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Constitution Day 2020

Posted by on Aug 19, 2020 in Blog | 0 comments


In a unique year featuring not only a world-wide pandemic but also mass protests, a presidential election and plenty of attempts at spreading misinformation, it’s as important as ever for students to understand their rights.

Constitution Day, observed Sept. 17 each year, celebrates the signing of the United States Constitution, and provides a perfect opportunity (either on that day or in the weeks before or after) to touch on our Constitutional rights, especially as they relate to Freedom of Speech.

This year, mindful of the particular challenges of 2020, the Scholastic Press Rights Committee has put together a series of lessons focusing on supporting student voices in the current environment. We have lessons on specific laws affecting student speech as well as materials touching on protests (and how to cover them), voting, election coverage and recognizing bias in the news.

Each provides opportunities for quick learning and discussion as well as options for exploring the topics in more depth over several days, even virtually. Check the more detailed descriptions and links for each, below.

Aside from the new lessons, this is an excellent time to touch base with students and with each other about the state of New Voices laws across the country, making sure you are aware of particular protections you may already have or particular movements in your state working to secure these protections. You may also wish to make sure students are aware of support available through the Student Press Law Center or look through their website for current examples and explanations of legal rights.

Protecting Student Voices (by Matthew Smith): Get your students competing to test their knowledge of specific laws, court cases that shape their speech and publication rights at school and the resources available to them. Additional suggestions are provided for discussion and applying the concepts to your specific school.

Expanding the First Amendment (by Kristin Taylor): Help students gain a better understanding of how state laws may expand student press rights beyond the First Amendment, as limited by Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier. Students will use to research their state’s New Voices status as well as explore the SPLC’s New Voices FAQ, evaluate the legality of their current press freedom and discuss next steps for personal action.

Protest and the First Amendment (by Audrey Wagstaff): Give students a better understanding of the legal protections of their right to protest as well as the importance of journalism in accurately covering them. Students will be able to review examples of protest coverage and best practices and will apply this knowledge to a variety of protest coverage scenarios.

Reporting elections: issues, candidates and making endorsements (by John Bowen): Move students through critical-thinking and decision-making processes for covering election stories that meet the needs of their community. By applying reporting procedures to important coverage, on a deadline, students learn to decide which races and issues to focus on and how.

Voting, Voice and the Constitution (by Mark Dzula): This unit introduces the 15th and the 19th amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments that respectively afforded black men and all women voting rights. The activities provoke analysis of primary documents (including historical newspapers), challenge students to consider voting rights in contemporary contexts, and encourage them to consider relationships between voice, activism, the press and voting.

Know Your News (by Michael Bjorklund): With the election year upon us, it’s getting harder for students to find factual, unbiased news. This lesson focuses on teaching media biases through the scope of identifying and analyzing media coverage.

Plenty of the lessons from past Constitution Day posts also remain relevant. Feel free to search through any of those: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013.

If you have any feedback or questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to Matthew Smith or Mark Dzula ( Thank you!

Constitution Day Committee
Matthew Smith, CJE, Fond du Lac High School (WI)
Mark Dzula, the Webb Schools (CA)
Kristin Taylor, CJE, The Archer School for Girls (CA)
John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)
Audrey Wagstaff, MJE, Wilmington College (OH)
Michael Bjorklund, Columbia High (FL)

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Introduction to Constitution Day 2019: lessons and more

Posted by on Aug 18, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


Constitution Day is right around the corner: Tuesday, Sept. 17. This celebration of the signing of the United States Constitution is the perfect time to touch on our rights and responsibilities, especially as they relate to freedom of speech. The Scholastic Press Rights Committee has you covered, once again, with a collection of lesson plans and activities. Check out this year’s featured lessons and feel free to use the material in whatever manner is best for your class and your students.

Citizenship in the United States (by Audrey Wagstaff): Have students examine the history of ratifying the Constitution and Bill of Rights, assess their own knowledge by answering Constitution-specific questions from the current citizenship test, and read/discuss recent news stories and opinion pieces about the great citizenship debate.

Evaluating Political Ads (by Megan Fromm): Involve students in understanding and evaluating political advertisements. They will consider ethical dilemmas and create advertisements of their own.

Free speech vs. hate speech: What’s protected? (by Susan McNulty): Social media has provided a platform for anyone with an internet connection to post their views on any topic imaginable. Protesters have the right to hold signs and convey their beliefs in public places. But what about hate speech? Should certain ideas and messages be silenced? 

