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Why Do Words Matter? 

Objective: Using President Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech as a foundation students will discover the importance, power and impact that selecting the “right” words can have in communicating important messages.    

Grade Level: 6-12

Compelling Questions:

  1. How did the “Day of Infamy” change US and World History?
  2. Why do the words we use to communicate information matter?

Historic Significance: President Roosevelt’s Day of Infamy speech is remarkable in that the President dictated the speech to his secretary in one sitting - in less than a half an hour - and then altered and improved the speech with just a few handwritten changes and corrections. It became one of the most significant, recognizable and remembered speeches in American history.

Materials: Text of the re-mastered video presentation of President Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 address to the Joint Session of Congress. Access to a print copy of a dictionary or an online dictionary. For a copy of the film, please send your mailing address to Jeffrey.Urbin@nara.gov.


  1. Provide students with the text copy of the Day of Infamy speech with selected words highlighted for consideration. Using a print copy of a dictionary or an on-line dictionary ask them to select a synonym for each of the highlighted words.
  2. Have the students write their selected words in place of those FDR used. Ask them to record their own version of the Day of Infamy speech substituting their synonyms for Roosevelt’s words.

Supporting Questions:

  1. Do the words we choose to express ourselves really matter?
  2. How important is word choice and phraseology in communicating ideas?
  3. How do the words we choose to communicate ideas impact the message we are trying to communicate?
  4. How does what we say and how we say it impact those to whom we are communicating?

Concluding Activity: Share with your students the actual re-mastered video of President Roosevelt delivering his address to congress and ask them to compare FDR’s version to their own. Which do they think is more powerful or effective?  Given the fact that FDR could have just as easily selected the words they did, but did not, why do they think he so carefully selected the words he did? 

One Step beyond: Try this exercise with other famous American speeches such as: Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address; Martian Luther King’s I have a Dream speech; or others of your choosing.

Printable Document Worksheet

Pearl Harbor Classroom Activities