Is Your Speech Free?: The First Amendment

Civics Lesson Plans banner

Lesson At A Glance

This lesson will occur in the unit after the students have gained a complete background on Sections I and II of the United States Constitution.  This lesson will focus on the 1st Amendment and even more specifically the section of the 1st Amendment that deals with Free Speech.  This lesson will be the second lesson about the Bill of Rights following a lesson on the overview and history of the Bill of Rights.  The most important right that any individual has is the right of speech and expression. However, most students do not understand their basic right to free speech, and they further do not realize that all speech is not a protected right.  It is important for Students to understand the difference between protected and unprotected speech as they begin their journey as productive citizens in our society.

That the basic elements of theater have been taught during prior units.


  • Students will understand what rights are given by the first amendment.
  • Students will know the different types of speech in which they can engage.
  • Students will demonstrate their understanding of protected or unprotected speech by performing short small group vignettes
  • Students will explore landmark Supreme Court cases that have dealt with the limitation of free speech. 
  • Students will be able to demonstrate their total understanding of protected and unprotected speech by participating in a mock courtroom drama in which they will argue the merits of a specific free speech case.

Standards Addressed: 

History Social Studies

Students evaluate and take and defend positions on the scope and limits of rights and obligations as democratic citizens, the relationships among them, and how they are secured.   

  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).

Students summarize landmark U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution and its amendments.

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.

Visual and Performing Arts

2.0 CREATIVE EXPRESSION Creating, Performing, and Participating in Theatre.  Students apply processes and skills in acting, directing, designing, and scriptwriting to create formal and informal theatre, film/videos, and electronic media productions and to perform in them. 

Make acting choices, using script analysis, character research, reflection, through the rehearsal process.  

Write dialogues and scenes, applying basic dramatic structure: exposition, complication, conflict, crises, climax, and resolution.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading Grades 6-12

Key Ideas and Details

1.   Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
2.   Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
3.   Analyze how and why individuals, events, and ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure

4.   Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
5.   Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
6.   Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas

8.   Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

Essential Questions/Issues:

  • What is the significance of protected speech under the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights, and how can we as citizens ensure freedom of speech is protected?
  • Is the US Constitution a living document that is always changing?

Higher Order Thinking Questions:

  1. Are there different types of speech that can be interpreted and what is the consequence of a population not knowing? (Analysis)
  2. Evaluate the general tests or questions that Supreme Court has come up with to limit the freedom of speech?  (Evaluation)
  3. What are some of the cases on which the Supreme Court has ruled which have limited or protected different types of speech? Explain the reasoning behind the decision.(Application)
  4. What is your personal feeling about free speech?  Do you feel that the Supreme Court has made a correct decision in the cases presented or other cases you know? (Analysis)


Students will be evaluated through informal checks for understanding, teacher observation, self-reflections, and performing an authentic task (GRASPS) evaluated by a rubric.

Click here to download the assessment tools.

Activity Steps: 

Click here to download activity steps.

DAY 1 

Purpose Teacher Students
20 minutes

Teacher will pass out the school speech of from the Bethel School District vs. Frasier.

Teacher will read excerpts from the speech.  The teacher will then have the students think about and then briefly discuss the following questions:

  1. Do you think this speech would or should be allowed in our school?  Teacher will have the students input their answers into the website
  2. If not, what elements of the speech may not be allowed.

Students will sit in their groups and listen to the excerpts from the speech read by the teacher

Students will answer the questions posed by the teacher.  Students will input their answers into the website

35 minutes

Teacher will ask the students if they know the rights protected under the 1st Amendment.  Teacher will write down on the board the 5 parts of the 1st Amendment.  Freedom of Speech, Religion, Press, Assembly, Petition.

Teacher will review the basic elements of theater that the students have already learned earlier in the year.  (Character, Dialogue, Plot and Theme.)

Teacher will divide the class into six equal groups and then pass out one of six general guidelines of whether speech is protected or not.  Teacher will also pass out the elements of theater reminder cards.

Teacher will give each group five to ten minutes to prepare their vignette which will should clearly illustrate the protected speech guidelines assigned to them.  The vignette should be between one and two minutes in length.

Students will answer the question of “what rights do citizens have under the First Amendment.”

Students will create their one to two minute vignettes that will clearly demonstrate the speech guidelines assigned to their group.

Students will include in their vignette the basic elements of theater that they learned earlier in the year.

25 minutes

Teacher will display 2 to 3 Supreme Court cases dealing with the issues of protected speech.  The class using will predict what the supreme court decision was. 

