is handling the issue, and any steps they think the president should take. Send the letter to:

The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500

Share State of the Union Activities

Most of the State of the Union activities we share in this blog are for middle and high school students. We’re curious to see activities that can be done in an elementary classroom. Or, if you’ve tried any of our SOTU activities with your class, let us know how they worked. Write to us at  shaped@hmhco.com or connect with us on Instagram or Facebook.

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