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Speech in the Virginia Convention by Patrick Henry

Teacher Guide by Kristy Littlehale

Find this Common Core aligned Teacher Guide and more like it in our High School ELA Category!

Student Activities for Speech in the Virginia Convention By Patrick Henry Include:

In a time where loyalties were divided, and the colonists were unsure if war with England was the answer, those who believed in the idea of freedom from tyranny had to speak out and plead their case. This was done in popular pamphlets such as Common Sense, by Thomas Paine, and by delivering public speeches, such as Patrick Henry did to the Virginia Provincial Convention in 1775. While many were arguing for a compromise with the British King, Patrick Henry and Thomas Paine were arguing for a complete break - not only with the king, but with history.

Henry’s speech is one of the most famous of the time, as it ends with one of the most famous ultimatums ever delivered: “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Important themes visited in this speech include the nature of true patriotism, the necessity of courage, the importance of sacrifice, and the ironic choice between freedom and slavery. These messages resonated with the colonists, and ultimately this speech was one of the most influential factors in the colonists’ final decision to declare their independence from England.

By the end of this lesson your students will create amazing storyboards like the ones below!




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The Power of Speech

Speeches have defined and changed the course of history. No doubt, students will be familiar with one of the most powerful orators in history: Adolf Hitler. Hitler’s ability to sway an audience with his tone, his gestures, his facial expressions, and his presence was the result of hours’ of practice, analysis, and critique. Ultimately, we know his speeches were successful, as he dragged millions of people into his madness. There have been other powerful speeches throughout history as well that have had incredible impacts on the people who heard them.

Have students examine some of the important speeches that have shaped history, including:

  1. I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  2. “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” by Frederick Douglass
  3. “Resignation Speech” by George Washington
  4. “The Third Philippic” by Demosthenes
  5. “Their Finest Hour” by Winston Churchill
  6. John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address
  7. “Quit India” by Mahatma Gandhi
  8. The Gettysburg Address” by Abraham Lincoln

The Basics of Public Speaking

Every speech writer must first think of SPAM: Situation, Purpose, Audience, and Method. Have students review the following SPAM model of public speaking:


Situation

What is the occasion? Where? What time? What opportunities can be used from the situation to make the speech stronger?


Purpose

What is the speaker’s goal in making the speech? How does the situation define the speech’s purpose? What’s the point?


Audience

What are the demographics of the audience? (i.e., gender, age, race, income, profession, etc.) The audience is part of the occasion. The purpose needs to affect this specific audience.


Method

What methods will best accomplish the purpose, or goal, of the speech? Which method will best appeal to a particular audience, and occasion? Methods can include deciding to use formal language, what kinds of rhetorical persuasion will work best, or even what tone will be most effective.



Essential Questions for “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

  1. What is patriotism?
  2. When is it patriotic to break away from one’s home of origin?
  3. How is it courageous to encourage change?
  4. Why is sacrifice important?
  5. How can one “choose” to be a slave to a larger entity?
  6. How can one “choose” freedom?


Check out our History Teacher Guides for more information and activities about the American Revolution!


Speech in the Virginia Convention By Patrick Henry Lesson Plans, Student Activities and Graphic Organizers

Rhetorical Strategies for "Speech in the Virginia Convention"


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In high school, the ELA Common Core Standards require students to develop formal writing skills, creating essays and arguments that are well-thought-out and syntactically varied. They also require students to effectively use persuasive writing strategies to defend a claim or point of view. The ability to dissect and validate, or debunk, other arguments is key to strong persuasive writing. This requires a basic working knowledge of rhetoric. A great way to enhance students' understanding of effective arguments is to teach the Aristotelian concepts of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Students can then identify and analyze the effectiveness of these strategies in a work of literature, a speech, or a letter.

Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention” was delivered to advocate a complete break with England, not just a compromise. Henry needed to ensure that he established credibility, made logical arguments, and showed his audience that there was no other option but to forge a new path, away from England. Have students examine the text and come up with quotes from throughout the speech of Ethos, Logos, and Pathos rhetoric. Have students illustrate these examples in a storyboard. The following storyboard shows two examples of each strategy.


