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The State of the Union address is a great way to incorporate current events into a U.S. History course. Below are some excerpts with questions. The process for making the worksheet was:

The following activity was created by:

  1. Watching the speech
  2. Finding the text of the speech
  3. Selecting appropriate sections
  4. Creating questions and writing prompts
  5. Discussing as a class

President Obama’s 2016 State of the Union Address

Analyzing Primary Sources:

The following excerpts are from one of the most recent primary sources. President Barack Obama‘s 2016 State of the Union address Read the following excerpts and answer the questions to the best of your ability.

I also understand that because it’s an election season, expectations for what we’ll achieve this year are low. Still, Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the constructive approach you and the other leaders took at the end of last year to pass a budget and make tax cuts permanent for working families. So I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse. We just might surprise the cynics again.

1. What is the purpose of Obama using the phrase “because it’s an election season?” What are some of the problems of the election season?

2. List the 2 “bipartisan priorities”

3. Define bipartisan:


Obama’s Agenda: Fixing a broken immigration system. Protecting our kids from gun violence. Equal pay for equal work, paid leave, raising the minimum wage.

“But for my final address to this chamber, I don’t want to talk just about the next year. I want to focus on the next five years, ten years, and beyond. I want to focus on our future.”

4. It is Obama’s final State of the Union. Why do you think he is choosing to focus on the next 5 years in this speech as opposed to one year?

But such progress is not inevitable. It is the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now. Will we respond to the changes of our time with fear, turning inward as a nation, and turning against each other as a people? Or will we face the future with confidence in who we are, what we stand for, and the incredible things we can do together?

5. Obama presents Americans with two options as we move forward. In the 2nd “better” option he mention “who we are, what we stand for.” Define in your opinion

a. “who we are” (as Americans) Describe the best of being “American.”

b. “what we stand for” List two values we stand for as Americans. Explain each value

The BIG FOUR: So let’s talk about the future, and four big questions that we as a country have to answer — regardless of who the next President is, or who controls the next Congress.

  1. First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy?
  2. Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change?
  3. Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?
  4. And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?


6a. Read #3 closely. Explain what you think he is referring to in this question.

b. He does not want America to be the world’s “policeman.” What do you think he means by this role. Why does he NOT want America to be the world’s “policeman?

EDUCATION: We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering.

7. Education is important to the success of our country. Evaluate your role, as a citizen to get the most out of your education. How hard are you working to reach your academic potential.

Providing two years of community college at no cost for every responsible student is one of the best ways to do that, and I’m going to keep fighting to get that started this year.

8. Do you support this idea? Give reasons to defend your position.

I also know Speaker Ryan has talked about his interest in tackling poverty. America is about giving everybody willing to work a hand up, and I’d welcome a serious discussion about strategies we can all support, like expanding tax cuts for low-income workers without kids.

But there are other areas where it’s been more difficult to find agreement over the last seven years — namely what role the government should play in making sure the system’s not rigged in favor of the wealthiest and biggest corporations. And here, the American people have a choice to make.

9. What choice is Obama referring to?

Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there. We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and twelve years later, we were walking on the moon.

That spirit of discovery is in our DNA. We’re Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. We’re Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. We’re every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world. And over the past seven years, we’ve nurtured that spirit.

10. What is the main purpose of this paragraph? Why is the point of the examples he shares?

b. What emotions do you think Obama is hoping the audience will feel after hearing these words.

But we can do so much more. Last year, Vice President Biden said that with “a new moonshot,” America can cure cancer. Last month, he worked with this Congress to give scientists at the National Institutes of Health the strongest resources they’ve had in over a decade. Tonight, I’m announcing a new national effort to get it done. And because he’s gone to the mat for all of us, on so many issues over the past forty years, I’m putting Joe in charge of Mission Control. For the loved ones we’ve all lost, for the family we can still save, let’s make America the country that cures cancer once and for all.

11. This is a bold challenge. In this paragraph, what is Obama calling for?

B. There is reference to an historic event in American history. A man walking on the moon. Why do you think he comes this event with the goal that he has put Joe Biden in charge of controlling?

