You can practice academic vocabulary, and gain valuable insights into 20th century history, by reading a large selection from John F. Kennedy’s January 1961 address to Congress. In his first “State of the Union” speech, soon after becoming president, Kennedy gives Congress his priorities. He describes the world situation as he sees it and the growing dangers he believes the U.S. must face firmly and decisively.
This speech helps explain why the U.S. felt it must further develop its military strength and why Kennedy sent military advisers to Vietnam.
In the gapfill exercise below, you can fill in a few missing words (all from the Academic Word List) for vocabulary practice as you read major parts of Kennedy’s speech. (There’s a link to the entire speech at the bottom of the page.)
The exercise below starts with Kennedy's second paragraph. (The first paragraph mentions how happy he is to be back in Congress, and reminds them of his years and friends there.) Then there is a discussion of economic problems. Only his introduction to that is included in this excerpt, in order to keep the reading shorter.
Most of this excerpt (selection) from his speech (sections from Part IV on—omitting the detailed paragraphs on Asia and Europe) concerns foreign relations—especially his perception of grave danger due to Soviet aggressiveness. I found it very interesting to read Kennedy’s outlook in the light of later events in his administration, especially the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 and the beginnings of American military involvement in Vietnam.
He talks about the idea of avoiding conflict by being so well armed that one’s enemies fear to attack (the idea of deterrence through assured mutual destruction.) “For as I said upon taking the oath of office: ‘Only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.’”
He also discusses positive measures his administration plans to take: his proposal for the Peace Corps and cooperative projects with the Soviets on scientific research such as space exploration and weather prediction.
The academic vocabulary to fill the gaps: achieving, assess, assigns, consistent, contribute, convince, decline, domination, economic, established, inadequate,military, prediction, strategy, sufficient, unprecedented.
(These are about 1/4 of the AWL word uses in this selection, so you will actually practice many useful words besides those in the drop-down list.) The drop-down menu gives you this list for each gap.
A word family hint: When filling the gaps, remember that the word’s position in the sentence is an important clue.
A present tense verb after a singular noun (one person or thing) will end with an ‘s’ (assigns), while a verb after ‘to’ (an infinitive), or after a plural noun, will never end in 's.'
You will probably need an adjective before a noun. Try consistent, economic, inadequate, military (which can also be a noun), sufficient, and unprecedented in this list.
Notice the way Kennedy repeats key words to "drive home" (emphasize) his points.
You might also be interested in an article from 2002: “The Missiles of 1962 Haunt the Iraq Debate.” Its author says historians have called the Cuban missile crisis “the most dangerous moment in recorded time.”
He concludes the article "There are never two choices in foreign policy," [historian] Ms. Mathews said the other day, "’and the right answer is not to choose an unacceptable one, but to look for a third. I think it's fair to say, in the missile crisis doing nothing was unacceptable, and so was going to war with the risk of nuclear holocaust.’ She added: ‘The other key lesson was, give your opponent some room to maneuver. Don't back him against the wall.’”
(There are also some great lesson plans and ideas for history or advanced ESL teachers at the N.Y.T.'s Learning blog: "Modern Lessons in the Cuban Missile Crisis" and “The Lessons of History”, as well as further suggestions in both of those articles.
There are two more pages of speeches by Kennedy and other presidents with gap-fill exercises to practice more academic (and foreign policy) vocabulary: U.S. Presidents on Berlin, and President Obama on Polish Freedom Day.