ETHOS (ETHICS / CREDIBILITY)


Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason toward my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.



I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the house?

LOGOS (LOGIC)


I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of natives and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other.



And what have we to oppose them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain.


PATHOS (EMOTIONS)


They tell us, sir, that we are weak - unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house?



Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave.

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that shows examples of ethos, pathos, and logos from the text.


  1. Identify two examples for each rhetorical strategy: ethos, pathos, and logos.
  2. Type the examples into the description box under the cell.
  3. Illustrate the examples using any combination of scenes, characters, and items.


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Themes in “Speech in the Virginia Convention”


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Themes come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify key themes in Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention”, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes and Ideas to Discuss

The Nature of True Patriotism

An important theme in “Speech in the Virginia Convention” is the nature of true patriotism. During this time, many considered talk of breaking with England to be unpatriotic. Many considered anyone unwilling to compromise to be a traitor. Patrick Henry addresses this by saying that while he appreciates that point of view, others see the same topic in a different light. For Henry, he sees the calls to maintain ties with the homeland to be unpatriotic, because he believes it comes down to whether or not the colonies will be free, or slaves to England.


The Necessity of Courage

Another important theme raised in “Speech in the Virginia Convention” is the necessity of courage. Many colonists were, understandably, afraid of breaking with the strength of England, and having that strength turned on them. They were afraid of war, and of change. Henry addresses this fear by examining the claims that the colonies are too weak, and then discarding these claims. He says that there are three million people, armed with the holy cause of liberty, which makes them invincible. They also are currently armed, and the full force of the British army is not yet on their shores. In addition, they will find powerful allies. If they do not find the courage now, their indecision will lead them to be ruled by fear instead.


The Importance of Sacrifice

An additional important theme in “Speech in the Virginia Convention” is the importance of sacrifice. Henry lays out the methods that have already been tried by the colonists: they have argued, entreated, supplicated, petitioned, remonstrated, prostrated themselves before the throne, and implored. Each time, they have been slighted, insulted, and spurned by the king. Henry says that if the colonists mean to be free, they cannot abandon their struggle; they must fight. Fighting involves sacrifice, but it is for a greater cause. If they don’t fight, if they don’t sacrifice their lives and their peace, then they will be purchasing the chains of slavery.


The Choice of Freedom or Slavery

A final important theme found in “Speech in the Virginia Convention” is the ironic choice of freedom or slavery. Throughout the speech, Henry makes one thing perfectly clear: there is no more gray area, no more room for compromise with England. Instead, the people must “choose” freedom or slavery. By their inaction, they are “choosing” to be slaves: England will send their full army over to disarm the colonists, and freedom will slip away. Instead, by fighting and sacrificing their lives, they can “choose” freedom by giving up their fears of losing everything that is important to them, and, perhaps, gaining something even more important.



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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in “Speech in the Virginia Convention”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Identify the theme(s) from “Speech in the Virginia Convention” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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TWIST-ing “Speech in the Virginia Convention”


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that examine Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, and Theme. This activity is referred to with the acronym “TWIST”. In a TWIST, students focus on a particular paragraph or a few pages, to look deeper at the author’s meaning.



Using an excerpt from the Patrick Henry speech, students can depict, explain, and discuss what the purpose of Henry’s speech is, while analyzing his voice.

TWIST Example for “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned with contempt from the foot of the throne! In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained - we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left to us!


T

TONE

Henry’s tone is passionate, intense, and pleading.
W

WORD CHOICE

slighted, violence, insult, disregarded, spurned, noble struggle, fight
I

IMAGERY

"...and we have been spurned with contempt from the foot of the throne!”
S

STYLE

Henry uses repetition in the beginning of the section to highlight all of the responses the colonists’ efforts have been met with in their pleas to the throne. His exclamations drive home the passion of the only choice they have left.
T

THEME

This passage highlights the immediacy of the situation that the colonists are in. They have appealed to the King, and he has rejected them; if they wish to preserve their freedom and not let their struggle be in vain, then they must go to war and fight for their “noble struggle.”

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Student Instructions

Perform a TWIST analysis of a selection from “Speech in the Virginia Convention”. Remember that TWIST stands for Tone, Word Choice, Imagery, Style, Theme.


