Lesson Plan: The State of the Union Address

State of the Union History

Senate Historian Emeritus Don Ritchie talked about the history of the State of the Union address.


Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution requires the President of the United States "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union." The president fulfills this constitutional obligation in the State of the Union address, in which the issues that our country is facing are discussed and proposals for the coming year are presented.



    Students will identify the constitutional requirement for the State of the Union address, examine the issues presented in State of the Union speeches, and analyze the president’s proposals for each issue.

  • SET UP

    This lesson offers several options for you to use with your students whether you are teaching in class, using a hybrid model, or engaging through distance learning.

    You can post links to the videos in the lesson along with the related handouts and engage in discussion to share responses on a discussion board or learning management system.

    You can also save and share the following Google resources for students to use with this lesson. In Google, choose "File" then "Make a Copy" to get your own copy. You can make any needed adjustments in the instructions such as which activities students need to complete, when it is due, etc. and then make it available to them via Google.

    Use either option below to engage students in activities and classroom discussions on the State of the Union address. Ensure students have a device to be able to access videos online as a class or individually.


    Ask students to share what they know about the State of the Union address, including:

    • Why does the president give this speech every year?
    • Who attends the address?
    • What topics are typically covered in the speech?

    As a class, view the following video clip to provide a brief history of the speech and then have your students respond to and discuss the accompanying questions: State of the Union History [Clip #1] (3:22).


    • Explain the origin of the State of the Union address.
    • How did Thomas Jefferson prefer to deliver his message to Congress?
    • Which president returned to the tradition of addressing a joint session of Congress in person?
    • According to Don Ritchie, why did Thomas Jefferson prefer to deliver the address in this manner? How did this impact presidents through the 19th and early 20th centuries?
    • Explain what Don Ritchie means when he says the messages are "long laundry lists."
    • Explain how recent speeches are delivered to Congress.

    In preparation for President Biden's 2023 State of the Union address, have students view either President Biden's 2022 State of the Union address, President Biden's 2021 Joint Session to Congress, or President Trump's 2020 State of the Union address. Ask your students to reflect on the issues and proposed actions address in the speech(s).

    Video Clips:


    Have students view President Biden's 2023 State of the Union address [Clip #2] (1:13:35) and ask students to complete the sections on one of the following the handouts. Teachers can choose the option for the class or have students choose.

    Engagement Options:


    Have students share their responses to the culminating prompt: What do you think is the most important issue our country is facing this year? Choose one topic from the speech and explain how you might solve it.

    Have students share their responses through class discussion, an online classroom forum, or in small groups during class.


    Students may also choose to view one or more historical State of the Union addresses given by past presidents to compare and contrast.

    Your students can access past State of the Union Addresses and Party Responses at this link (C-SPAN) or from the list below.

Additional Resources


  • Congress
  • Constitution
  • Executive Branch
  • Joint Session Of Congress
  • President
  • State Of The Union


Constitutional FoundationExecutive BranchLegislative Branch


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