How to Spark Student Interest in the Inaugural Address

Inauguration Political Science
Political Science
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Author: Andrew Crocker, Political Science Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College


It’s a well-known maxim in teaching any class that the best way to get people interested in the subject is to make them care about it. That’s doubly true for Political Science, a field with immediacy, life impacts and cultural explosiveness.

Once you get a foothold into a subject your students find interesting, it opens up lots of questions. Students often do independent research to follow up on real-world events and the materials you cover in class. Sometimes you’ll receive an email from a student about something you discussed in class that came up in a news article they read.

Nothing is better for this than real political events. They’re automatically jam-packed with drama, and invite a ton of discussion over the issues that matter to students.

Students also generally love being involved in the classroom. Rather than passively listening to a lecture, many students relish the chance to form their own opinions, discuss among themselves and bounce their observations off you for your feedback. This exercise is also a great opportunity for you to reaffirm your students’ sharp political observations.

As the Inauguration approaches in January, plan to utilize this event to foster student engagement. Here’s an exercise my students have generally enjoyed:

Have your students watch the Inaugural Address.

It will take place on Wednesday, January 20, 2021.

These addresses have been anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes in the past. Consider if your students are political beginners; you can always cap the amount of time you expect them to watch at 30 minutes.

Ensure your students have access to the address.

Many of your students have jobs or other commitments that prevent them from watching. Other students may not have televisions. Fortunately, YouTube has you covered. Most, if not all, news outlets will livestream the Inaugural Address on their YouTube pages, but more importantly, it will later appear in its entirety on their pages. You can send links to your students shortly after the speech in real time.

Assign your students to write a short summary of what they watched and their general feedback.

The paper should have a low-enough threshold. Half of the paper should request students to summarize the speech. What interested them? What statements did they think were interesting, and why? Ask students to provide examples.

The second half of the paper should be students’ general feedback. What did you like, and what did you not like? Was this a rhetorical masterpiece? If there wasn’t, what would you have preferred to hear? This forces students to first consider the speech objectively, then subjectively.

Grade their work lightly. 

This is a paper you will grade lightly. What’s important is students were able to observe the speech and make rational summaries and comments about them—whether you agree with them or not.

So long as they did this, consider giving them full credit. We’re not just trying to teach them about the subject. We’re also trying to build up their confidence so they can better express themselves as voters going forward.

Give students a couple days to complete the assignment.

These speeches are often in the middle of the day and asking them to watch a 20-minute speech and write a short paper about it might be too much work for a quick turnaround. Students may benefit from the extra time anyway to ruminate on what they heard.

In class, put students in small groups and ask them to discuss what they liked and disliked about the Inaugural Address.

If you’re meeting in-person, make sure every student group pulls out a piece of scrap paper and writes all their names on it, for participation points. For online courses, ask that each group types up their group’s discussion.

Prepare for many students to have strong opinions. Five to eight minutes is not enough time to discuss among themselves, but that’s because you’re about to have their feedback shared with the class.

Have the groups share their feedback. 

You’re almost certainly going to interrupt the class so you can ask each group about their feedback. Using either a whiteboard or blank document, write down each group’s findings. Walk through each group, one item at a time. Highlight instances where they agree with each other, and where they disagree with each other.

Conduct the conversation in a positive, supportive manner.

Greet every observation by agreeing with it or providing some context. You’re welcome to occasionally disagree with students if they introduce wild or conspiratorial ideas.

But for the most part, every observation should be met with context. Also, feel free to ask students for examples. At every step of the way, you should remind students that virtually all their feedback is reasonable and makes sense.


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