In this lesson, students explore the scope and limits of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. First, students read and discuss an article on the constitutional issue of student-led prayer at public school events. Next, they role-play Supreme Court justices and attorneys deciding this issue. Finally, in a whole-class discussion, they debrief their own findings and compare them with those of the Supreme Court in the case of Santa Fe Independent School District v. Jane Doe et al.
Presidents vs. Press: How Pentagon Papers Leak Set Up First Amendment Showdowns
This 12-minute video clarifies the connections between the New York Times Co. v. United States Supreme Court case and the recent battles that Presidents Obama and Trump have fought to contain national security leaks. Focusing on the broader issues of freedom of the press in a democracy, the video helps students draw a line between the New York Times decision from 1971 and the ongoing disputes between the public’s right to know and the president’s right to secrecy. Useful for examining the First Amendment and the role of the press in a democratic society, the video also provides students with the historical context surrounding the Pentagon Papers, and the Vietnam War and consequences of the New York Times court decision.
First Amendment Lessons
These classroom lessons and Read Alouds on the First Amendment entitled Exercising Our First Amendment Rights offer book titles appropriate for all primary, elementary, and middle school students. These lessons encourage discussions that build basic civic knowledge, promote civic engagement, and provide practice in democratic deliberation. Themes covered include going on strike, organizing a peaceful sit-n, using symbolic speech, and writing a petition.
Contrasting U.S. Founding Principles & Totalitarianism
Why are the founding principles essential for a free society? This civics and government lesson plan was developed to facilitate instruction and discussion concerning the United States’ founding principles versus totalitarian systems of government. Students will contrast a totalitarian system of government with the founding principles of the United States as established in the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Civic Art Project: Notes on the Constitution
Students create art works based on an examination of the language of the Constitution and the personal connections they make. These art works will incorporate words, illustrations, and mixed media images.
This lesson can be adapted for different grade levels. High school students can use an abridged version of the U.S. Constitution. Elementary and middle school students can use the Preamble, or introduction, to the Constitution.
Making the Constitution (CKHG Unit)
Students who listen to this Grade 2 Core Knowledge History and Geography unit discover that Americans had a difficult task at hand after winning the Revolutionary War: they had to figure out a better way to govern themselves. Such leaders as James Madison, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin traveled to Philadelphia to meet at the Constitutional Convention, with the goal of creating a new government. Students learn that the talks were held in secret in Independence Hall and that American leaders argued about many issues until they agreed to approve a new Constitution. They then hear that James Madison (whom we call the Father of the Constitution), along with John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, wrote the Federalist Papers to explain the document’s merits and to persuade the states to vote for it. Students find out that the states did finally approve the Constitution; that Madison wrote a Bill of Rights that was added to it; that the Constitution gives the American people the right to decide what the laws should be for our country; and that we can still amend it today.(5 lessons)
9/11 and Civil Liberties
This lesson explores the challenges the United States faced as a result of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and examines the government’s response through the lens of protection and civil liberties. Students will consider the long-term effects of the emergency measures, their consequences and constitutionality, and how they might inform the balance between security and liberty today.
Federal courts conduct citizenship ceremonies, which are open to the public and may be attended by hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. These important civic events, conducted in courtrooms and at sites in the community, present an educational opportunity for promoting public understanding of the federal courts. Schools may want to approach their local federal court to ask if they can volunteer as part of a service-learning project. Learn about activities that some courts bring into their ceremonies.
Second Amendment: D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago
The film “Second Amendment: D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago” examines the history of guns and gun ownership in our society from the Revolutionary War to modern times and the complicated debate over what the founders intended when they wrote the Second Amendment. Does it protect a right of individuals to keep and bear arms? Or is it a right that can be exercised only through militia organizations like the National Guard?
Sixth Amendment Activities
Apply landmark Supreme Court cases to contemporary scenarios related to your right to counsel and your right to a fair trial in the Sixth Amendment.