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Tinker v. Des Moines

Little did 13-year-old Mary Beth Tinker know that wearing a black armband to school would open ‘the schoolhouse gate’ to student free-speech issues for the next 50 years.

Three Cases That Define Student Rights

To commemorate the 50th anniversary in 2019 of Tinker v. Des Moines, widely considered the watershed of students’ free speech rights at school, some federal courts are hosting high school students at First Amendment programs for Law Day and throughout the year. 

What’s Different About This Activity?
  • Stimulates Higher-Order Thinking
  • Involves Every Learning Style
  • Uses Collaborative Learning Methods
  • Applies Landmark Cases to a Contemporary Scenario
  • Includes a Media Literacy Activity
  • Assesses Learning Through Political Cartooning  

These courtroom and classroom activities give young people real-life experience with landmark Supreme Court cases that have an impact on the state of their freedom of expression at school today.

Using these resources students compare three cases, starting with Tinker v. Des Moines, and two cases that followed – Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and Morse v. Frederick

Students examine documents in a collaborative learning jigsaw activity; compare the three cases; use civil discourse skills to apply precedent to a contemporary school walkout; and play all of the roles in a scripted version of oral arguments before the Supreme Court in Tinker v. Des Moines.

How to Use These Resources

Each activity is designed for use in courtrooms by judges and classrooms by teachers after a quick, read-through of the resources. Most activities can stand alone, and all can be mixed and matched to contract or expand into the time available.

These activities incorporate input from students, teachers, and lawyers so that they are interactive and deal with teen-relevant issues, meet social studies standards, and are legally sound.

Each activity is posted with easy-to-follow instructions, or download the complete activity package. They are presented with time estimates for each, ranging from 35 minutes to 50 minutes.

Warm Up/Introduction

Media Literacy Activity (35 minutes): Students read a news blurb about each landmark case and report their first impressions/opinions. After they read the case, students compare their first impressions to their new understandings.

Courtroom and Classroom Activities

Collaborative Activities: Jigsaw and Comparisons (2 activities, each 45 minutes)

  • Using a jigsaw format, students work in small groups to study the three landmark cases. They 1) learn about their assigned landmark case; 2) teach their peers about their case; 3) learn from peers in small groups about the other two cases. 
  • Students 1) apply Tinker v. Des Moines to a student walkout scenario; 2) compare the rulings in the three landmark cases; and 3) cycle through the roles of attorneys and judges to experience different perspectives on the same issues.

Scripted Supreme Court Simulation (50 minutes): Students participate as justices and attorneys in a scripted Tinker v. Des Moines Supreme Court oral argument.  After the simulation, they discuss excerpts from the majority and dissenting opinions.


Assessment: Political Cartooning (30 minutes): Students demonstrate what they have learned by drawing a political cartoon that illustrates the impact of the landmark cases on the contemporary school walkout scenario.