Free Speech Essentials

Do your students know what they’re free to say online? At school? On a public street corner? From censorship to cyberbullying, the First Amendment and the freedoms it protects are as hotly contested as ever. This EDCollection explores 16 free speech debates ranging from the founding of our nation to recent headlines to illustrate what free speech actually means, where it comes from, and how far it can go. Whether you’re a social studies teacher looking for a complete unit or an English teacher looking to spend a single class period on free expression, there’s something for everyone. Free registration required.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Respecting Freedom of Speech

In the course of this lesson, students will consider the point where respect and freedom of expression intersect. For homework the night before, students are asked to review the language of the First Amendment, as well as examine their definition of respect by responding to a writing prompt. The next day, students are asked to consider five controversial instances of “free speech” and participate in a discussion that attempts to draw the distinction between: private versus government action regarding speech; rights of the speakers and rights of the listener; and right to free speech and responsibility to act or speak with respect. What role does freedom of expression play in maintaining a free and open society?

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Campus Speaker: A Case Study in Free Speech

Use this classroom-ready lesson to examine free-expression issues surrounding a controversial speaker invited to appear at UC Berkeley. We provide questions to help guide your students on if and when offensive speech should be banned, and what are the competing groups and interests.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Student Speech Rights Online

New technologies have opened new arenas for conflict regarding young people’s free expression rights. This lesson will present positions and arguments on whether students should be subject to punishment at school for what they post online on their personal websites. It will provide background on the constitutional protections for the rights of freedom of expression and the limits on free expression rights for everyone and for students.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Free to be You: Grades 6-8

This lesson is designed to be used in conjunction with the National Constitution Center’s Free to be You show, which is available as part of themed museum packages for groups and the Traveling History & Civics Program for schools.

Together, they help students understand how the First Amendment establishes five key freedoms of expression for Americans: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to assemble peacefully, and freedom to petition the government.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8

Free to be You: Grades 9-12

This lesson is designed to be used in conjunction with the National Constitution Center’s Free to be You show, which is available as part of themed museum packages for groups and the Traveling History & Civics Program for schools.

Together, they help students understand how the First Amendment establishes five key freedoms of expression for Americans: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom to assemble peacefully, and freedom to petition the government.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

The Great Awakening

This short video examines the flurry of religious expression which spread throughout the colonies during the 1740’s and 1750’s. Led by individuals such as George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, the Great Awakening cut across racial, class, and geographic barriers to create an incipient sense of nationalism. Professor Jeffry Morrison contends that the popular religiosity of this movement contributed directly to the popular constitutionalism of the 1770’s.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 11, 12

Introducing the First Amendment

Students will inductively discover the First Amendment by reading and analyzing newspapers. They will discuss various circumstances involving the First Amendment, and so understand that in certain instances – libel, publication of national secrets, etc. – there is a limit to the freedoms expressed in the First Amendment.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: 4, 5, 6

Constitution Day Across the Country

Various free, downloadable lessons across grades K through 12 to facilitate providing educational programs on Constitution Day. These interactive lessons teach about the development and evolution of the U.S. Constitution. Students are able to express themselves through discussion and debates while engaging in various activities.

  • Resource Type: Audio, Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Voting: Should voting be compulsory in our democracy?

Free and fair elections are essential to a democracy. Through voting, people express their views about government. They choose leaders who will improve their country and community. But what happens when people choose not to vote? Does that indicate democracy is thriving or failing? What, if anything, should be done to improve voter turnout? This lesson provides students with background information and arguments for and against making voting compulsory.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Voting, Elections, Politics
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12