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Free speech?
Protests and the national anthem: FSW lesson

Posted by on Oct 20, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Analyzing and creating meaningful discussion about free speech issues over protests during the national anthem


Discussion on whether refusing to stand during the national anthem is an acceptable and effective form of protest have grown in recent months. This lesson enables students an opportunity to research and clarify their views as they share them with others.


  • Students will analyze legal and ethical aspects of the issue.
  • Students will share their findings.
  • Students will discuss what they find.
  • Students will report their position on the issue using information gathered from research and discussions.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.5 Analyze in detail how an author’s ideas or claims are developed and refined by particular sentences, paragraphs, or larger portions of a text (e.g., a section or chapter).


60 minutes for two days

Materials / resources

Access to internet resources on the issues of standing for the Pledge of Allegiance by citizens in and outside schools.Foundations_main

Access to the US Supreme Court decision in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

Background on this issue:
The teacher would share these quotes introduce the assignment and to background the issue.

From Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin:“I think it’s disgusting, frankly, I can appreciate the fact that people have freedom of speech, people can stand for, figuratively and literally, things that they choose to, but to use an opportunity to denigrate our nation’s flag — it’s not the flag and it’s not the national anthem itself, what it represents is the sacrifice of one and a half million Americans who died.”

From the court decision: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”

“We think the action of the local authorities in compelling the flag salute and pledge transcends constitutional limitations on their power and invades the sphere of intellect and spirit which it is the purpose of the First Amendment to our Constitution to reserve from all official control.”

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — introduction to the assignment and homework at the end of the session the day before (10 minutes)

The teacher should ask how many students are aware of the varied protests, in and outside of schools, against standing for the Pledge of Allegiance. The teacher would point out the introductory quotes as representative of the sides on this issue.

The class would discuss pros and cons of the issue before the teacher introduces the assignment: researching current events on the issue, examining legal and ethical positions on the issue and preparing a personal position statement either as a letter to the editor to local or national media or in a personal blog.

Stress that students can begin information gathering at home using live sources as well as digital ones.

Day 1 –

Step 2 — Research (15 minutes)

The teacher will remind students of the assignment and give them 15 minutes to add to and organize information they gathered the night before. Students should also begin to formulate a statement of personal position on the issue. Tell them they will be expected to discuss possible positions and arguments during the second 35 minutes.

Step 3 — Discussion (35 minutes)

Ask students to share information they gathered with others in the class. They could have made pro-con lists based on information they gathered and shared.

Then, students could use of PowerPoint, whiteboard or Google Docs to list possible positions and/or questions they might have about the issue. Such lists should be available for student use after class by them copying the lists and positions or having access to the Google Doc.

Focus during the discussion should be to verify information for possible positions, to clarify issues involved, to develop personal positions and support for them. Students should prepare annotated bibliographies for sources they used as a way for all to examine credibility and reliability.

Step 4 — Clarify assignment (10 minutes)

Reiterate the details and purpose of the assignment and ask students to have a draft of the statement of position or blog post for the next day’s class.

Day 2 –

Step 5 — Group coaching and editing (40 minutes)

Students should break into groups of three for peer coaching and position revision. The teacher can move from group to ask questions and offer suggestions as asked. The teacher should not edit student work but encourage peer coaching and editing. Final coaching and editing should enable all student work to be sent to or posted on designated media.

Step 6 — Final discussion and statement emailing or posting (10 minutes)

Conclude the assignment with final discussion and coaching. Assist students as necessary in the mailing and posting of their statement of position.

Step 7 — Assessment (10 minutes)

Have students discuss what they did, how others might react to their statements as well as what they learned about the issue and about issues surrounding it. They should also discuss how they might handle any responses they receive.


Option 1 – Additional media possibilities include broadcast personal statements, video statements or podcasts. Additional lessons could involve pro-con panel discussions or community forums to involve larger groups.

