Evaluating Diction: Comparing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X's Words

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SWBAT analyze the cumulative impact of word choices on meaning and tone by comparing the diction of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Malcolm X.

Big Idea

How does our attitude about a subject determine the vernacular we use?

Warm Ups--What exactly is diction?

5 minutes

We are evaluating diction today!  When students begin to really look at language, they understand that they use a variety of degrees of words to express how they feel.  To help communicate this, I ask students to answer this prompt:

Pretend you are at the airport trying to catch a plane to Hawaii.  Read the following scenarios and write what you would say to the person at the counter selling you the ticket. 

1. You're with your family and you're leaving on a leisurely, ten day vacation:

2. Your family member who lives in Hawaii is ill and you must get there ASAP:

3. You're in a foreign county and trying to get to Hawaii.  The person at the desk doesn't speak English very well.  

After students write responses to these short prompts, we will evaluate the words they used in each situation. I will lead students to an understanding of language affecting how we feel about the subject.  I will explain that evaluating an author's diction can reveal how the author/speaker feels about the subject. Our goal by the end of today's lesson, is that students will demonstrate understanding word relationships (L.9-10.5) and the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (RI.9-10.4).  

Reading "The Ballot or the Bullet"

20 minutes

I distribute an excerpt of Malcolm X's speech "The Ballot or the Bullet".  The excerpt I use begins with, "And this is best this way," and ends with, "We both got the same objective, we just got different ways of getting at it." You can find this speech and some excerpts online.

I chose an excerpt because the original speech is incredibly long.  

Before reading the excerpt, I show the students this clip of Malcolm X reciting a portion of his speech.  

I tell the students to just listen.  I want them to hear X's words.  I ask them,

Does he sound different than Martin Luther King, Jr.?  

Students will say that he doesn't sound significantly different.  I ask them to do this so that they understand that to really know what an speaker's purpose is, we must closely evaluate the author's word choice (RL.9-10.4).

Then, we will read the text aloud.  Typically, I start reading and when I stop, I expect a student to just step in and start reading. It works well.   

Student Work Time--Evaluate Diction

20 minutes

After we read the text through,  I ask students,

What does Malcolm X want?  What is his purpose in delivering this speech? (RI.9-10.6)

Students will tell me that he is demanding Civil Rights.  He explains that we either pass Civil Rights legislation or it will end in bloodshed. 

I tell the students to read it again,

Read the text again.  This time, circle the emotionally strong words Malcolm X uses. Circle any word that you think is particularly persuasive (RI.9-10.4).  

If students struggle with this, I will help them individually as I walk around.  Since we focused on the language of these speeches for the last two class periods, I am hoping they will be able to identify words that evoke an emotional response.  

After we have discussed for a few minutes, I distribute the King and Malcolm X diction comparison . I tell the students,

Using Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's. speech from yesterday and Malcolm X's speech from today, I want you to complete this assignment.  In the top two boxes, I want you to list the particularly persuasive or emotional words.  Notice the difference in those words and then write a paragraph explaining the difference in diction (W.9-10.9)

When you are finished with the top section, move to the bottom boxes where you will compare the emotional words from each speech.  When finished, you'll write a paragraph explaining the main differences between King's speech and X's speech.  

This example diction comparison student work shows the assignment.  This assignment explanation video explains the assignment.  


5 minutes

I anticipate this assignment taking us right up to the end of class.  With just a couple minutes left, I will ask students to turn to a partner and explain a definition of diction (L.9-10.6).  I do this just to reinforce what they learned today.