Exploring the Gettysburg Address with kids

Today’s guest post was written by Dr. James Beeghley, who writes the blog Teaching the Civil War with Technology and presents workshops on integrating technology into the social studies classroom.

“The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” This simple sentence was spoken on November 19, 1863, by President Abraham Lincoln when he gave the now famous Gettysburg Address. For those of us in education, we must take every opportunity to teach students about the American Civil War lest they forget this important part of our history.

Battle of Gettysburg Lithograph
Battle of Gettysburg Lithograph, Division of Armed Forces History, National Museum of American History.

Traditionally, the topic of the Civil War has been discussed using the tried and true methods of lecturing from textbooks, showing pictures from reference books, using filmstrips or slide shows, and occasionally using artifacts to give students a hands-on experience. Today, teachers have high speed access to the Internet and high quality multimedia resources to use as tools for researching and presenting the subject of the Civil War. One of my favorite examples of using technology to teach the Civil War is the National Museum of American History’s interactive Gettysburg Address.


The interactive allows you and your students to explore the Gettysburg Address through high-resolution images, audio, and text. You can zoom in and examine President Lincoln’s handwriting. You can listen to the words spoken by the President and even click on certain parts of the document to learn more about specific topics.


Interactive Gettysburg Address screen shot
The Interactive Gettsyburg Address allows you to engage with one of America's most famous historical documents!

One of the most famous speeches in American history, the Gettysburg Address was only 9 sentences long, has fewer than 300 words and was delivered in less than 3 minutes. Three quarters of the words are only one syllable and 92% of the words have no more than two syllables. You might consider having students listen to the audio version of the speech on the website and jot down the words that they hear as they listen, or that stand out to them after the speech is over. Then, have them copy the text into Wordle and have a conversation about the results and how they compare to the words they noted as they listened.

On the interactive Gettysburg Address, there are several highlighted sections of the speech that provide additional information and allow for a deeper discussion. By selecting sections of the speech and pulling information from the website, you can develop some deeper thinking questions, including “Why has the Gettysburg Address become one of the most famous speeches in American history?”


In addition to exploring the speech on the website, you can also look up the location in Google Earth to explore the battlefield and have students consider the reasons behind its design. These are just a few suggestions for using this one resource from Smithsonian’s History Explorer for teaching the Civil War. Imagine what you could do with the thousands of other resources that are available to you for free!

Editor’s Note: You can find more tips for exploring the Gettysburg Address with grades 5-12 on our History Explorer website for educators. Or visit our online exhibition where you can download and print the Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s own hand.

Dr. James Beeghley is an educational technologist and blogger.