Understanding and Promoting Student Press Rights (by Matthew Smith): Guide your students through an understanding of their rights as student journalists and where these rights originate. Also, touch on how students can promote and expand these rights.

Resources for Working on Student Free Expression Legislation (by Lori Keekley): Make use of a collection of resources and examples from around the country to promote New Voices legislation in your state.

Suggestions for student media mission, legal, ethical and procedural language (by Lori Keekley): Originally presented to the 2019 Adviser Institute in New Orleans, this material provides important models that can be adapted of essential mission, legal, ethical and procedural language for student media.

Also, be sure to check out resources provided by the Student Press Law Center, including its Year of the Student Journalist ideas. In particular, consider having your students write and submit an op-ed about why student press freedom is important (try using some of our featured lessons from previous Constitution Days to build background and appreciation, such as this one from 2017 on the importance of an independent and active press).

And finally, congratulations to Gillian McMahon from West Linn High School in West Linn, Oregon, for taking first place in the Constitution Day Logo Contest and creating our 2019 Constitution Day design. Excellent work by all students who submitted entries!

For past Constitution Day materials, go here.

If you have any feedback or questions, feel free to reach out to Matthew Smith or Jeff Kocur.

Thank you!

Constitution Day Committee
Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)
Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)
Matthew Smith, CJE, Fond du Lac High School (WI)
Audrey Wagstaff, MJE, Wilmington College (OH)
Megan Fromm, MJE, Grand Junction High School (CO)
Susan McNulty, CJE, J. W. Mitchell High School (FL)

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Citizenship in the United States: Lesson Plan for Constitution Day 2019

Posted by on Aug 14, 2019 in Blog | 0 comments


A recent Gallup poll suggests that a record 27% of U.S. American citizens believe immigration is the most important issue we as a country face. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution outlines what we call “birthrightcitizenship,” which has sparked much debate as of late. Those not born in the United States or its territories can apply for citizenship, and part of this process involves passing a citizenship test that many birthright citizens could not likely pass.

In this lesson, students will examine the history of ratifying the Constitution, the addition of the Bill of Rights, assess their own Constitutional knowledge by answering Constitution-specific questions  from the current citizenship test, and read/discuss recent news stories and opinion pieces about the great citizenship debate.


  • Students will ascertain why some states debated the initial ratification of the Constitution.
  • Students will test their own knowledge of the Constitution by answering questions that appear on the current citizenship test.
  • Students will critique recent news stories and op-eds about the current debate surrounding citizenship and immigration. 

Common Core State Standards the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas. various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain. information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.


90 minutes

Document for handout: CSDAY2019 (PDF)

Materials / resources

Links to stories provided on the second page of the document: 


Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — 30 minutes

Distribute the handout for the students and explain that they are to follow each portion from 1-7-8-7 — ask them to pause before beginning the last 7. Note: Encourage them to answer the questions on their own first (without the aid of classmates or other resources).

Step 2 — 45 minutes

Ask the students to read one or two of the articles (time permitting) by visiting the links provided. Encourage them to take notes about the content of the article, perspectives presented, references to the Constitution and its amendments, and potential biases they can identify.

Step 3 — 45 minutes

Discuss articles the students read, and then encourage them to read the remaining articles. You may add extra time for further discussion.

Ask students to locate additional articles for discussion. Journalism advisers: encourage your staff to brainstorm/explore the issue of citizenship in future coverage.


Students who may not have studied this material previously may be encouraged to use textbooks or the Internet to answer the questions on the first page of the activity. In addition, you may wish to divide students into small groups to read one article each and then summarize it for the class.

For past Constitution Day materials, go here.

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Constitution Day is right time
to apply for FAPFA recognition

Posted by on Sep 17, 2018 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Lori Keekley, MJE
As advisers, we work to support student journalists on a daily basis.

Taking a moment today to apply for the First Amendment Press Freedom Award is a great way to symbolically show this support.

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Ways to celebrate Constitution Day 2018

Posted by on Aug 18, 2018 in Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


The Scholastic Press Rights Committee is again excited to provide lesson plans and activities to help you celebrate Constitution Day and the First Amendment. Constitution Day recognized Sept. 17 each year, and we have a trove of new and archived lessons and activities to help you raise awareness of the First Amendment’s rights and applications for students.

Take a look at the new lessons:

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