This lesson was written by Talia Brenner and edited by Katie McCarthy.
This lesson is intended for middle school learners, but can easily be adapted for use by learners of all ages.
Learners will be able to...
Understand what rights are protected by the First Amendment.
Explore examples of these rights.
Cite specific textual evidence to support their analysis of First Amendment photographs.
When you imagine a First Amendment freedom, what do you picture?
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
This amendment ensures the freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly. Over time, laws and court decisions have determined exactly what these freedoms mean, and when they do and do not apply. One thing has remained the same, though: people in the United States use these freedoms to express themselves, connect with others, and advocate for causes that they believe are right.
Activity: The First Amendment in Historical Photos
Show learners the following historic photos. For each one, participants should identify who the people in the photo are, what is happening, and which First Amendment freedoms are being depicted (there are often multiple!). You might display the captions along with the photos, or have learners try to deduce what is happening in the photos before they see the caption.
Think of a moment where you used a right guaranteed in the First Amendment. What was it?
Why do you think these rights are important in a democracy?
What does learning about the First Amendment make you curious about?
There are many excellent teaching resources about First Amendment freedoms, including full lesson plans. The following resources are all available online at no cost.
Bill of Rights Institute
The Bill of Rights Institute has a page of educator resources on the topics of Freedom of Assembly, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of the Press. There is also a Student Rights page, includes First Amendment freedoms. Each page includes “eLessons” in a variety of formats as well as links to high-quality articles about relevant current events.
National Constitution Center
The National Constitution Center’s lesson plans include First Amendment topics. There are First Amendment lesson plans available for middle and high school grades.
The National Archives’ DocsTeach program has activities about the First Amendment for upper elementary and middle school students. The Archives website also has a free eWorkbook, Putting the Bill of Rights to the Test, about the Bill of Rights, and an eBook, Congress Creates the Bill of Rights, about the history of the Bill of Rights’ passage.
First Amendment Freedoms in History
The Selma to Montgomery March
Learn how people in Selma, Alabama worked together to end the unconstitutional denial of voting rights to African Americans.
Learn how a group of determined women selected Lafayette Park, across from the White House, to demonstrate for their right to vote.
Colonel Young's Protest Ride
Learn about Colonel Charles Young's protest ride from Wilberforce, Ohio to Washington, D.C.
The Sewall-Belmont House
Learn about how American women organized to increase their political rights in the 20th century.
The Mary Ann Shadd Cary House
Learn how activist, journalist, and lawyer Mary Ann Shadd Cary worked to bring new opportunities for African Americans freedom seekers.
Glen Echo Park
Trace the evolution of this Maryland site from a chapter of the Chautauqua movement, to an amusement park, to a national park.