Freedom of Expression: The First Amendment

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Lesson At A Glance

This lesson will follow an introductory lesson discussing the Bill of Rights, which could be used to begin a unit.  This lesson is to focus on the freedom of expression.  Additional lessons to follow will include other freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights.


  • Students will learn about and be able to understand the use of symbols throughout history and our culture.  The realization will be that symbols, either accepted by one person or culture may be perceived negatively by another group. 
  • Students will be able to understand the reasons for certain symbols to be banned from school settings as interpreted by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Tinker vs. Des Moines. 
  • Students will develop their skill of persuasion and the ability to communicate effectively with others. 
  • Students will demonstrate an understanding of the United States Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution.  Through the analysis and comparison of established and pending litigation.

Standards Addressed:

Grades Nine & Ten—English-language Arts Content Standards

Listening and Speaking

2.0 Speaking Applications (Genres and Their Characteristics)

2.5 Deliver persuasive arguments (including evaluation and analysis of problems and solutions and causes and effects):

Grades Eleven & Twelve—English-language Arts Content Standards

1.0 Listening and Speaking Strategies

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects Grades 11-12  Students

Key Ideas and Details

1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.

2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

3. Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

7. Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Big Idea/Essential Questions:

1. Examine what rights Americans have today, and evaluate the scope and sequence of those rights.

2. Examine if conflict can be beneficial to society?

3. Determine the factors of how social capital (i.e. involvement) strengthens a republic

4. Decide how government should deal with opposing factions that occur in society?


Students will be evaluated through informal checks for understanding, teacher observation, and performing authentic tasks evaluated by rubrics.

Quality Criteria: 

Teacher and peer scoring guide and rubric (same sheet for both groups) for the majority, dissenting, and concurring opinions for the “Bong Hits for Jesus.” See end of Lesson.

Click here to download the assessment tools

Activity Steps: 

Click here to download activity steps


Hook:  opening discussion with students regarding their thoughts on the school’s dress code. What do you think about the school’s dress code?  Why do schools implement dress codes?  Is the school dress code implemented fairly?  Note:  find your school’s dress code.

Alternate Hook #1 Have students pair/share while looking at different shirts. (Shirts should be ones that would push the limits on schools’ dress codes, e.g., Budweiser shirt, marijuana leaf, confederate flag, iron cross).  Students should be asked to look at the shirts from different perspectives; student, parent, school administration.

 Show “Da Vinci Code” movie clip (1min 35secs) related to the historical context of the use of symbols. This clip is located at the beginning of the movie.

Pass out the Symbol Matrix Worksheet.  Working simultaneously with the PowerPoint, students will share what they think about each symbol as they understand them.  Students will be asked at random how they feel about the symbol.  The teacher may provide any clarification as necessary.  This will provide students with some background knowledge prior to working in pairs for the group discussion.

“Do You Get It?” Point/Counterpoint Persuasion (continued on PowerPoint). Students will organize in “Concentric Circles”.  Students will effectively explain their point of view while the other student takes on the role of the administrator.  These discussions must be kept professional while trying to get the other side to understand your point of view.  Rules will be discussed prior to the separation in to groups.  Rules include: 1) no physical contact, 2) no inappropriate language, and, 3) have fun with it.  Each student will be paired with another student.  Teacher will show students new T-shirts and have the students role play.

Alternate Group Discussion: students will be divided into groups of twelve students apiece.  This may be modified as needed for smaller or larger classes.  They will debate/discuss why the symbol should be worn or why the symbol should not be worn.  The student wearing the symbol will be supportive of what it represents and the other student will act as a parent who is offended by the symbol.

Classroom Follow Up:  students will be asked how they felt about the individual discussions and the class will discuss how the court actually ruled.  The “Courts in the Classroom” CD/website prepared by Karen Viscia will be used in this discussion. Students will be polled (thumbs up = agreement, thumbs down = disagreement) prior to hearing the court’s official decision.

Primary Source Document:  Tinker vs. Des Moines.  Students will look at the actual documents for the Tinker Case.

Relevant Current Topic:  “Bong Hits for Jesus.”  Students will be placed into four groups of nine students apiece.  They will be responsible for reading information related to the “Bong Hits for Jesus” case.  Each group will vote and then will write a majority opinion (the ruling of the whole court), dissenting opinion (the ruling of the people who disagreed with the majority), and a concurring opinion (reason as to why you agreed).  When the case results are determined, this court ruling will be shared with the students and they may compare the Supreme Court’s opinion with their opinions.

Assessment:  Students will have the opportunity to rewrite/revise the dress code.  Additionally, students will respond to the following questions:  1) Should we have a dress code?  2) How have your feelings been affected following this lesson?

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson: 

Yes, symbols are used and a variety of articles/primary source documents are provided depending on the reading levels of the students.

Extension Ideas:

Relevant Article – “Silencing Student Speech – And Even Artwork – In the Post-Columbine Era…” by David L. Hudson Jr. (, Juneau School Board, Deborah Morse vs. Joseph Frederick; aka “Bong Hits for Jesus”, Additional Relevant Court Cases.

Materials and Resources Needed:

  • Symbols Matrix Worksheet
  • “Da Vinci Code” DVD
  • Enlarged symbols (one set per group, ideally three groups total)
  • LCD projector with PowerPoint capability
  • “Courts in the Classroom” Website/CD created by Karen Viscia (,
  • Primary Source Document “Tinker vs. Des Moines”


  • CA Standards (
  • “Courts in the Classroom” CD/website by Karen Viscia
  • Additional references provided with the documents
  • Dress code for your school.

Symbol explanation resources:

  • “The Confederate Flag: America’s Most Embattled Emblem” by John M. Coski. Pg. 150
  • “The Cultural/Subcultural Context of Marijuana Use at the Turn of the 21st Century” by Andrew Lang Golub, pg. 27
  • Gay pride symbol (;
  • “Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life” by Jon Lee Anderson
  • The iron cross (
  • “NRA: an American Legend” by Jeffrey L. Rodengen.
  • Images/symbols selected from
  • “The Art of Persuasion” information provided from

Student Handouts:

Download student handouts

Outline of Unit Plan:

I Know My Rights!

Standards Addressed in the Unit:

Grade Eight—History-Social Science Content Standards

8.2.6 Enumerate the powers of government set forth in the Constitution and the fundamental liberties ensured by the Bill of Rights.

Grade Twelve—History-Social Science Content Standards

Discuss the meaning and importance of each of the rights guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and how each is secured (e.g., freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, petition, privacy).

12.5.1 Understand the changing interpretations of the Bill of Rights over time, including interpretations of the basic freedoms (religion, speech, press, petition, and assembly) articulated in the First Amendment and the due process and equal-protection-of-the-law clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment.

12.5.4 Explain the controversies that have resulted over changing interpretations of civil rights, including those in Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda v. Arizona, Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, and United States v. Virginia (VMI).