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Student Expression Rights (What are they, exactly?)



Student Expression Rights (What are they, exactly?)


Students zero in on how the First Amendment protections apply to student speech, especially when it comes to walkouts, dress and publication related to protest.



  • Students will understand how the First Amendment was applied to students taking part in walkout protests in 2018.
  • Students will examine rules governing student expression in their own school.
  • Students will evaluate how students can and should conduct protests that are both legally and ethically sound.


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.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).
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.
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.



50 minutes


Materials / resources

Student Handout (and answers):

Student Expression Rights Handout (Students):

Student Expression Rights Handout (Teacher Answers):


Article for Reading/Reference:

CNN article on Parkland walkout protests

Other Options for Reading/Reference if you Prefer More Explanation:

Vox article on walkout protests

Newseum article on walkout protests


Explainer articles for yourself or to make available to students, if you would like:

Student Press Law Center explainer on student protest rights

CNN article explaining student protest rights

First Amendment Center’s FAQ regarding student speech


Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduce Constitution Day and the lesson (2-5 minutes)

Pass out the handout and any article(s) you expect the students to be reading as a resource, and introduce the point of the lesson (something along the lines of the following: “Constitution Day celebrates the writing and signing of the United States Constitution, from which we get our system of government as well as our rights as citizens. We would especially like to zero in on our freedom of speech rights and what restrictions can or cannot be placed on students.”


Step 2 — Students read resources and answer front of handout (Part One) (15 minutes)

Students, either individually or in groups, read the article(s) distributed or linked by the teacher and respond to the questions on the front of the handout. You may provide the text (or a link) of the CNN story or one of the others from Vox or the Newseum, if you prefer (those articles include more direct instruction on student expression rights than the CNN one). You may also provide printouts (or links) to one or more of the student expression explainers from CNN, the Student Press Law Center, or the First Amendment Center or to information explaining expression/dress rules at your own school. Even without all these resources, students should be expected (either individually or in groups) to provide the best answer they can for each question, even if it is a bit of a guess.


Step 3 — Discuss answer for the front of handout (Part One) (10 minutes)

Go over answers (or possible answers) to each question in Part One. You may want to ask individual students or representatives from different student groups to provide their answers and then clarify or correct as necessary so that everyone is on the same page.


Step 4 — Students respond to scenario prompts on back of handout (Part Two) (10 minutes)

Students, either individually or in groups, turn the handout over and respond to the scenarios to the best of their ability (and using information learned from the front of the handout).


Step 5 — Review responses on back of handout (Part Two) (10 minutes)

Go over answers (or possible answers) to Part Two. It would be especially good in this section to have students (or student groups) share responses and discuss justifications and specifics with teacher guidance.


Step 6 — Students respond to final question (Part Three) (2-5 minutes) (Optional)

Depending on remaining time, quickly explain how ethical considerations are also important and ask students to provide a response to the final question (Part Three) as an exit slip or final response. These can be collected to discuss briefly in a future class or shared out before the end of this class period.



Student may benefit from small groups if they will have difficulty answering the questions on their own. Providing technology such as computers and/or Internet access may make it possible to link to multiple articles or even look up additional resources to help find answers.

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