  1. Click "Use this Template" from the assignment.
  2. Choose any combination of scenes, characters, items, and text to represent each letter of TWIST.
  3. Write a few sentences describing the importance or meaning of the images.
  4. Finalize images, edit, and proofread your work.
  5. Save and submit storyboard to assignment.



(Modify this basic rubric by clicking the link below. You can also create your own on Quick Rubric.)





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Using SPAM for “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

The very basics of writing a speech include keeping four important aspects of public speaking in mind: Situation, Purpose, Occasion, and Method, or SPAM. Have students answer the SPAM model for Patrick Henry’s “Speech in the Virginia Convention”. Then, have them storyboard their results, like the following example.


SPAM Model for “Speech in the Virginia Convention”

S

SITUATION

Patrick Henry’s situation for his speech is the Virginia Provincial Convention, which had convened to decide whether or not they would be sending Virginia militiamen to support the Revolution.
P

PURPOSE

Patrick Henry’s purpose for his speech was to convince the members of the Convention to arm the Virginia militia and send them to aid the Revolution efforts. He urged armed resistance to England whereas others were pleading for compromise.
A

AUDIENCE

Patrick Henry’s audience was the elected representatives from Virginia. The assembly was formerly known as the House of Burgesses, and it was dissolved by the Governor after he got wind they were supporting rebels in Massachusetts.
M

METHOD

Patrick Henry mainly uses appeals to emotion and reason to rally support. He includes an ultimatum of liberty or death to drive home the importance and gravity of the situation.

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Vocabulary “Speech in the Virginia Convention”


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Another great way to engage your students is through the creation of storyboards that use vocabulary from “Speech in the Virginia Convention”. Here is a list of a few vocabulary words commonly taught with the speech, and an example of a visual vocabulary board.


Example Vocabulary Words

  • arduous
  • petition
  • subjugation
  • supplication
  • remonstrated
  • spurned
  • interposition
  • prostrated
  • magnitude

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Student Instructions

Demonstrate your understanding of the vocabulary words in Speech in the Virginia Convention by creating visualizations.


  1. Choose three vocabulary words from the text and type them in the title boxes.
  2. Find the definition in a print or online dictionary.
  3. Write a sentence that uses the vocabulary word.
  4. Illustrate the meaning of the word in the cell using a combination of scenes, characters, and items.
    • Alternatively, use Photos for Class to show the meaning of the words with the search bar.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.



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•   (English) Speech in the Virginia Convention   •   (Español) Discurso en la Convención de Virginia   •   (Français) Discours à la Convention de Virginie   •   (Deutsch) Rede in der Virginia-Konvention   •   (Italiana) Discorso Nella Convenzione Virginia   •   (Nederlands) Spraak in het Verdrag van Virginia   •   (Português) Discurso na Convenção de Virgínia   •   (עברית) דיבור באמנת וירג'יניה   •   (العَرَبِيَّة) خطاب في الاتفاقية فرجينيا   •   (हिन्दी) वर्जीनिया कन्वेंशन में भाषण   •   (ру́сский язы́к) Речь в Вирджинской Конвенции   •   (Dansk) Tale i Virginia-konventionen   •   (Svenska) Tal i Virginia Konventionen   •   (Suomi) Puhe Virginia Yleissopimuksessa   •   (Norsk) Tale i Virginia Konvensjonen   •   (Türkçe) Virginia Sözleşmesinde Konuşma   •   (Polski) Przemówienie w Konwencji Wiedeńskiej   •   (Româna) Discurs în Convenția Virginia   •   (Ceština) Projev ve Virginii Úmluvy   •   (Slovenský) Reč vo Virginskej Konvencii   •   (Magyar) Beszéd a Virginia-egyezmény   •   (Hrvatski) Govor u Konvenciji o Virginiji   •   (български) Реч във Вирджинската Конвенция   •   (Lietuvos) Kalbėjimo į Virdžinijos Konvencijos   •   (Slovenščina) Govor v Konvenciji Virginia   •   (Latvijas) Runas Virdžīnijas Konvencijā   •   (eesti) Kõne Virginia Konventsiooni