Exploring the First Amendment as it has been applied to teens and teen journalists

Doug Stevens
Hughes STEM High School
Cincinnati, Ohio

Overview and Rationale
Journalism students must understand not only the letter of the law when it comes to the First Amendment, but they must also understand how it has been historically applied to teens and teen journalists in particular. This lesson will give them the opportunity to learn more about the rights and responsibilities provided by the First Amendment through exploring how teens have successfully and unsuccessfully used it to defend their actions.

Goals for Understanding

  • Essential Questions
    • WHAT exactly does the First Amendment say?
    • TO WHOM does the First Amendment apply?
    • WHAT are the limitations of the applications for teens?
    • WHAT specific RIGHTS are currently being guaranteed by the First Amendment for teens?
    • WHAT specific RESPONSIBILITIES must teens follow in order to be afforded First Amendment protections?
    • HOW have these rights and responsibilities changed over the years?

Overview and Timeline

Day 1

  • Group Work
    • Pass out to students their own personal, laminated copies of the First Amendment and read it together in class.
    • Facilitate a class discussion about the First Amendment and assess student knowledge about it.
    • Ask for students from other parts of the world or who have knowledge of other countries to share their understanding of how universal the concept of this law is.
    • Assign the students the responsibility of memorizing the First Amendment within one week.
  • Individual Work

Day 2

  • Group Work
    • This whole group activity will model the activity which students will do in pairs following whole group. Based on what was learned in the previous class about what students know and don’t know about the First Amendment, the whole class will read (either together aloud or printed out individually) the following account of a student invoking First Amendment rights: After reading this article, have students participate in a whole group discussion.
    • Identify the points that each side has in its favor in terms of winning this case. This case is interesting because the assertion of rights for students feeling one way is directly being challenged as encroaching on another student’s expressive rights. Make sure students see through the discussion that these cases should not be approached as clearly black and white, but try to understand the gray areas.
  • Pair Work
    • Each pair will be responsible for finding two Internet news articles about high school students invoking First Amendment rights.
    • They should work to make sure wherever possible that the cases have concluded and the court has made a final ruling.
    • More recent articles are preferred, as well as articles which show a student prevailing as well as failing to meet the standard required by courts.
    • As students are researching their articles, circulate and try to encourage them to find at least some articles in which students were held liable for inappropriate actions so this can be brought out in discussion.
    • After the pairs have found the articles and discussed them (depending on your work environment, you may want students to print the articles or e-mail you the links to them), they need to prepare a shared written report to turn in which SUMMARIZES each of their two articles separately.
    • In the summaries, the students need to make sure to include the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, and WHY. This is a great time to lay the foundation for writing good leads. Get them thinking about prioritizing the facts and getting the critical information into one or two sentences.
  • Group Work
    • Once reconfiguring back into the whole group, have one person from each pair report what they found and lead the class discussion about the fact patterns of the case and what variables led to the final court decision of each one. Keep the focus of the discussion on the rights provided to the students and the responsibilities which ensue.
    • If your class utilizes Wikispaces, Blackboard, or a similar online collaborative learning tool, this activity could be approached in a way that allows students to share their research results online asynchronously and comment on the work of others, thus making the results available to other classes and future students.


  • Students could be assigned to create a poster, PowerPoint presentation, or public service announcement to educate other high school age students as to the rights and responsibilities provided by the First Amendment.

References & Resources

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