Teach the First Amendment

Help tomorrow’s citizens find their voice. Teach the First Amendment.

The most basic liberties guaranteed to Americans — embodied in the 45 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — assure Americans a government that is responsible to its citizens and responsive to their wishes. These 45 words are as alive and important today as they were more than 200 years ago. These liberties are neither liberal nor conservative, Democratic nor Republican — they are the basis for our representative democratic form of government.

We know from studies beginning in 1997 by the nonpartisan First Amendment Center, and from studies commissioned by the Knight Foundation and others, that few adult Americans or high school students can name the individual five freedoms that make up the First Amendment.

The lesson plans below — drawn from materials prepared by the Newseum and the First Amendment Center — will draw young people into an exploration of how their freedoms began and how they operate in today’s world. Students will discuss just how far individual rights extend, examining rights in the school environment and public places. The lessons may be used in history and government, civics, language arts and journalism, art and debate classes. They may be used in sections or in their entirety. Many of these lesson plans indicate an overall goal, offer suggestions on how to teach the lesson and list additional resources and enrichment activities.

Amy Trenkle teaches 8th grade U.S. history at Stuart-Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C. In 2010, she used a grant from 1 for All to help conduct a special program teaching students about their First Amendment rights. Read about her program, including observations on how it worked.

Elementary & Middle School

Social Media, the Classroom and the First Amendment
A guide for middle school and high school teachers published by the First Amendment Center and John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. View Classroom Guide.

Blogging the Bill of Rights
This activity asks students to consider how the framers of the First Amendment might have used the Internet and modern communication to spread their ideas and messages. Students create a mock blog for one of the framers. Download Lesson Plan.

Exercising MY First Amendment Freedoms
Students learn about the five freedoms of the First Amendment and write two or three sentences explaining how they exercise this right, or create a drawing with a one-sentence caption. Download Lesson Plan.

High School

Would You Fight For All Five? Weight Our First Amendment Freedoms?
Students explore the interplay between the five First Amendment freedoms, then play an elimination game as a class to determine which freedom their group believes is the most important. Download Lesson Plan.

Taking Exception: Modern First Amendments Rights Issues
Students read about modern First Amendment court cases. They then take and defend a position on the argument of a case. Download Lesson Plan.

Living with Our Deepest Differences
Ten-lesson curriculum designed to help teachers educate students about religious liberty in a pluralistic society. View Lesson Plans.

You are Free to “Exercise”
Students consider five cases in which an individual’s religious freedom comes into conflict with the standards and beliefs in our society. View Lesson Plan.

What is the (No) Establishment Clause?
Students learn about and discuss the clause that prevents the government from setting up a Church of the United States. View Lesson Plan.

How do Journalists Make Ethical Decisions?
Students study actual decisions made by journalists and then try their hand at making an ethical call using fictional situations. View Lesson Plan.

Will You Sign This Petition?
Students review this least-named freedom among the five in the First Amendment and learn the role that petition has played through history. View Lesson Plan.

More Resources

Illinois First Amendment Center
Get free First Amendment curriculum, as well as amazing posters for your classroom.

Constitution Facts
Learn more about the U.S. Constitution and your rights as a citizen.

The Bill of Rights Institute
Get free lesson plans and teaching guides to strengthen your students’ understanding of First Amendment rights.

First Amendment Center
Read about the latest First Amendment court cases, search past cases by topic, download podcasts and find expert analysis.

PBS NewsHour Extra
Get free NewsHour Extra stories written for students from PBS Kids and lesson plans based on the top domestic issues facing our country. These plans will help your students improve their analytical skills and understand the importance of civics.

National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing public understanding of, and appreciation for, the Constitution, its history, and its contemporary relevance, through an interactive, interpretive facility within Independence National Historical Park as a program of national outreach, so that “We the People” may better secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

Journalism Education Association
Learn about an award for public high school teachers and students who actively support and protect First Amendment rights.

National Endowment for the Arts
The NEA offers a sequence of six lesson plans, “The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?” The lesson plans cover free-speech subjects and are designed for students in grades three through five.

American Bar Association This ABA resource for high school students discusses Freedom of Speech on the Internet. It recommends using a local attorney or judge as a resource person. The activity can span several class sessions.

ASNE Articles — Education for Journalism

ASNE Articles — First Amendment

American Bar Association Division for Public Education

BrainPOP Jr. — Rights and Responsibilities

Brechner Center

Center for Civic Education

Center for First Amendment Studies

Close Up

Constitutional Rights Foundation (Chicago)

Constitutional Rights Foundation (Los Angeles)

Council for America’s First Freedom

Index on Censorship

Street Law