Exploring the First Amendment

Patricia L. Robinson
Belle Chasse Academy
Belle Chasse, Louisiana

Overview: This lesson and activities will provide students with an introductory study of the fundamental right of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Course: Introduction to Journalism. Fundamental for beginning journalism students; additional activities could easily be added to build on this foundation.

Purpose: The purpose of this activity is to provide students with a rudimentary understanding of the First Amendment and the complexities of protecting the individual right of expression.

Activities and Procedures:

First Day

  • The teacher will type copies of the First Amendment and cut it into several strips, keeping each strip in complete thoughts so that each group can readily reassemble the strips.
  • The teacher will place all of the strips that embody the complete First Amendment in envelopes for each group, and label envelopes group one, etc.
  • The teacher will divide the class into groups.
  • Groups will be instructed to open the envelopes, to read strips, and line them up so that the First Amendment reads as it is stated. (This can be a timed activity or the teacher could choose to wait until each group has completed the task and re-identify the order of each group as they complete the task. Groups will not be allowed to change their positions once time is called).
  • Each group will read the amendment as the group has reassembled it.

**The teacher may offer incentives for the groups who complete the Amendment accurately.

Second Day

  • The teacher will direct students to websites that have cases illustrating the First Amendment. One example, New York v. John Peter Zenger (1735).
  • The teacher will discuss the cases chosen and allow students group time to discuss it among themselves.
  • The teacher will instruct some groups to support Zenger and the other groups to support the state. (It is interesting to place students in a position of having to defend their opposite view point.)
  • The groups will choose their position as a whole and defend it in a written essay.
  • Each group presents their positions orally.

Tying it all together:

This activity lends itself well to a discussion of the First Amendment and gives students the opportunity to evaluate and defend their point of view. It also includes presentation/speaking skills and social/group dynamics skills.


Individually or in groups, find one article of First Amendment rights being upheld, challenged or violated in this week’s newspaper. Write a summary of the article and its relationship to the First Amendment.