22 Epic Speeches from YouTube that Teachers Can Use to Deliver Brilliant Classroom Activities
Looking for inspiring ways to lift your lessons off the page?
Modelling spoken language, composition, analysis of speech and presentation skills can be brought to life using free video and audio content.
In this article, we’ve picked 22 of our favourite speeches from YouTube. You can use them to get your students thinking about the way they speak, and to evidence learning in a fresh way.
Uplifting, moving, saddening and beguiling, they touch on history, politics, science, feminism, free speech, gay rights, classical rhetoric, famous cinematic moments and more. We hope they will inspire your students in their debates, public speaking and school productions.
But first… here are three ways in which you might use the 22 speeches in your classroom.
3 fun activities to try using some of our favourite Youtube speeches
1. Who am I?
Have your students deliver their own speeches in the style of one of the speakers below. Their classmates should guess which character they are emulating. This activity will encourage your students to think about what makes a strong speaker. This activity could be live or recorded, with recording allowing for deeper analysis and understanding.
2. Compare with the greats
Have your students create their own speeches, perhaps about something currently in the news or an excursion they went on at the weekend. Have them record these speeches. They can then assess these speeches as a class and mark each other, using criteria such as content, clarity, intonation and pace.
Next, have them watch and assess some of the famous speeches listed below, then compare the results with their own. Now, when they review their work again they may have a more critical eye and use some new rhetorical devices to improve their own speeches.
3. Rhetorical bingo
Spend some time exploring different rhetorical devices and what they achieve. Create bingo sheets listing these devices, then watch some of the speeches. Students need to listen out for different devices being used and mark them off on their sheets. Make sure you look out for them too, or you may just find your pupils catch you out!
22 epic speeches that can make for strong teaching resources
Demosthenes argues against Philip of Macedonia
With Cicero, Demosthenes is regarded as the greatest debater of the classical period. In this speech -- which formed part of a debate with Philip of Macedonia’s main advocate, Aeschines -- each sentence is polished and brilliantly constructed. The rhetorical equivalent of the Parthenon.
The Gettysburg Address
Lincoln’s Civil War address on the battleground of Gettysburg clocked in at just over two minutes (the previous speaker had droned on for over two hours, as the audience shivered in the Pennsylvanian cold). It will demonstrate to your students how to construct a brilliant argument with striking economy and stirring use of metaphor. Also a lasting testament to the human cost of war.
“Nothing to fear but fear itself”
A rallying cry from the 20th century’s greatest president, delivered at the height of the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s speech lifted the nation’s spirits after the disastrous Hoover administration.
Charlie Chaplin, the Great Dictator
The movies have featured many great speeches. As here in the climactic moment when the Little Tramp found his voice.
Malala Yousafzai speaks at The United Nations
Malala is a 16-year-old Pakistani girl, known the world over for her fight to give every child, boy or girl, the right to an education. She began her campaign at the age of 12 and has gained international recognition for her work. She made this speech after recovering from being shot by the Taliban. An inspiration young role model, she was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Severn Cullis-Suzuki speaks at The United Nations Earth Summit in 1992
12-year-old Severn delivers a speech on behalf of her peers, with whom she formed the Environmental Children’s Organisation. Here she implores her elders to think about their impact upon the environment and the consequences this will have for future generations.
“Ask not what your country can do for you”
In his inaugural address, JFK struck a note of optimism which caught the spirit of the times. The key address is an example of antithesis; the juxtaposition of two contrasting ideas to make a strong point.
“The sinews of peace” (The Iron Curtain)
Striking a note of deep pessimism after the war, Churchill’s famous address at Westminster College in Missouri marked the beginning of the Cold War. The great war leader was also a master orator and prose stylist, who dictated his epic series of books on WWII without the aid of written notes.
“Never have so many owed so much to so few”
Together with “We shall fight them on the beaches”, possibly the most famous speech of them all. Powerful use of rhetorical devices make it a good model for presentation practice.
“We shall fight on the beaches”
A battle cry to rank alongside Henry V’s address to his men on St Crispin’s Day. Churchill lifted the nation’s spirits at a time when resistance to the Nazis seemed hopeless.
“I have a dream”
With erudition born of wide reading, stirring delivery and heavy use of classical rhetorical devices, Martin Luther King is the ideal model for students who are practicing their presentation skills. This great speech also touches upon a number of important historical and sociological topics, including the legacy of the American Civil War, the civil rights movement and the American constitution.
“I’ve been to the mountaintop”
MLK had delivered versions of this speech before, but this recording was taken just before his assassination. It will pull at your student’s heartstrings and fire their interest in the fight for civil rights.
“We choose to go to the moon”
In spite of posthumous revelations about his chronic womanising and foreign policy blunders, JFK retains an aura that seems to survive each generation. In this speech, he makes an inspiring case for the intrinsic value of scientific exploration. Just seven years later man would indeed walk on the moon.
Robert Kennedy speech on the death of Martin Luther King Jr
Kennedy composed this speech on the fly, as the news of Martin Luther King’s assassination was breaking. He provides a poignant call for national unity that crosses the lines of race, colour and creed. Just 63 days later, he himself was assassinated.
Hitchens on free speech
Considered the finest debater of his generation, the left-wing firebrand and soixante-huitard, devoted his life to defending enlightenment values. As someone who spoke as fluently as he wrote, his speeches are good models for sentence construction in extended writing pieces. See also his great debate with George Galloway on the arguments for and against the second Iraq war.
“Give them hope”, Harvey Milk
The story of gay rights campaigner Harvey Milk was recently brought to the big screen in the Oscar-winning film, Milk. In this speech, Milk speaks of the hope that elected representation will give the LGBT community across America.
Emma Watson at the UN
Speaking with passion at the UN last year, the actress defends feminism against its detractors and argues for gender equality. The video could be a good way to sprinkle some star quality over these important issues.
Robin Cook on the Iraq War
Robin Cook’s resignation speech on the eve of the Iraq War is arguably the most significant parliamentary address of the past 20 years. It could serve as a tool for getting your students’ interested in the workings of the house, while it is a valuable record of the doubts that many felt in the lead-up to the conflict.
“Women’s rights are human rights”
Hillary Clinton speaks at The United Nations fourth World Conference on Women, in Beijing. A woman who has travelled the world, she speaks of equality and how all communities can thrive when their women are empowered.
David Tennant, Hamlet’s soliloquy
Many students are less than enthusiastic about studying Shakespeare, so why not debunk their preconceptions by showing that even Dr Who loves the Bard?
Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan
The American astronomer and Pulitzer winner Carl Sagan provides a lyrical account of our provincial location in the universe and the light it casts upon human folly and hubris.
Al Gore, Nobel acceptance speech
Gore’s book ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, is probably the most clear-minded account of the climate change crisis. This speech is an excellent introduction to a subject of huge significance for the coming generation.
Have we missed any great speeches? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook. If you would like two lesson plans that you can use to develop speaking and listening skills with Sonocent Audio Notetaker, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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