Jan 21

State of the Union in Context

The “State of the Union in Context” tool (Created by Ben Schmidt) allows users to “read Obama’s State of the Union in the context of all the other State of the Union messages given by American presidents.”

When the user clicks on a word or highlights a 2-word phrase within the text of the speech, a bar graph compares how often that word or phrase is used in comparison to other State of the Union speeches.

State of the Union in Context


Clicking the bar graph takes the user to specific instances of the chosen word or phrase being used by the President they have selected:

Words in Context

This is an interesting tool, and could provide for a useful discussion topic for a Civics or history classroom:

  1. Ask students to brainstorm some words or phrases that they would expect to be mentioned in the President’s State of the Union speech. Ask the students to explain and justify their choices.
  2. After developing a large list of words and phrases as a class, allow the students to “Control F” to find the word(s) of their choice and display those words in the comparison graph.
  3. Ask students to compare Obama’s use of that word/phrase with another President of their choice:
    • How are they similar/different?
    • Based on the context of these words, what does that say about the state of the country in both scenarios?

Another idea is that after completing this discussion, students could research historic legislation or executive actions on the topics of their choice in order to review the various functions of the government.

This tool and activity also could be useful in helping students develop answers for the following essential questions:

  • How has America changed over time?
  • Have we made progress?

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