John F. Kennedy Inaugural Speech, 1961 - Close Reading Task

This task is most appropriately used in a high school US History course. Text exemplifies the challenges faced by the United States during the Cold War era. Using the text from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, cite specific examples from the speech outlining the President’s proposals for action. Analyze how this plan supports Kennedy’s commitment to protecting democracy and the free world.

Standards & Objectives

Learning objectives: 

Students will:

  • comprehend John F. Kennedy’s commitment to protecting democracy, the United States, and our allies during the Cold War.
  • understand who Kennedy’s audience is, who he considers our foes to be (beyond a single country or political/economic system), the President’s proposal for future action, and how to prevent nuclear annihilation. 
  • be expected to understand the timeline of the president’s plan and who is charged with the task at hand.
Essential and guiding questions: 
  • According to the introductory statement in JFK’s 1961 Inaugural Address, who is specifically in the audience?
  • The President states, “the world is very different now.” What evidence is there within the text to prove how the world has changed in his lifetime? What evidence is found in the speech to show the world has not changed in his lifetime?
  • Cite one example of JFK’s use of ambiguity and explain why he chose to do so.
  • What meaning can you infer from the use of the words “iron tyranny”?
  • What purpose does the imagery of the tiger serve?
  • How does President Kennedy justify that he believes the United Nations is “…our last best hope”?
  • Provide specific examples of what President Kennedy believes we as a nation should do to respond to the statement, “[now] a trumpet summons us again”.
  • What is the author’s tone toward democracy? Why? Cite specific examples from the text to support your conclusions.
  • After reading the entire speech: what inference can be made as to who the intended audience is in President Kennedy’s Inaugural Address? Provide justification from the text to support your response.

Activity/Task Variations

Blooms taxonomy level: 
Differentiation suggestions: 

Students supported with Tier 2 vocabulary

Students may:

  • Read individually and notate as they read
  • Read aloud (popcorn read)
  • Break sections down during small group work (ex. pair-share)
  • Follow up with whole class work



Eldenmuller, Michael E. "John F. Kennedy: Inaugural Address." American Rhetoric: Top 100 Speeches. American Rhetoric, 2001. Web. 22 July 2013.

Photo credit: Public domain.