Option 2 – The teacher could organize the class to have a debate whether this form of speech should be allow in society and as a part of school activities. Discussion of the issue and positions on it could take place before the debate. After the debate, students could write a reflection on their views of the issue before and after the debate.


You could also work with students to assist them in using social media to discuss their experience and what they learned. Another lesson could focus on student reaction to and comment on this comment from Bevin: “If you’re a superintendent, if you’re a principal, if you’re a high school coach, step up, set an example,” Bevin said. “For us to allow everybody to be free range chickens, to not encourage them to know what they are doing and what the impact is and what the denigration of respect is something that is the responsibility of the adults to communicate to these young people.”

  • Thanks to Jamie Miller, du Pont Manual High School, Louisville, Kentucky, for sharing information about the Kentucky governor’s quote.
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Free Speech Week lesson:
What does the First Amendment protect

Posted by on Oct 16, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


What does the First Amendment protect?


This lesson takes a look at the freedoms the First Amendment to the Constitution protects and explores what these mean to students.


  • Students will understand more about their rights.
  • Students will see how the First Amendment applies to them.
  • Students will learn the First Amendment.

Common Core State Standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).


Length 50 – 60 minutes



  • Copies of the First Amendment for each student
  • 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.
  • White board and markers

Introduction (10 minutes)

When students enter the class, ask them to take out a sheet of paper and write down the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. When they are finished, share with them the answers: region, speech, press, assembly, petition.  Discuss briefly what each of these mean.

Small Groups (15 – 20 minutes)

Break into five groups (or, depending on the size of the class, 10 groups with two groups doing each freedom) and assign each group a freedom. Ask each group to list all the ways that freedom impacts their lives. (answers will vary, but should include such things as how free speech would affect students wearing political t-shirts, free press would impact students making content decisions in student media, students wanting to make a change in school policy, etc.)

Report out (10 – 15 minutes)

Have someone from each group list his or her group’s answer on the white board. As each freedom is posted, ask others in the class to add any other ways that freedom comes into play in their lives.

Exit slips (10 minutes)

Ask students to choose one of the five freedoms they think impacts them the most and write why it’s important to them.


Challenge students to memorize the First Amendment and recite it to the class in the future. Have prizes (candy, hand-made badge, etc.) to award when they successfully repeat the 45 words of this important document.

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Political Correctness and Free Speech

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Political Correctness and Free Speech

Students examine the gray area between political correctness and free speech through peer discussion and real-world examples.


  • Students will understand the meaning and connotation of “politically correct” in different contexts.
  • Students will examine the relationship between offensive language and free speech.
  • Students will evaluate the power of language and what considerations are important when considering the offensiveness of speech.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


45-60 minutes

Materials / resources

CD Political Correctness and Free Speech Materials

  • Individual Student Statement Check
  • Group Real-Life Scenarios
  • Student Scenario Resolutions

Lesson step-by-step

(5 minutes) Begin lesson by passing out the opening sheet “’Political Correctness’ and Free Speech” to all students and explain that charges of political correctness versus free speech have heightened during the current election season and that they will be investigating the relationship between political correctness and our First Amendment free speech rights. Read the introductory paragraphs at the top of the sheet aloud (or have students read them to themselves.

(5 minutes) Have the students (individually) score their level of agreement or disagreement with the statements on the sheet. Remind them that they will be tasked with talking with other students and should be prepared to defend their thoughts to others.

(5 minutes) Have students form into groups of 3-5 (or turn to groups already formed) and discuss their answers. Their goal should be to compare answers and agree AS A GROUP which statement they AGREE WITH THE MOST and which statement they DISAGREE with the most. Say and/or post the following instructions somewhere in the room: “As a group, CIRCLE the statement your group AGREEs WITH the most, and UNDERLINE the statement the group DISAGREES WITH the most.”