The teacher will use Case Study 2
Burning a selective service registration certificate.

The teacher will have the students text their answers into the website. Once a majority opinion has been reached teacher will ask students to answer why they voted the way they did.  The teacher will make sure the students use one of the guidelines when answering their opinion.

The teacher will reveal the actual Supreme Court ruling and discuss the decisions made by the Supreme Court.

Teacher will do the same with Case Study 3 Gathering petitions in a shopping mall.

Students will read and listen to each case study and try and predict whether the speech in the individual case was protected or not.

The students will reflect on the general guidelines that were presented earlier in the classroom the six group vignettes.


10 Minutes

Teacher will review the previous class information on guidelines for protected speech.  Teacher will have the students Case Study 6

Third-party candidate inclusion in televised debates. The teacher will simply ask the students by a raise of hands what they think the result of this case was.  (This step is basically a review and will get the students in the correct frame of mind for today's activity)

Students will listen and simply answer any of the questions by raising hands.
55 minutes

Teacher will divide the class into two "legal teams" preparing to argue a case in front of the Supreme Court.  Each side will be given time limits to their arguments and rebuttals.  Two-Three students will serve as judges and will decide which legal team made a stronger case. This decision will be made based off the arguments and not any preconceived biased.

Once the class is divided into the three groups the teacher will hand out the Lawyer Argument Worksheet which includes spaces for students to write who will do what role.  Each team will need to select a one lead attorney, one associate attorney, one legal secretary and the rest paralegals.   The two attorneys will present the arguments to the judges and come up with their 30 to 60 second opening statement.  The legal secretary will write all the information on the Lawyer Argument Worksheet and the paralegals will each come up with at least one argument to give to their respective attorney's.  Once the roles have been assigned the teams will have 20-30 minutes to prepare their arguments and record them on their worksheet.

During the work time the Judges will be handed the Judges Worksheet in which they will take a look at the case and they will record on the sheet 3 initial questions they have about the case.  They must have at least one question for both the pro and con side.  Their 3rd question can be for either team.  The judges are not to discuss their initial thoughts and opinions of the case.

After the work time the teacher will call the court into order.  Each side starting with the pro side will state their opening statement.  This will be done by the lead attorney.  Once both opening statements have been read the pro side will get to present their first argument.  Then the con side will present their first argument.  And back and forth until all arguments have been made.  Judges can at anytime ask questions of the legal teams (anyone from the team may answer) .  However, during the presentation of arguments there will be no discourse between the legal teams.  During oral arguments paralegals from each team will record the other teams arguments and write down questions for their attorneys to ask.

Once oral arguments have been completed there will be a 2-3 minute recess for each team to discuss any questions that they want to ask the other team.  After this recess the back and forth arguments in which both legal teams can discourse between each other will begin.  Again judges and interrupt at any moment with any questions they may have.

As the activity is happening the judges are responsible for jotting down any arguments that they thought were compelling for each team and arguments that they thought were weak.  They will record this on their Judges Worksheet.

After time has been called by the teacher it will be time for the rendering of a decision.  The teacher will go to each judge and ask which side they thought did a better job presenting their case and the argument they thought held the most weight on their opinion. 

Once the activity is over the teacher will collect all the worksheets and then reveal the actual supreme court decision on the case and discuss with the class.

Students will divide into teams and assign themselves roles. 

Students will fill out the worksheets fulfilling each duty of their assigned roles, as described by the teacher.

Students will participate in the court room drama remembering the aspects of theater.

The lawyers will present arguments and the paralegals will record any questions based from the other teams arguments.

Students will engage in arguments based on guidelines set by the teacher

15 minutes
Students will write a reflective piece based on essential question 4.
What is your personal feeling about free speech?  Do you feel that the Supreme Court has made a correct decision in the cases presented or other cases you know?  
Students will write a reflective piece based on two questions.

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson:

Students with special needs are considered in this lesson in many ways.  First the polling feature of this lesson is completely anonymous thus giving them a comfort level even if they do not know the correct answer.
This lesson gives the flexibility to the teacher to pair students with special needs to another student who can aid and guide in the learning process. 
This lesson allows ELD students the opportunity to learn by acting and kinesthetically being involved in the lesson.

Extension Ideas:

Have the students create an infomercial explaining the limits of speech.
Have the students research current school free speech issues or things that may have happened at their school.

Materials and Resources Needed:

  • Screen
  • Projector
  • Internet access
  • PowerPoint
  • Activity handouts
  • A few student cell phones.


Student Handouts:

Download student handouts here.

Outline of Unit Plan:

United States Constitution