By Karina Aronson
Fixated on the screen, a writing class of eighth graders watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. standing on the marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial, delivering the famous “I Have a Dream” speech. His powerful voice reverberated through the classroom, addressing the crowd at the March on Washington. In writing class this January, eighth graders are writing their own speeches on activism, inspired by King.
To prepare for the speeches, students studied the writing techniques of King. They watched video clips of “I Have a Dream,” and talked about the rhetorical devices that King used in his speech. English teacher Holly Phillips said that throughout the school year, she tries to prepare eighth graders for this speech.
“I try really hard to give students lots of tools. We learn how to write beautiful imagery, and we learn how to use the rhetorical techniques and other kinds of writing,” Phillips said.
After studying writing techniques, each student picked a social issue that they were passionate about to focus on in their speech. Phillips said that passion and heart played a big role in
“I love it when I hear young people talk about their passions or their causes. I think it’s great to know who you are and what you care about,” Phillips said.
Many students are taking their beliefs and interests and incorporating those into their speeches. Eighth grader Sophia Cheng is writing about discrimination against members of LGBTQIA community. Cheng was inspired to write about this because she did research and said she became interested in the topic.
“When I heard that we could choose whatever topics we wanted to, I thought, of course I’m going to do this. I’m really passionate about this topic,” Cheng said.
Eighth grader Sava Iliev is speaking out about climate change. He thinks that increased awareness about climate change is important because more people can act on it. Then, more can be done to stop climate change. Small things, including writing speeches, are easy, effective ways to spread awareness.
In addition to teaching students about rhetoric and public speaking, this assignment also honors King’s legacy of activism. King always spoke out against racial prejudice, an issue on which he dedicated his life. Eighth graders agree this assignment honors King’s activism.
“We’re speaking out on [issues] we care about,” Iliev said.
Eighth graders are looking forward to the speeches. Many are excited to advocate for social issues they are passionate about.
“We can have a dream, and we can affect change through our eloquence and our use of persuasive techniques,” Phillips said.