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Marie Koch
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Lesson Plans

The First Amendment and Freedom of the Press in Schools

The First Amendment and Freedom of the Press in Schools

Marie Koch of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Md.

Marie Koch
Springbrook High School
Silver Spring, Md.

Title: The First Amendment and Freedom of the Press in Schools

Description of School and Students
Ethnically and socio-economically diverse, Springbrook High School serves a population of over 2000 students in grades 9-12 in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The unit is designed for use with a 10th grade government class of 28-32 on-level and/or (special education) inclusion students.

Maryland State Standards

Students will use thinking processes and skills to gain knowledge of history, geography, economics and political systems.

  • analyze how change happens at different rates at different times; that some aspects can change while others remain the same; that change is complicated and affects not only technology, economics, and politics, but values and beliefs
  • Students demonstrate understanding of how the political system of the United States operates and provides opportunities for participation.
  • analyze the relationship between governmental authority and individual liberty
  • describe the fundamental American principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, United States Constitution, and Federalist Papers

Generative Topics

  • United States Constitution
  • Bill of Rights
  • First Amendment
  • Freedom of the Press

Generative Objects

  • Overhead of the First Amendment
  • Tinker v. Des Moines Court Case
  • Hazelwood School District v. Kulmeier Court Case

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    • What is freedom?
    • Who/what is “the press?”
    • What is freedom of the press?
    • What is symbolic speech?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What is the intention of the First Amendment?
    • Is freedom of the press an inalienable right?
    • Do students in school have the same rights as other citizens?
    • Do schools have the right to limit free press?
    • What are the rights and responsibilities of students in public schools?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline
In this unit, students will become aware of the First Amendment. Students will also become aware of their rights and responsibilities in the school setting. Classes are approximately 45 minutes in duration.


Activity 1

  • The teacher will ask students to write a response to the following prompt: Have you or a friend (or have you heard of someone) been forced to change your clothes or sent home because the administration determined your attire to be inappropriate? Why can the school implement a dress code policy?
  • The class will brainstorm a three-column list of dress that is permitted in school, dress that is not permitted, and dress that is questionable in its appropriateness in school. Encourage students to think of items in addition to clothes, such as jewelry, hats, or symbols on clothes. Students should be able to justify each item’s assignment to a specific column.
  • The teacher will ask students which First Amendment right corresponds to the issue of clothing and dress in schools. Once students clearly understand that the freedom of speech/expression best applies to dress in schools, discuss the concept of symbolic speech. The teacher will ask students to provide other examples of symbolic speech (flags, yellow ribbons, etc.)

Activity 2

  • The teacher will explain to students that in this unit they will examine the issue of Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment free speech rights of students in schools.
  • Distribute to half of the class the principal’s version of Tinker v Des Moines.
  • Distribute the student’s version of Tinker v. Des Moines to the other half of the class.
  • After the students have read their respective version of the case silently, ask each half to explain the constitutional issue and the basis for argument for the case as a group.
  • The teacher will then form groups of 2 or 4 (depending on the class size and ability) with equal number of principal and student representatives.
  • Students will debate for five minutes within their small groups their position.
  • Each side of each group will then present a one-minute closing argument to the class as a whole. As the Supreme Court Justice, the teacher will question the students on their arguments to provoke thought and discussion. When both sides of all groups have finished, the Supreme Court Justice will present the decision and rational for the decision of the case.
  • Homework: Students will create one scenario that would and one scenario that would NOT violate the precedent set in the Tinker v. Des Moines case.

Activity 3

  • Using a copy of the school newspaper or a yearbook, the teacher points out an article or picture that can be argued as offensive. The teacher plays “devil’s advocate” and tells the students that such offensive articles or pictures should not be allowed in school-sponsored publications.
  • Allow for a class discussion, drawing in ideas about editing, censorship, principals’ rights and students’ rights.
  • The teacher will inform students that the court case of Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier will help to clarify the intent of the First Amendment right of free press in public schools.
  • Students will read the description of the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case’s background. Students will answer and discuss the following questions:
    • What arguments can the students make to the court? Why should the school not censor the two pages of the newspaper?
    • What arguments can the principal make to the court? Why should the principal have the right to censor the paper?
    • How is this case similar to Tinker v. Des Moines?
    • How do you think the Supreme Court ruled in this case? Use specific example to support your decision.
      Student will read the Supreme Court’s decision and rational for the decision.
  • Homework: Students will write a BCR (Brief Constructed Response/Paragraph) explaining the precedent established by the Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier case.

Students will write an Extended Constructed Response/Essay using at least two examples of how the Supreme Court has extended or limited the rights of students.

Resources Recommended

  • First Amendment
  • Supreme Court Cases Book
    • Tinker V. Des Moines
    • Hazelwood v. Kulhmeier

Marie Koch’s lesson plan, "The First Amendment and Freedom of the Press in Schools" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 2002, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 7.

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