Medical research is critical. We need the same level of commitment when it comes to developing clean energy sources.

12. Explain which theme of geography is most closely related to the above issue?

13. Give an example of local citizens using clean energy resources. (Think about your neighbors and Santa being “up on the roof.”)

Now we’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy. Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future — especially in communities that rely on fossil fuels. That’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet. That way, we put money back into those communities and put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.

14. If you are a owner or worker in the oil industry, describe your reaction to the previous paragraph.

15. “building a 21st century transportation system.” Name the theme of Geography

We have to set priorities. Priority number one is protecting the American people and going after terrorist networks. Both al Qaeda and now ISIL pose a direct threat to our people, because in today’s world, even a handful of terrorists who place no value on human life, including their own, can do a lot of damage. They use the Internet to poison the minds of individuals inside our country; they undermine our allies.

16. What is the number one priority? Do you agree with it?

That’s exactly what we are doing. For more than a year, America has led a coalition of more than 60 countries to cut off ISIL’s financing, disrupt their plots, stop the flow of terrorist fighters, and stamp out their vicious ideology. With nearly 10,000 air strikes, we are taking out their leadership, their oil, their training camps, and their weapons. We are training, arming, and supporting forces who are steadily reclaiming territory in Iraq and Syria.

17. What is the purpose of the above paragraph? What point is Obama trying to make?

18. How strong is America’s coalition? Defend your answer.

If this Congress is serious about winning this war, and wants to send a message to our troops and the world, you should finally authorize the use of military force against ISIL. Take a vote.

19. What is the main power of Congress? What does Congress do?

The world will look to us to help solve these problems, and our answer needs to be more than tough talk or calls to carpet bomb civilians. That may work as a TV sound bite, but it doesn’t pass muster on the world stage.

20. What does Obama mean by the bold phrase?

We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.

22. Define quagmire.

23. It is lesson of Vietnam and Iraq. What do you think the lesson is?

Fifty years of isolating Cuba had failed to promote democracy, setting us back in Latin America. That’s why we restored diplomatic relations, opened the door to travel and commerce, and positioned ourselves to improve the lives of the Cuban people. You want to consolidate our leadership and credibility in the hemisphere? Recognize that the Cold War is over. Lift the embargo.

24. Who is he telling to “lift the embargo?”

Right now, we are on track to end the scourge of HIV/AIDS, and we have the capacity to accomplish the same thing with malaria — something I’ll be pushing this Congress to fund this year.

25. Checks and Balances. Separation of Power. Using these ideas, explain the bold phrase above. Include the roles and responsibilities of each branch.

“We the People.” Our Constitution begins with those three simple words, words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people, not just some; words that insist we rise and fall together.

26. “words we’ve come to recognize mean all the people” What is the significance of this phrase? Why does the president use these words!

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

27. Continuity and Change: What are issues that Americans have debated since the start of the country and will continue to debate in the future?

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

28. Define malice:

It won’t be easy. Our brand of democracy is hard. But I can promise that a year from now, when I no longer hold this office, I’ll be right there with you as a citizen — inspired by those voices of fairness and vision, of grit and good humor and kindness that have helped America travel so far. Voices that help us see ourselves not first and foremost as black or white or Asian or Latino, not as gay or straight, immigrant or native born; not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans first, bound by a common creed. Voices Dr. King believed would have the final word — voices of unarmed truth and unconditional love.

29. Define creed:

30. What are the THREE most important American beliefs today?

They’re out there, those voices. They don’t get a lot of attention, nor do they seek it, but they are busy doing the work this country needs doing.

These are the voices and issues facing America:

Same-Sex marriage: “It’s the son who finds the courage to come out as who he is, and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”

31. Evaluate the acceptance of same-sex marriage in America. Do you think attitudes will change in the next 10 years?

#BlackLivesMatter: The protester determined to prove that justice matters, and the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.

32. Explain how both groups illustrate how Americans with differing views can each help America move forward.