Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Lesson: Overview of the First Amendment


Overview of the First Amendment


A lesson on determining the five freedoms in the First Amendment


Students will learn the Five Freedoms as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Students will collaborate on what they know about the First Amendment and its relevance to their lives. Students also will examine how this document has remained relevant. This is the first lesson in the law and ethics unit.


  • Students will learn and understand the Five Freedoms outlined in the First Amendment.
  • Students will begin to see how these Freedoms are present in their lives.
  • Students will understand how the First Amendment, which was written more than 200 years ago, has withstood the test of time.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.9 Analyze seminal U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (e.g., Washington’s Farewell Address, the Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”), including how they address related themes and concepts.
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.RI.11-12.9 Analyze seventeenth-, eighteenth-, and nineteenth-century foundational U.S. documents of historical and literary significance (including The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address) for their themes, purposes, and rhetorical features.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills — Student Outcomes

Core Subjects and 21st Century Themes Civic literacy
Creativity and Innovation Think creatively, work creatively with others
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Make judgments and decisions
Communication and Collaboration Communicate clearly, collaborate with others
Information Literacy Use and manage information
Media Literacy Analyze media
Social and Cross-Cultural Skills Interact effectively with others


45-60 minutes


First Amendment

Butcher paper and markers

Small slip of paper to be used as an exit ticket

Answer key: Possible Answers

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 4 minutes

While students enter class, ask them to name as many First Amendment freedoms as they can. Then, tell them how many they have correct. Ask students to remember this number. Open class discussion by asking students to represent, using fist-to-five, how many of the freedoms they remembered. (For example, if they knew two, they would hold up two fingers.) Ask students to look around the room. Then, together brainstorm and write all five on the board, so they are listed at the front of the room.

2. Text reading — 1 minute

Either ask students to silently read or have a member of class read the First Amendment. (Teachers could either have this written on the board or displayed using the enclosed First Amendment.)

First Amendment: 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.

3. Large group discussion —  application of the First Amendment (10-15 minutes)

Teacher should tell students this document has been relevant for the last 220 years.

Teacher should then ask students to list the technological advancements that have happened since the First Amendment was adopted Dec. 15, 1791? (Teacher could list these as students provide answers. These answers will vary.)

Teacher should ask students why is this longevity important to understand. (Answers may range from the First Amendment still being able to withstand the test of time to the forethought of the creators to make the 45-word document general enough for future interpretation.)

4. Small group discussion: What does each freedom mean? — 15-20 minutes

Put class in groups of four to five students. Hand out large paper (butcher paper) if possible.  Students should divide the large paper into five sections and label each with the Five Freedoms. Students should use markers to write what each Freedom means in their own words and provide at least one example for each freedom. (For example, Freedom of the Press means having a press free of governmental intervention. One example might be having a free high school press in which the students make content decisions.) Student groups should have one person who reports and one who scribes the main points of the discussion on the paper. Another member will report to the large group in the next lesson segment. The remaining member(s) will be responsible for keeping the group on task.

5. Small group reports — 10-15 minutes

Each group should present one of the freedoms as discussed. When one group finishes, the other groups should discuss and add their definitions as the groups cycle through. They also should share the real-world examples they found. This will continue until five groups have discussed what they found. (Please see included answer key for possible answers.)

6. Exit slips — 5 minutes

Students should put everything away except a writing utensil, and teacher should erase the board. Teacher should pass out exit slips and instruct students to write down as many of the Five Freedoms as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Teacher collects the slips as students leave the room.

7. Extension

Teacher could post the papers around the room as a reminder of today’s work.