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Constitution Day lessons and activities, 2014

Posted by on Sep 4, 2014 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



by Lori Keekley
The Scholastic Press Rights Commission works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation, and is a commission of the Journalism Education Association.

We designed our Constitution Day lesson plans to help students celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press.

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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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2017 Constitution Day lessons

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Blog, Ethical Issues, Featured, Law and Ethics, Legal issues, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


Constitution Day 2017 is approaching, and several members of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee have come together to provide you with materials to help your students understand their rights and responsibilities. These lessons provide particular focus on the First Amendment and the freedom of speech in general, but they would be appropriate and effective in any class that touches on issues related to history, the Constitution, citizenship or journalism.

Since Constitution Day (Sept. 17) is on a Sunday this year, we’d suggest celebrating on the following Monday. For a quick preview of this year’s lessons, feel free to watch this video. Links are also provided, below, to the new materials as well as lessons from previous years that might be particularly useful.

This year’s lessons:

First Amendment School Dialogue, by Jeff Kocur: Guide your students through a class-sized (or whole-school) dialogue about the five freedoms of the First Amendment. Students will identify and evaluate the impact of the First Amendment in their own lives and the lives of others.

The Importance of an Independent and Active Press, by Matthew Smith: Expose students to the many possible benefits of independent media in a democracy through quotes and video excerpts of world leaders espousing the necessity of a free press. Students will evaluate and discuss their own reaction to these arguments.

Introduction to News Literacy, by Kristin Taylor: The freedom of speech and of the press come with responsibilities, too, and this lesson provides materials for recognizing different types of news media and coverage. Students will examine the credibility of news sources as well as examine their own media habits in order to beef up their news diets and avoid “fake” news.

What’s in Your State Press Law?, by John Bowen and Lori Keekley: As New Voices laws spread across the country to protect student journalists, help your students understand what their state does or does not cover when it comes to student press rights. Students will examine their own law and create a dialogue with stakeholders about the benefits of protecting student publications.

Sharing Your State Law with Others, by John Bowen and Lori Keekley: State laws protecting student press rights mean nothing if students, administrators, school boards and others don’t know what they mean or how they impact the community. For this lesson, students will create an action plan for the various groups in their community about the state legislation.

Previous lessons:

Materials from previous years are obviously still available and relevant. The links, below, take you to the full list of lessons from each year, but we’ve also provided a quick suggestion of a lesson from that year that might work particularly well with the new batch we created.

2016 (Check out the lesson on exploring and discussing the gray area between political correctness and free speech.)

2015 (Check out the Constitution of the United States Crossword for a quick hit.)

2014 (Check out the lesson asking students to evaluate what to do when people ask them to remove content already published or posted in a student publication.)

2013 (Check out these materials forcing students to evaluate the ethical considerations involved when stories or information could be highly controversial or harmful.)

Feel free to send any feedback or questions to Matthew Smith ( or Jeff Kocur (

Constitution Day Committee

John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)

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)

Kristin Taylor, CJE, The Archer School for Girls (CA)


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Bill of Rights Day, Dec. 15

Posted by on Dec 7, 2016 in Blog, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments



Dec.15, 2016, is Bill of Rights Day and a good time to deepen students’ knowledge about intricacies of our government as seen through the first ten amendments.

Such discussions would also be timely and relevant given the political events of an election year and the  change associated with a new presidency.

In a 1941 proclamation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tapped the fifteenth day of December to be “a day of mobilization for freedom and for human rights, a day of remembrance of the democratic and peaceful action by which these rights were gained, a day of reassessment of their present meaning and their living worth.”

Here are links  to some of what is available:
• National Constitution Center, Bill of Rights Day
Has a section of educational resources and a great “Do-Now discussion question: “Not all the amendment James Madison proposed made it into the final Bill of Rights. Is there anything missing from the Bill of Rights you would have included?” 

• Bill of Rights Institute
With mission words of engage, educate and empower, the Institute provides information for students, teachers and supporters. The site features five lesson plans games and videos on Constitutional principles.

• Bill of Rights Day/United States Courts
This site offers resources for teachers, students and judges. The materials, reports the site, as meant to inform, involve and insire citizens to apapreciate and exercise the Bill of Rights.

• US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Bill of Rights Day
Provides materials available for immigrants tolearn about and prepare for the naturalization process. Good to see if your students could pass the naturalization test.

• 15 facts about the Bill of Rights
Interesting background information for further discussion and use.

