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Plan now for Constitution Day: Teach the First Amendment

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Teachers can prepare now to teach the First Amendment as part of Constitution Day on Sept. 17 with the materials and ideas below. Many teachers incorporate First Amendment instruction into their curriculum on a weekly basis by using news articles to discuss First Amendment issues. In Peter Paccone’s classroom, every Monday is “First Amendment Monday.”

The San Marino High School social studies teacher encourages students in his U.S. government classes to look for news stories and editorials that raise First Amendment issues and email him a description and a link for extra credit points. Then, each Monday, Paccone begins his classes by describing a First Amendment issue that has been in the news.

Paccone, who has taught social studies for 27 years, said he thinks it’s important to teach the First Amendment in schools so that instead of just telling students that the United States is great, they understand the why and the how.

“Just think where we would be without it,” he said. “Religious minorities could be persecuted; the government could establish a national religion; protesters could be silenced; the press could not criticize government; citizens could not mobilize for or against social change; teens could be told that until they become adults, they are to be seen and not heard.”

Later in the semester when Paccone gets to the textbook-oriented First Amendment lessons, he continues to use current, real-world examples and encourage student participation through role-playing activities and meet-and-greets. A meet-and-greet is designed to give students in the class an opportunity to hear and learn from individuals appearing in either the textbook or the newspaper, Paccone said.

“In other words, great forces outside of the classroom and great forces within the classroom want you to teach the First Amendment,” he said.

First Amendment classroom activities:

Lessons and resources from SchoolJournalism.org

25 great ideas for teaching current events

Bill of Rights in Action homepage and archives

Lessons and resources from the Newseum Institute

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