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Lesson: Protest Songs and the First Amendment


Protest Songs and the First Amendment


Students may not recognize how the First Amendment pertains to them or how something more than 200 years old is relevant to today’s society. This lesson allows students to explore songs of protest through research and presentation. Students will make direct links to societal issues of today.


  • Students will research an assigned protest song.
  • Students will explore the historical context of the song.
  • Students will present their findings to the class.
  • Students will draw connections to these issues in today’s society.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.11-12.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning and evidence and to add interest.


150 minutes

Materials / resources

Slideshow: Songs of Protest

Handout: Songs of Protest

Video: “Freedom Sings: The Songs that Shaped America”

Teacher resource: Timing for video

Lyrics (one per person, per group)

Lesson step-by-step

Part 1: Slideshow — 50 minutes

Use the slideshow to guide class activities. Some slides include additional information in the teacher notes.

Part 2: Presentations (with video) — 100 minutes

Students should present what they found about their chosen song and what they think its message is, and then play the video segment pertaining to their song. However, for both “Short People” and “Society’s Child” students should deliver the presentation before the introduction because the introduction covers what students should address.


As a check for understanding or daily grade, teachers may evaluate the worksheet students completed, including the reflection portion.


Teachers could accommodate learners’ needs through the assignment of the lyrics. Some song lyrics are more straightforward (“I am Woman,” “American Skin,” “The Pill,” “What’s Goin’ On”) while others are a bit more obscure (“Choice of Colors,” “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Mercy Mercy Me,” “Short People”— because of sarcasm, “Biggest Thing that Man has Ever Done,” “Society’s Child”).


Option 1: Students should find another protest song on their own and repeat the process (including presentation).

Option 2: Students could write an opinion piece on the need for voices of dissent.