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Political Correctness and Free Speech


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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