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Crafting the argument against prior review and censorship


Advisers and students need to outline and build a case against prior review and restraint prior to a conflict with administration. They also should discuss the importance of designated forum status as outlined in the “Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism.” This lesson should allow students to review the problems with prior review and the lack of educational and ethical value of both prior review and prior restraint. This will help students as they develop a staff manual later in the unit, creating talking points to help start a discussion between advisers and administrators


  • Students will learn how to counter common administrative arguments for prior review and prior restraint.
  • Students will review court cases previously discussed.
  • Students will write the arguments out after collaborating on the answers.

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2b Develop the topic with well-chosen, relevant, and sufficient facts, extended definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples appropriate to the audience’s knowledge of the topic.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


100 minutes (two 50-minute class periods)


Handout: Principal’s guide chart

Handout: Handout 1

Handout: Handout 2

Rubric: Day 2

Press Rights Minute #8 – Eliminating Prior Review

Note: This lesson works best after students have a basic history of scholastic press law.

Lesson step-by-step Day 1

1. Preparation

Photocopy and cut the statements from Handout 1 into strips so each student will have one scenario to begin class. Also, make student copies of the chart for Step 2.

2. Review — 10 minutes

Project the chart on the board. Using the following chart as a guide, review the following cases as a class by asking students to come up to the board and fill in the information as prompted.

3. Activity — 35 minutes

Have students split into two equal groups and form two circles – one inside the other.  If you have an odd number of students ask one pair to participate as if they were one person. Distribute the cut statements from Handout 1 to the students on the interior – as you pass these out, make sure you pass these out in order (1-5) and then repeat as many times as necessary. The students on the inside of the circle are the readers. The students on the outside of the circle should not have the cut statements, and they will be the recorders of the information. The students should have paper to write down the comments. The student on the interior should read the statement. Then, together, the students should brainstorm how to counter the arguments. The students should use the content from the court cases chart as discussion points. Students should take notes on what they discuss. When five minutes have elapsed, ask the students to pass their statement to the person on their right. This should keep the pairs consistent, but should alter the scenario provided. This should be repeated until all students are exposed to all of the scenarios.

4. Self evaluation — 5 minutes

When discussion has been completed, students should look at their notes as a pair and star their best counterargument and circle their weakest. Students should hold onto this sheet until next class meeting time.

Lesson step-by-step Day 2

1. Preparation

Using copies of handout 2, cut comments and answers into strips so that each comment and answer is separated into its own slip. Put the cut up slips of the handout into an envelope (one cut up copy of each full handout should go into a single envelope). You should have enough for a group of four to have one envelope. (For example, if you have 36 students, you would need nine envelopes.) Groups should re-use handout 1 from yesterday with their notes and observations.

2. Review content using Press Rights Minute audio clip — 5 minutes

Play the audio and ask students to how this relates to what they did in class the previous day.

3. Grouping — 5 minutes

Group students into groups of 4, perhaps pairing each reader and recorder from yesterday with another pair.

4. Envelope activity — 20 minutes

Teacher should hand out envelopes with the scenarios and accompanying suggestions for rebuttal. Students should pair the counterarguments with the original statements. Students should compare their arguments with the ones provided. Students should look at what they circled and starred from the previous day. Ask students to note how the provided response compared to what they crafted the previous day in pairs. Does the new information provided help strengthen the response? If so, how?

5. Assessment — 20 minutes

Student groups should craft responses to each comment using both the provided commentary and their own arguments. They should turn these in by the end of the hour. Teacher should assess responses using the rubric provided.

Additional note for teacher: Most points are further referenced in the “Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism.”


Ask students to listen to the Press Rights Minute #16: Positive Administrator Relations and Press Rights Minute #5: 10 Tips for Dealing with Censorship. Students should then brainstorm three additional ways they can work (without promoting censorship) to build a bridge between student press and administration. They could also formulate a plan to enact in the case of censorship.