First Amendment: Speech

When does the First Amendment allow the government to limit speech? Many Americans struggle with understanding the language and subsequent interpretation of the Constitution, especially when it comes to the rights encapsulated in the First Amendment. While many Americans can agree that speech should be protected, there are disagreements over when, where, and how speech should be limited or restricted. This lesson encourages students to examine their own assumptions and to deepen their understanding of current accepted interpretation of speech rights under the First Amendment, including when and where speech is protected and/or limited. It should reinforce the robustness of the First Amendment protections of speech.

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

Foundations of Democracy

This collection gives teachers access to foundational principles of democracies including rule of law, limited government and checks and balances. It can be used to build background knowledge to analyze the health of our democracy over time and in today’s environment.

Essential Questions include:

  • What systems attempt to limit government power?
  • Where does the government gain its authority in a democracy?
  • What is the rule of law and how does it play out in democracies?
  • What are ways of measuring the health of a democracy?
  • What recourses are in place to ensure the health of democracy?
  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit)
  • Subject: Foundations of Democracy
  • Grades: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12

Judicial Independence: Essential, Limited, Controversial

In a constitutional system of government, the role of the judiciary is essential for maintaining the balance of power, protecting individual rights, upholding the rule of law, interpreting the Constitution, and ensuring equal justice for all. In this lesson, students learn about the role of an independent judiciary in the United States.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

Women Before the American Revolution

This short video explores the limited rights of women prior to the American Revolution. According to the idea of femme covert, women were legally and politically subservient to their husbands. Married women could not own property and all women were considered irrelevant to the political sphere. Professor Rosemarie Zagarri notes that 80% of the freemen in the colonies could vote (as compared to 20% in Great Britain), but suffrage was still limited to men.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Citizenship
  • Grades: 9, 10, 11, 12

How Did the Constitutional Convention Deal with Slavery?

This short video explains the differing perspectives that emerged about the Constitution and slavery. Some, like Frederick Douglass, believed that the Founders put slavery on the road to extinction while others, like Roger Taney, believed that the Constitution was a slaveholders’ document. Professor Gordon Lloyd contends that the slavery clauses in the Constitution both limited and expanded slavery’s impact, and that the Founders alone do not bear responsibility for slavery’s later expansion.

  • Resource Type: Video
  • Subject: Legislative Branch/Congress
  • Grades: 10, 11, 12

Congress and the Creation of the Bill of Rights

Students will explore the protections and limitations on authority contained in the Bill of Rights and the process by which the First Congress created it. They will do this by compiling a list of their rights as students, analyzing the Bill of Rights, and studying primary source documents to trace the origin and development of the first ten amendments. Students will then consider how the Bill of Rights might be updated to reflect 21st century circumstances. (Duration: 30–90-minute segments, up to 5 hours.)

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

The Constitutional Convention: Lesson 3: Creating the Office of the Presidency

This lesson focuses on the arguments over the various characteristics and powers of the office of president as debated at Constitutional Convention of 1787. By examining the views of delegates as recorded in James Madison’s Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787, students will understand the arguments of those who supported either a strong, independent executive, or a very limited and highly controlled executive. Students will also see why, in the end, the delegates compromised.

  • Resource Type: Essays, Lesson Plans, Modules (Teaching Unit), Primary Sources, Research (Digests of Primary Sources)
  • Subject: Executive Branch/Presidency
  • Grades: 8, 9, 10, 11, 12

Direct Democracy: Should our democracy allow national referendums?

The president called it a move to start the country over again. It limited the amount of land anyone could own. It declared the state was secular, meaning not religious. It required judges to be elected. This lesson provides students with background information and arguments for and against allowing national referenda. Students are encouraged to deliberate the issue and come to their own conclusions based on evidence and reason.

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

Meeting at Runnymede: The Story of King John and Magna Carta

Chafing under the despotic rule of King John, rebellious British noblemen forced their ruler to sign the Magna Carta. The 63 clauses of this document defined and limited the feudal rights of the monarch. This lesson includes a background reading, full text of the Magna Carta, and a small-group activity for students.

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

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Students will create visual metaphors to explain the seven principles of the Constitution. Students will practice their speaking skills as they explain their visual analogies to the rest of the class. Students will reflect on the big ideas and make personal connections to the material by recording their learning in a Learning Log during and after the presentations.

  • Resource Type: Lesson Plans
  • Subject: Federal Government
  • Grades: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12