The Power of the Press: The First Amendment

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Lesson At A Glance

This standards-based lesson is one of several on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in fifth grade. Students will understand our rights and how the legal system functions through the lens of an actual historical trial, The Haymarket Case of 1886 that showcases the different checks and balances with the system.  Students will understand how the media influenced public opinion and influenced the court's decision.


  • Students will deepen their understanding of integral historical events, persons, and documents in shaping our rights and freedoms as citizens today.
  • Students will deepen understanding of how the branches of government and media influence our liberty.
  • Students will begin to develop and apply skills in using visual arts as a form of communication.

California Content Standards

This lesson is designed to address the following California State Board of Education's content standards for History-Social Science and English/Language Arts. For more information on the standards, or to see the complete list, please visit:   

Social Studies and History Standards:

3. Understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy, including how the government derives its power from the people and the primacy of individual liberty.

4. Understand how the constitution is designed to secure our liberty by both empowering and limiting central government and compare the powers granted to citizens, congress, the president, and the Supreme Court with those reserved to the states.

5. Discuss the meaning of the American creed that calls on citizens to safeguard the liberty of individual Americans within a unified nation, to respect the rule of law, and to preserve the Constitution.

Visual Art Standards:

2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.

4.1 Identify how selected principles of design are used in a work of art and how they affect personal responses to and evaluation of the work of art.

Common Core State Standards for ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects K-5

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing K-5

Text Types and Purposes

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Big Ideas:

  • The political process involves participation; understanding requires student engagement. (Integration and application of new learning in multiple learning modalities helps students deepen understanding).
  • The strength of a democracy is equal to the strength of its citizens. (We must understand, participate in, and further develop our system of government to ensure democracy).
  • E Pluribus Unum: out of many, one. (From a variety of sources and experiences, we  have developed a successful government and legal system).

Essential Questions/Issues:

  1. What does it mean to be an American citizen?
  2. Is citizenship a right or a responsibility?
  3. Does social capital strengthen a republic?

Higher Order Thinking Questions:

  • Do you think the media influences court cases too much today? (Evaluation, Synthesis)
  • Do you believe it is possible for the judicial system to maintain its independence from political views, public pressure, and the media?  Why or why not? (Evaluation, Synthesis)
  • How do court cases affect the strength of our democracy? (Synthesis, Analysis)


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

Click here to download assessment tools.

Activity Steps: 

This lesson should be divided into 2-3 class periods per teacher discretion and student need.

Click here to download activity steps

Purpose   Teacher   Students

Hook Engage students

5 minutes  

It all depends on your pt. of view…personal story (hook)

Segue into…review of Chicago background in 1880, social class struggles, economics, rise of unions, immigration issues.
Listen, observe, take notes, ask questions

15 minutes

Show iMovie of Haymarket Case 

View film and PowerPoint, ask clarifying questions as needed.

Add to discussion.

10 minutes

Draw cartoons
In teams
15 minutes

Powerpoint “What went wrong?”
Review major points of case problems…
Jury Selection
Public opinion fueled by media
Chain of command influenced
Review rubric/grasp and one
Political cartoon pointing out 5 features.

Pass out press kits and cartooning supplies for research/application time at table groups.

Each person should choose a defendant they want to portray from the perspective of anti-labor or pro-labor paper. Table groups review press kits and rubrics as needed.

Design and create cartoons as individuals or partners (student choice).

25 minutes

10 minutes

Segue into how this case showed media influencing the courts.  Could this happen today?  Look at Cheney cartoon…discuss as table groups.

Hand out reflections…”Do you think the media influences court cases too much today? What is your opinion? Explain your thinking…”

Discuss as whole group…

Close: depends on pt. of view

Write a reflection of new understandings.
Next Lesson  Presentations of cartoons for Jury of Peers Students present their designs and why the choices were made to show pt. of view persuasively in art.

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson:

Students are put into flexible grouping scenarios that will benefit learning for all types of learners and special needs. Hands-on learning with plenty of visuals, opportunities for movement, verbal, written, and nonverbal expression, and multiple learning modalities are available within the context of this lesson. The opportunity for student choice creates an embedded differentiation opportunity as well as student ownership of learning.

Extension Ideas:

  • Students can recreate court case reading transcripts from the website address.
  • Students can debate current political cartoon content
  • Students find current local articles about cases that have a possible impact on our rights as citizens.

Materials and Resources Needed:

  • Screen
  • Laptop or PC
  • External speakers
  • Press kits
  • Sharpies
  • Tracing paper
  • Printer paper
  • Pre-cut 8” x 10” black mats 
  • iMovie of Haymarket case
  • Powerpoint

References: Website of Prof. Douglas Linder of University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law.  This webpage has 30+ cases complete w/images, transcripts, judgments, timelines, media sources that have been prominent in our history. 
This is the website that has the biographies of the defendants used in the press kits. The Chicago Historical Society webpage has numerous trial records, photos, media publications, artworks, chronologies, etc. regarding local cases and histories.

Chicago Anarchists on Trial (Library of congress: “American Memory” Project) transcripts, map.

The Haymarket Riot of 1886 (Chicago Public Library)

Haymarket, Martin Duberman, Novel set against the Haymarket tragedy. (Seven Stories Press, 2005)  Great visual art site for supplies and posters. Order tracing paper through this source for best value. Site to order pre-cut black mats for students (approximately $1 ea)

Student Handouts:

Download student handouts here


Outline of the Unit Plan:

This unit is designed to focus on the fifth grade standards in Social Science and Visual Art.  These include: student learning, analysis, and understanding of historical documents (The Constitution and Bill of Rights).  Students begin to understand the significance of events and historical figures (as seen through case law studies) in shaping what we have as a government today.  Students will also learn about, experiment with, and critique visual art skills related to historical documentation, media persuasion, and how art can be both a catalyst and a reflection of our society.