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Media Literacy Activity - Three Cases That Define Student Rights

First Amendment in schools. News blurbs and first impressions.

Time: 35 Minutes

Lesson Outcome

Students will be able to compare the impact of three landmark Supreme Court cases on students’ free expression at school today.  Students will use civil discourse skills to explore the tensions between students’ interests in free speech and expression on campus and their schools’ interests in maintaining an orderly learning environment.

Essential Question

To what extent should schools be able to restrict students’ freedom of expression on campus?


Preparation: For every student, make two copies of each of the three case summaries (Tinker v. Des Moines, Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, and Morse v. Frederick). 

  • One copy should delete the Supreme Court’s decision.
  • One copy should keep the Supreme Court’s decision on the page.
  1. First Impressions/Opinions Worksheet. (10 minutes) As students enter, give each a copy of the Free Speech Scenarios Worksheet on page 2 of the activity download.  Also give each student the one-page summary of each case – the version that deletes the Supreme Court’s decision.
  2. Have students discuss and fill out the worksheet with a partner. Point out that the case descriptions on the worksheet contain about as much information as a typical news media mention that they base their opinions on every day. The form asks students to jot down their own opinion about whether students’ First Amendment rights have been violated at school in each case.
  3. Reading and Analysis. (10 minutes) When the worksheets are complete, have students read out loud the one-page summaries of each case. As students follow along with the readings, they put a star * next to points that support the students and a pound sign # next to points that support the school in each scenario.
  4. Comparison and Discussion. (15 minutes) Now, distribute the second version of each case summary that includes the Supreme Court’s decision.  Lead students in a discussion comparing their first impressions to the Supreme Court rulings.  Explore the differences.