The 12 best sites for teaching the First Amendment
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Teach the First Amendment!
Teachers' workloads are overwhelming. There’s often more subject matter to teach than there is time in a school day.
But whether you’re teaching civics, social studies, history, American studies, journalism, or English, a lesson on our first freedom – the one that makes the free flow of news, political dialogue and self-expression possible in a free society – should be one of the primary ones in any curriculum.
So to make it easier to include the First Amendment in your courses, 1 for All has surveyed the universe of First Amendment lesson plans and teaching resources for the best ones. Below is what we found.
12 best First Amendment lesson plans and teaching resources
This is undoubtedly the best source of all for First Amendment lesson plans. It offers two major resources, NewseumEd and the Freedom Forum Institute. (Note: You may have heard that the big Newseum building in Washington, D.C., closed Dec. 31, 2019. True, but the Newseum and its rich resources for journalism and the First Amendment live on.)
Here’s how the Newseum’s educational resources break down:
No registration required. Here you’ll find fast facts, FAQs, topics, podcasts, and much more – especially the Primers, which can serve as lesson plans or components thereof. Primer topics include “Is Your Speech Protected by the First Amendment?” and “Free Expression on Social Media.”
- NewseumEd asks you to register (it’s quick and easy) to gain access to material. Once you’re in, you can search extensive resources by eliminating all filters except for “Lesson plans.” Doing so will get you such resources as:
“Intro to the First Amendment: Would You Fight for All Five?” Students play an engaging game to explore how the five freedoms interrelate. An additional introductory lesson plan is also available.
“45 Words” video lesson plan. Actor Martin Sheen tells how the First Amendment came into being – and it wasn’t easy.
“You Can’t Say That in School? Allowed or Not Allowed.” This lesson uses documents that influenced the creation of the First Amendment.
There are many more lesson plans there. These are just a sampling.
This comprehensive resource boasts “more entries on the First Amendment than any other work of its kind.” With more than 1,500 searchable entries, it can give you information on any First Amendment question you might wish to explore in class.
You can browse this encyclopedia by topic and in several other ways. If you’re brushing up on your own knowledge of First Amendment history and issues, you’ve also got an overview/introduction, an essay by First Amendment Center Founder John Seigenthaler on how the First Amendment came into being, and a chronology of important dates and events.
Here you’ll find, among many other resources, “eLessons” exploring a wide array of constitutional matters. Here’s a wrapup of all of the 2019 eLessons.
Beyond those lessons, the site offers ways of Teaching with Current Events. The current events often pertain to First Amendment issues. (Here’s an example.) As you’ll see there, the featured current events include related resources from the Bill of Rights Institute site for background and perspective.
And note that, at the left side of the Teaching with Current Events page, the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion all have entries.
The Bill of Rights Institute also provides student resources.
The main resource you want is here – Law & First Amendment, lesson plans prepared by the American Society of News Editors that focus specifically on scholastic journalism (Day One and Day Two).
That page also offers other lessons exploring the First Amendment.
This is 1 for All’s contribution to the cause of good First Amendment lesson plans.
In addition to rounding up many of the resources noted in this article, the page includes six lesson plans on the First Amendment. They’re suitable for students in junior high through high school. Topics:
- What If There Were No First Amendment?
- Free Speech on College Campuses
- Newsgathering and Privacy
- Religion in Public Schools
- Freedom of Assembly in the 1960s Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements
- Petitioning the Government
These “In the Classroom” resources include a First Amendment timeline with key dates and events in First Amendment history.
FIRE is on the front lines of promoting free expression in the nation’s schools, be they high school or higher education. The group’s K-12 Free Speech Curriculum offers a half-dozen lesson plans, each with a depth of resources for teachers including lesson prompts, handouts, activities, suggested assignments, suggested readings, videos, and more.
Lessons include “The Philosophy of Free Speech” and “Speech, Power, and Censorship in American History.”
A wealth of resources to help high school teachers and students defend First Amendment scholastic press rights is available here. The link above will take you to presentations, handouts, and lesson plans, the latter taking a “learning from the headlines” approach.
This nonpartisan center for constitutional information and education offers lesson plans. (You’ll have to do some scrolling to find the First Amendment ones, but they’re there.)
The different plans range from grades 3 through 12. Some are pegged to 2019, such as this one, but are still useful. Some even have artwork you can use in the classroom.
You’ll find offered here a free 10-day trial. The site has a large number of plans, for all K-12 grades, all rated by teachers who’ve used them.
One we especially liked is “Using the Newspaper to Teach the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment.” … And there is a plethora of other plans with varied and interesting topics and approaches, including “How do we know if it’s a First Amendment issue?”
This site from the National Endowment for the Humanities offers a lesson plan titled, “The First Amendment: What’s Fair in a Free Country?” It’s geared toward grades K-5.
“Balancing rights and responsibilities is difficult, even for the Supreme Court. This lesson demonstrates to students that freedom of speech is an ongoing process,” NEH says of this lesson plan, which delves into such questions as:
- Free speech in conflict with consideration for the rights of others.
- Interpreting the First Amendment in different contexts.
- When can some speech be restricted, and other speech protected?
And last, but not least ...
This is a magazine for teachers, as you probably know. The one plan we found there at the link above looks good and concise.
We hope these resources will make it easier for you as a teacher to instill in your classes the First Amendment principles that keep us all free.