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Introduction to 2016 Constitution Day materials … and more

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


Constitution Day lessons, activities and related materials


In preparation for Constitution Day 2016, several members of the Scholastic Press Rights Committee (SPRC), a committee of the Journalism Education Association, created lesson plans specific for the event.

We suggest celebrating Sept. 16 since the official Constitution Day is Saturday this year.

We created these lessons to help celebrate the Constitution and Bill of Rights, as mandated by Congress. Legislation requires schools to offer lessons on the Constitution and how it affects all Americans. Our lesson plans emphasize the First Amendment and particularly the freedoms of speech and the press.

Keep reading. There are more special offers at the end of the CD Day materials.

Please contact me  if you have any questions or feedback about the lessons or how to implement them.

The SPRC works to provide information and resources on legal and ethical issues to journalism students, teachers and administrators. SPRC members also work to promote the First Amendment rights of students across the nation.


Students will examine the gray area between political correctness and free speech through peer discussion and real-world examples. Students will explore several topics in small groups followed by a large-group discussion. By Matt Smith

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 its news sites. Students will explore the question whether the ability to comment on news stories creates a more or less informed culture. By Jeff Kocur

Students will design ethical guidelines they can use this fall and in later coverage (reporting and viewpoint) of elections, candidates and issues. They will examine the comprehensiveness election reporting and how students can go about building robust election coverage. The lesson also examines how students can apply ethical principles to this coverage. By John Bowen

Sometimes politicians misconstrue facts during debates and political ads. This lesson examines the “truthiness” of the ads running currently. Students will analyze one from the Democratic and one from the Republican party. Students could look at a TV ad, online ad or print ad. By Lori Keekley

To see past years’ lessons, go here. Also has links to previous years.

Please send any feedback to I’d love to hear from you!

Lori Keekley

For JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee and the Constitution Day Committee

Constitution Day Committee

John Bowen, MJE, Kent State University (OH)

Lori Keekley, MJE, St. Louis Park High School (MN)

Jeff Kocur, CJE, Hopkins High School (MN)

Matt Smith, Fond du Lac (WI)

And we’re not done yet.

Additionally, we are reintroducing the Making a Difference Campaign.

This campaign will highlight at least one piece of student work each month to help illustrate how students can make a difference through their coverage.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

The first Making a Difference in 1988 showed how students reported the impact of the Hazelwood decision.

These are examples of student media that had an impact on the community or school where they were produced. They can be print, digital, video or audio.

On Constitution Day, we’ll release the link to the submission form and explain the process.

SPRC members will select student work that made a difference, post it on and promote it on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. Let others see the work you have created. When you have something to contribute, please send it to us!

Wait, Wait. There’s more…

• Because two states, Illinois and Maryland, passed legislation over the summer and others are poised to do the same, the SPRC created a packet for helping communities of all kinds understand the importance of that legislation. The Student Free Expression Package will be released later in the week, but some of  its main points are outlined below:

Contents for this package:

  • Importance of state legislation: Although many educators and advocates think of the First Amendment (and the court decisions interpreting it) as the most important tool for interpreting student press rights, there is another equally important source of law: state statutes.
  • Why protecting student free expression is important: Students and advisers in states with recent freedom of expression legislation may want to inform their communities of educational rationale for the legislation. Additionally, those states working to pass such legislation might want to use the same points to gain support
  • Talking Points: With legislation giving students decision-making power over their student media comes questions about roles, purpose and standards. If the school cannot make content decisions who is responsible? What is the role of the adviser? Of students? If the adviser cannot control content, what guidelines will students follow and why?
  • Tips for engaging communities: With new legislation, or attempts to pass it, comes the need for ways to engage those who would support it. The ways can run from concept to concrete and can be delivered in many approaches with details determined locally.
  • Legislation terminology: A compilation of important terminology so everyone can better understand the language and issues surrounding student free expression language.
  • What to do if school officials threaten censorship: Even though state legislation can provide protection, sometimes others do not understand that and need further education. Use a friendly and informative approach and help them understand. Here are some steps we recommend.
  • Sample press release on state legislation: Another option for letting your various communities know about the benefits of free expression legislation is to create a press release to media, civic groups, school board and others.
  • Resources on state legislation: Links to additional information and contacts

And, as a special bonus…

• An important part of JEA’s supports for free expression rights for student journalists is the First Amendment Press Freedom Award.

In its 17th year, the award recognizes high schools that actively support, teach and protect First Amendment rights and responsibilities of students and teachers. FAPFA-2012The recognition focuses on student-run media where students make all final decisions of content without prior review.

The award comes in two steps, with Round 1 due before Dec. 1. The entry form and entry information can be obtained here.






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