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Kristin Billo
English/Journalism Teacher
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Lesson Plans

How the First Amendment Applies to Your High School Newspaper

How the First Amendment Applies to Your High School Newspaper

Kristin Billo of Goliad High School in Goliad, Texas.

Kristin Billo
Goliad High School
Gloiad, Texas


A working knowledge of both the Tinker and the Hazelwood cases and how they affect your school is necessary to begin any lesson on newspapers and the First Amendment. The Student Press Law Center has numerous resources, but a quick guide is the handout “First Amendment Rights of Public High School Student Journalists After Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier” (Jensen and Goodman). Other useful tools from Goodman and Jensen’s Student Press Law session include “Fighting Censorship After Hazelwood,” “Student Press Law Center Model Guidelines for High School Student Media,” and the article “The Voice of Freedom” by Harry Proudfoot and Alan Weintraub (2001).

Unit plans

Theme: Understanding and respecting the power of the First Amendment to give voice to everyone.

Overview/rationale: Students in small rural communities often assume a homogenous identity in school though they come from diverse backgrounds. The community seems to expect and receives a great deal of conformity which appears to stifle creativity and individuality resulting in lost potential and early defeatism in many students.

By understanding that they too have a voice if they will only have courage to use it, students can learn to see beyond the high school years and gain confidence to change the world for the better through the power of free speech, free assembly, and free expression.

State testing requirements met

  • TEKS (1) The student demonstrates an understanding of media development, press law, and responsibility. The student is expected to:
    • (A) identify the history and development of American journalism through people and events;
    • (B) identify the foundations of journalistic ethics; and
    • (C) distinguish between responsible and irresponsible media action
  • Students will understand the power communication has to change opinions, to dispense truth, and create a better world through critical questioning and thinking.
Essential questions:
  • What is the First Amendment? (know the exact words/what it covers legally)
  • Who crafted it? (framers of the bill of rights/their agendas)
  • Whom does it protect? (historically and today/significant court cases/events)
  • When was it written? (time frame of U.S./world events)
  • Why was it written? (historical context primarily)
Critical engagement questions:
  • When is the First Amendment not a guaranteed protection?
  • How are its protections different for high school publications?
  • How can people (even young people) use First Amendment guarantees to change the status quo?
  • When has the First Amendment been successfully upheld for high schools, and when has it been limited by the courts?
  • Activity 1
    • Students will be asked what they know about the First Amendment and its protections. Discussion should focus on all aspects of the First without too much emphasis on what is right or wrong about student perceptions.
    • At the end of the discussion, the teacher will read the First in its entirety to the students. They will be asked what they think it means after thinking about the words.
    • Students will be given two assignments due in one week.
      • Assignment 1: Research all the information students can find and read regarding the First Amendment. Books, magazines, interviews, web sites are all allowable, but sources must be noted if questions arise.
      • Assignment 2: Be able to write or recite the First Amendment word for word.
    • Assessment: The research and documentation will be graded as participation: 100 if student brings in research. The written/recited Amendment will be docked 1 point for missing a, an, the, and 2 points for all other words up to 100 points.
  • Activity 2
    • Students will share their research with the class.
    • The teacher will then focus the discussion on how and why the First is not always guaranteed.
    • Students will read excerpts from the textbook Journalism Today and from the Web sites at the bottom regarding how the First Amendment is applied to high school publications after Tinker and Hazelwood cases.
    • The handout regarding First Amendment Rights and high school students should be handed out.
    • After discussion of the two cases, students will be given examples of high school cases to decide if they fall under First Amendment protection or not. The class will discuss why or why not as a group. A list of criteria for the successful cases will then be recorded.
    • The next assignment will be to develop a procedure to follow for ensuring the freedoms of our press will not be subverted.
    • Assessment: This will be a class grade. Students will be looking for procedures that include: fair and balanced reporting, credible sources, solid writing, checking and rechecking facts, a good working relationship with administration, and a willingness to stand up for their work before the administration (contacting SPLC or local media for example). Students will receive a class 100 if they work together to generate a thorough procedure.
  • These lessons should encourage students to pursue stories that truly have consequence in their lives. Also, if the staff is diverse enough, the stories will have impact on every reader in some way.
Recommended reading and sources:

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