Article

Teaching Engaged Citizenship: First Amendment Freedoms

Men typing on machines

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution ensures the freedoms of speech, press, religion, petition, and assembly. Over time, laws and court decisions have molded exactly what these freedoms mean, and the situations in which 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 students the following historic photos. For each one, students 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 students try to deduce what is happening in the photos before they see the caption.

Photo 1

Men typing on machines
Linotype operators at the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, April 1941. Photograph by Lee Russell.

Library of Congress, Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, sa 8c00825 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8c00825, https://lccn.loc.gov/2017788930.

Photo 2
Men standing at a table. Some wear Jewish religious clothing.
Crew members celebrate the Jewish holiday of Passover aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, April 7, 1985.

Combined Military Service Digital Photographic Files, 1982-2007, National Archives, https://catalog.archives.gov/id/6417837.

Photo 3
A man talking to people holding signs
Boston Mayor Kevin White addressing protesters at City Hall, March 15, 1968.

Brearley Collection, Boston Public Library, https://ark.digitalcommonwealth.org/ark:/50959/0v838d722.

Photo 4
Political cartoon depicting Andrew Jackson as a donkey
Political cartoon mocking Andrew Jackson and his administration, 1833. Drawing by Anthony Imbert.

Library of Congress, American cartoon print filing series, cph 3a08876 //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a08876, https://lccn.loc.gov/2008661756.

Photo 5
People marching in a Pride Parade. They have a sign that says, "LGBTQ Muslims and Friends."
Members of the Al-Fatiha Foundation at the San Francisco LGBT Pride Parade, June 29, 2008. Photo by Franco Folini.

“Al-Fatiha Muslim Gays - Gay Parade 2008 in San Francisco (2626954534),” WikiMedia Commons, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Fatiha_Foundation#/media/File:Al-Fatiha_Muslim_Gays_-_Gay_Parade_2008_in_San_Francisco_(2626954534).jpg.

Additional Resources

There are many excellent teaching resources about First Amendment freedoms, including full lesson plans. The following resources are all available online at no cost.

NewseumED 
NewseumED has a wealth of lesson plans about First Amendment topics. Search “first amendment” or other keywords to yield dozens of results for elementary, middle, and high school grades. Free registration is required to access some resources. The website has other educational resources, as well, such as videos and historic artifacts.

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.

Teaching Tolerance
Teaching Tolerance has lesson plans at the elementary, middle, and high school levels about the freedom of speech and religion.

Constitutional Sources Project
The Constitutional Sources Project (also known as ConSource) has multiple lesson plans about the Bill of Rights. The website also has video lectures and an annotated, readable collection of U.S. founding documents.

National Archives
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.

AnnenbergClassroom.org
Part of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics, AnnenbergClassroom.org has lesson plans about Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech. The website also has videos about Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Speech, and useful timelines depicting the Freedoms of Press, Speech, and Religion, as well the First Amendment more broadly. All of these resources are available on the website’s Teaching the Constitution page.

Last updated: August 21, 2020