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Jeff Moffitt
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Lesson Plans

The First Amendment in Action

The First Amendment in Action

Jeff Moffitt of Olympia High School in Orlando, Fla.

Jeff Moffitt
Olympia High School
Orlando, Florida

Title: First Amendment in Action

Overview and Rationale

Students need to understand the role the First Amendment plays in American democracy, for journalists and citizens alike.

Goals for Understanding

  • Essential Questions
    • Is the First Amendment crucial to an open society?
    • What role does the First Amendment play in American democracy?
  • Critical Engagement Question?
    • What is the First Amendment?
    • What rights does the First Amendment protect?
    • Should unpopular opinions be protected in our society?
    • What is censorship?

Overviews and Timeline

Activity 1 (One 50-minute class)

  • Divide The First Amendment into five parts, put each part on the back of an index card for a total of five index cards. Color-code the index cards. Repeat until there are enough index cards so that every student has a piece of the First Amendment.
    • Here is the card break down. A set of cards is five cards, each with a different part of the First Amendment on one side, and a colored dot on the other (every card in the set has the same colored dot), the next set has a different colored dot.
  • As they enter the classroom, hand out an index card to each student. Tell students to free write about what is on their index card in their daily journal. Give them a few minutes. Don’t tell them anything about what is written on the card. Have them write about what it means to them.
  • Now allow the students to break into groups based on the color on their index card. Once they are in the groups they need to organize themselves so their index cards are in order (some of them will have no idea). Tell them the first group to finish and get it right will win! When the first group is finished, ask them to read their cards in order. They should have put the First Amendment together. If not, move on to the second group. Continue until a group gets it right. It’s OK if no groups get it right (it might even be better).
  • Once you have the completed First Amendment, show it on the projector, transparency, etc. It might even be nice to get a copy of the original and show it.
  • Next pass out the First Amendment Survey (Future of the First Amendment (firstamendmentfuture.org). (This is a related handout to this lesson plan.) This is due before the end of class. These questions are based on the Knight Foundation’s Future of the First Amendment.
  • After class compile the surveys and create charts if possible.

Activity 2 (Two 50-minute class periods)

  • Day 1: Now debrief, talk about the First Amendment and discuss what it is. Here you are assessing what the students already know and how they feel about the First Amendment. Give each colored group a topic related to the First Amendment:
    • Censorship
    • Flag Burning
    • Banned Books
    • Obscenity Laws
    • Warning Labels on Music/Video Games
    • Protest
    • Religion.
  • Each person in the group will locate and print out an article related to the topic. They must identify the source of the article and consider the source and the bias that may be present in the article. They will read the article and prepare to discuss it. This creates a perspective for each student. This is due at the beginning of class the next day.
    Additionally, using the same survey you gave them, they will pass out and collect the survey to 10 other students also due tomorrow.
  • Day 2: Each group will compile their survey results. Then as a class, you will discuss the survey results and the articles they researched as you teach First Amendment rights.
    • Homework: Compare/Contrast, list the pro’s and cons of protecting speech.
  • Day 3:
    • Answer the question in one paragraph: How would America be different without the First Amendment.
    • Discuss the pro’s and cons as a group based on the previous night’s homework and weigh them out.
    • Present the students with articles and examples of how the First Amendment works in American society.


  • Pick a First Amendment Freedom and create a poster educating other students about that right and how it is protected by the First Amendment.

Follow Up

In follow up lessons, students will research how speech is protected in other countries and compare/contrast their protections to ours.


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