Freedom of Expression

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Lesson At A Glance

This is the first lesson in a unit of five lessons that explains how the Bill of Rights was adopted and the importance of these rights.  (This lesson may take two days, with extended time for the students’ posters). It is designed to examine five basic rights protected under the constitution.  The five rights are expression, religion, equal protection, due process, and the right to vote. By examining these rights students will understand their importance in a democratic society.


Students will:

  • Describe the various forms of expression covered by the First Amendment 
  • Describe the benefits of freedom of expression to the individual and to a democratic society 
  • Discuss and explain what they might consider reasonable limits on freedom of expression.
  • Understand what liberty means to American citizens. 
  • Discuss and analyze how the Constitution protects citizens of the United States basic rights.

Standards Addressed:

5.7.2 Explain the significance of the new constitution of 1787, including the struggles over its ratification and the reasons for the addition of the Bill of Rights.

5.7.3 Understand the fundamental principles of American constitutional democracy, including how the government derives its power from the people and the primacy of individual liberty.
5.7.5 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.

1.2  Create multiple-paragraph expository compositions: 
       a. Establish a topic, important ideas, or events in sequence or chronological order.

       b. Provide details and transitional expressions that link one paragraph to another in a clear line of thought.

       c. Offer a concluding paragraph that summarizes important ideas and details.
1.0  Written and Oral English Language Conventions
Students write and speak with a command of standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level.
2.2  Write responses to literature: 
       b. Support judgments through references to the text and to prior knowledge.

c. Develop interpretations that exhibit careful reading and understanding.

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 Reading K-5

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.

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.

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.


Essential Questions/Issues:

1. What would it be like if we could not vote for members of congress or our presidents?

2. What does it mean to be an American citizen?

3. Is citizenship a right or a responsibility?

4. What would happen if there were no laws or rules in the United States?


Informal Assessment:  Students will be evaluated through whole group and table group discussions, individual participation, note taking, group posters created, and teacher observation.

Formal Assessment: Writing ~ Students will explain the meaning of the four key freedoms of expression discussed in class, and explain their benefits in a short response writing prompt. Responses will be evaluated using a formal scoring rubric. 

Click here to download assessment tools


Lesson Activity Steps:

Click here to download activity steps

 Purpose   Teacher   Learner
Into (hook) Display pictures of people exercising their freedom of expression in a power point presentation.

Follow up with slides that show people abusing their freedom of expression.

Explain and discuss what students must consider reasonable limits on freedom of expression

Observe and Discuss

*Who are these people? What are these people doing? Is what these people are doing of any importance to you and me?  Why is freedom of expression important to you?  Why is freedom of expression important to our nation?


*Discuss at table groups … then list on board each groups ideas as a whole class


Discuss whole class what do they think the people are doing? Is there any situation in which we would have to limit freedom of expression?

Record responses on the board

 Through Discuss the four key freedoms of expressions: speech, press, assembly, petition.

Students explore the meaning of “expression.”

Discuss other forms of speech if students did not include them in their brainstorm table discussions: t-shirts with slogans, political bumper stickers/buttons, protest/picketing signs.
(derivative forms of speech)

Present the Feiner v. New York case to the class.  Students read the case facts.

Students will take detailed notes on the four key freedoms of expression.


Students will work with their table groups to brainstorm examples of freedom of expression.  They will write their examples on white boards.

Students take additional notes on derivative forms of speech. 

Students discuss case and decide whether they think the police did or did not violate Feiner’s right of free speech.

 Beyond  Hand out poster paper to table groups, have them choose a freedom of expression to represent on their poster paper in a drawing.


Distribute writing prompt to students.

Follow-up  with discussion and justification of opinions.  Have students read and discuss final decision of the court, and “aftermath” provided on handout.

Students work as a table group to choose a freedom of expression to draw.  Students design their poster. Students post posters throughout class. Students take a “gallery walk” of posters.


Students individually work on their short answer responses. (graded on short answer rubric)

Special Needs of students are considered in this lesson:  Students are placed into table groups that are specially designed in order to benefit the various needs of each student.  Power Point with pictures aid ELL students for better understanding.  Group work interacted with art project gives students with different learning styles the ability to work creatively.

Extension Ideas:
1. Students create individual posters, or t-shirts demonstrating the various forms of freedom of expression.
2. Students create an extended list of derivative forms of speech.
3. Students create their own power point presentation that represents various forms of freedom of expression and they present it to the class.


Student Handouts:

Download Student Handouts here

Materials and Resources Needed:

• Teacher created power point that includes slides demonstrating citizens exercising their freedom of expression.
• 32 Copies of Feiner v. New York case
• 6 Pieces of Poster Paper
• Markers/crayons
• Student white boards


California State Standards: 
We the People, (2003) Center for Civics Education. New York.

Outline of Unit Plan:

Your Rights Protected