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Understanding the First Amendment and Student Press Rights


Freedom of Speech rights, especially when it comes to students in any sort of student publication, can be very complex, but there are some overall principles that can lead to a solid understanding of the basics. This lesson provides details and background on what rights student journalists generally possess, gives resources for understanding how any local policies affect those rights and supplies scenarios and links to promote further discussion and involvement.


  • Students will understand the specific sources of the rights of student journalists.
  • Students will recognize the most important details to consider when seeking to determine their own rights.
  • Students will appreciate what can be done to solidify and promote student press rights further.

Common Core State Standards

 CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1Initiate 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.SL.11-12.4Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7Integrate 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.


50 minutes or could be done asynchronously

Materials / resources

Presentation: Student Press Rights Presentation

Handout: Student Press Rights Scenarios

Assessment Handout: Student Press Rights InDepth Response

Lesson step-by-step

Please note: You can do this lesson through a remote platform like Zoom, using breakout rooms for small group discussion. If you do not have video conferencing available, you can also send the presentation directly to the students via email or a posted discussion board and have them respond there. 

Step 1 — Introduction/Pre-Quiz (10 minutes) 

Briefly introduce the topic of student rights by testing students on the five questions at the start of the presentation. You may call on students for each possible answer for each one or require all students to write possible answers before revealing and discussing them. 

Step 2 — Presentation (25 minutes) 

Work through the middle portion of the presentation, attempting to come to a somewhat clear outline of what rights student journalists have. Feel free to invite discussion or ask for comments from students about what might work or not work or about what they know about their own school board and publication policies. Again, this can be done using video conferencing or students can view the presentation remotely and work in small groups over phones or email to discuss the cases.

Step 3 — Scenarios Groups and Full-Class Discussion (15 minutes) 

In a traditional classroom, you would have the scenarios printed out and cut up into squares, and then have students in groups (or individual, if preferred), discuss the scenario they have been handed. For a remote version of this lesson, you can share the four scenarios with the whole class, assign each a number and then assign students (either in groups in breakout rooms over video or on their own at home) to explore each one. Your follow-up on this step will depend on your platform. If you are using video conferencing, bring the class back into a central room and ask someone from each scenario to discuss their thoughts to each scenario one at a time, following the order in the presentation. (You may also just have the entire class discuss each one as a class.) The goal should be to find ways to apply the specifics laid out earlier in the presentation and to get into specifics about how your school does or should operate. There is not necessarily a single, correct answer to find.


If you have more time, you or the students may also visit some of the links throughout the presentation for more information or search for and discuss your own school board’s student publication policy and/or your publication’s editorial policy.


Look through responses to the “Student Press Rights InDepth Response” (explained, below, under “Extension”) for more specific and individual assessment.


You may use the “Student Press Rights InDepth Response” handout to force students to grapple in more depth with a more specific scenario. These can be completed and turned in individually and discussed, later, to see what different students thought and what reasoning they used.

You may have students write an op-ed piece about the importance and/or place of student journalists and student press rights and submit to the Student Press Law Center for its“Year of the Student Journalist” celebration:

If you have additional time or class periods, it would be excellent to guide your students through the creation of improvement of a publication editorial policy or through greater understanding of their own school board policy. If deemed necessary, students could contact the SPLC or the New Voices movement or the JEA’s Scholastic Press Rights Committee to look for assistance/advice on getting the school board to improve its student publications policy, if deemed necessary.

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