First Amendment Fridays

Linda Evanchyk
Choctawhatchee High School
Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Objective: To ensure that students clearly understand the First Amendment, its implications, in the professional and scholastic press; and to ensure that students are aware of the challenges to maintain these freedoms in our society.

Course: Journalism, grades 9-12. Essential for beginning journalism students; a good refresher for experienced journalism students.

Rationale: Since the examination of the First Amendment is essential in any scholastic journalism course, and since having and maintaining a free student press depends on the understanding of the First Amendment and court cases involving freedom of the press, the teaching of information related to the First Amendment should be an ongoing process. Therefore, instead of a specific “unit” plan, this plan gives ideas of activities that may be used throughout a yearlong course

The following plan is a suggested plan that would probably be most effective in the first few weeks of a course. The plan, however, can be adapted to continue for a semester, school year, etc., and can be added easily.

Friday was chosen as the day for the activities since the other four days of the school week are generally taken up with planning and production of the school publication, and also because assignments given to the student can be worked on over the weekend.


First Friday

Before class enlarge a copy of the First Amendment to poster size and affix it to the board, wall, etc. An overhead transparency could also be used. Keep it covered at the start of class. If you’re up for it, make placards attached with a string to wear “sandwich” or “protest” style.

Begin by asking students if they can tell you what the First Amendment is about. After some discussion, “reveal” the amendment. Have a student read it aloud. Then dissect the parts. Have students itemize the number of freedoms the amendment lists.

Distribute a pre-printed list of the freedoms, and have students rank each freedom in the order they believe is most important — from 1 for most important to 5 for least. (Listen to comments by students as they struggle with this.) Have students compare lists. Ask them if one freedom had to be given up which one they would choose.

Assignment: Students should conduct an informal poll of 10 students by asking them if they can name the five freedoms and also by asking which freedom is most important. Students should bring these to class the next Friday.

Second Friday

Students bring in poll results. Discuss why most students — and adults! — can’t name the freedoms in the First Amendment. Share with students the results of a survey done asking adults the same questions. Obtain a copy of the latest State of the First Amendment from the First Amendment Center.

Tell students they are now going to answer a survey about the First Amendment and how it applies to students at their school. Make copies of the survey or read the questions that are to be answered as “yes,” “no” or “I don’t know.” Discuss the answers and list the items that have a “no” answer, and have students volunteer to find out the answer to any questions answered “I don’t know.”

Assignment: Students should come to class next Friday with a creative way to represent one (or all!) of the freedoms. They may make a poster, write a rap song, etc. Just about anything goes. It should take no longer than 1 to 3 minutes for them to present their project or explain it.

Third Friday

Spend the first five to 10 minutes of class reviewing from last Friday. Ask students to report on any items that received a “don’t know” answer in the First Amendment High Schools survey.

Have students present their creative representations of one (or all!) of the freedoms. This may take the remainder or class, depending on the number of students.

Optional assignment: Students write a pro/con list on whether students should have free expression in school.

Fourth Friday

Students bring in pro/con list from last Friday. If that assignment was not given, the students could make a list in class and discuss it.

Start a discussion of rights for students — especially freedom of the school press. Give a brief history of the background of school press freedoms. Chapter Four in “Law of the Student Press” is a good source. As you trace the history through the 20th century, explain that there was a landmark case in the late ’60s that made a major impact on the rights of the student press.

For fun, talk a little about the climate of the ’60s in the United States. Most students know quite a bit about the era. Play some ’60s protest songs. The “Forrest Gump” soundtrack has many songs from the time period. A good example is “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. “There’s battle lines being drawn/Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong/Young people speaking their minds getting so much resistance from behind.”

Assignment: Ask students to find examples of protest music today. Is rap protest music?

Fifth Friday

Ask students for examples of current protest music. From examples discuss what is being protested. (As compared to the Vietnam War in the ’60s.)

Explain the Tinker standard. Again, “Law of the Student Press” is the best source for this information. Discuss how minor the issue of students wearing armbands seems in today’s school climate.

Introduce and explain Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeir case of 1988.

Assignment: Ask students to check out the Web site

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