(5-10 minutes) Call on groups one at a time to explain which statement they agreed with most and which one they disagreed with the most, with some brief explanation (depending on the time you have, some time can be provided for students in other groups to raise hands and comment or chime in). It is also helpful to score the statements on the board to see if the class, as a whole, mostly agreed with and/or disagreed with the same ones the most (write number 1-6 on the board for the statements and write “A” next to one any time a group agreed with in the most and “D” next to any one a group disagrees with the most).

(10 minutes) Hand out ONE scenario sheet to each group (there are three scenarios, so there will be some repeats if you have more than 3 groups, but that is fine). Groups should read the scenarios to themselves, discuss the questions, and write down answers to them (and be prepared to explain them to the class).

(10-20 minutes) Call on groups by scenario (say, all groups with the “Graduation Speaker” sheet, first) to explain their thoughts on how people responded to the language and how it impacted free speech rights and what they thought the reaction should be. Once a scenario is covered, read aloud the real-world resolution to the conflict from the “Example Resolutions” sheet and call for some final discussion of each, time permitting.

(5 minutes) Once every scenario has been covered, ask the students to turn their original “‘Political Correctness’ and Free Speech” sheets to the blank, back side and give a quick, written response to the following prompt, which will serve as the exit ticket or final assessment for the activity (read aloud and/or written on board): “For what reasons, if ever, do you think people should alter or remove speech because of its offensiveness or the harm it may cause to others? Explain why.”


  • Scenarios could be read aloud to particular students.
  • Groups could also be formed purposefully to pair lower-performing students with higher-performing ones to give all students a variety of input and immediate assistance understanding difficult words or concepts.



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Our right to comment

Posted by on Sep 5, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Our right to comment

Since media organizations have moved to online formats, they have struggled with the practice of hosting online comments next to their content. Many news organizations require posters to meet specific standards, moderate the comments, and reserve the right to remove or delete comments and users. Some organizations even require each post be approved by a human before it can be live on their sites. More recently, NPR is the latest news organization to completely remove comments from their news sites. Has the ability to comment on news stories created a more or less informed culture?


  • Students will explore the best ways to interact with news media
  • Students will define the roles of a media outlet

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11-12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


60 minutes

Materials / resources

NPR story about taking comments away


Lesson step-by-step

  1. Have the students read the article linked above
  2. Break the students into groups of four and choose a current event. Have each group read the comments section of a different media outlet you assign them for the current event you have chosen.
  3. Have the students complete the worksheet.
  4. As a whole class, discuss the findings.
  5. As an editorial board, come up with guidelines for your own media. You can find model guidelines here.

During this activity, Editors who already have had discussions about comments could be exploring the policies that various student media have.

One group of students could also be using the time to look at ways that social media fills the role of the comments section for some media outlets.


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Understanding the perils of
prior review and restraint

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Blog, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments

Understanding the perils of prior review and restraint

This lesson asks the viewers to participate by providing the answers to several questions concerning prior review and restraint. Following each slide, the correct answer is provided as well as a description of the reasoning for the answer.

• Students will learn the difference between prior review and restraint.
• Students will understand why prior review and restraint are not beneficial to any involved including students, teachers and administrators.
• Students will have understand the benefits of not having prior review.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

40 minutes

Materials / resources
CD2015 Prior Review pdf

Lesson step-by-step
Step 1: partner work — 2-5 minutes

Students should work in pairs to define the terms prior review and prior restraint. Teacher should ask several pairs to report their definitions.

Step 2: slideshow — 25 minutes
Teacher and students should work through the slideshow.

Step 3: debrief — 10-13 minutes
Students should review why prior review and restraint can negatively affect student media.

Teacher could ask students to research how an administrator reviewing content is not like the publisher or editor of media. Students could access resources and report back to the group.

Additional Resources
Prior review button on menu bar, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
JEA Board Statement on Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Building a Climate of Trust Can Ease Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Seeking a Cure for the Hazelwood Blues: A call to Action, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee
Audio: Panic Button, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute
Audio: Eliminating Prior Review, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee, Press Rights Minute


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