Get students involved!
Teaching the First Amendment is enhanced and enriched immeasurably by “doing” the First Amendment. Activities and projects can bring home the importance of First Amendment freedoms in ways that go beyond lessons.
Here are project ideas for getting your students excited about the First Amendment:
- News Story (online or print): Have your students go out into the community and find stories related to any of the five freedoms of the First Amendment. They can interview sources ranging from your city’s mayor to your school’s principal to a fellow student. There are several journalistic styles in which stories can be written: news, feature, opinion, etc. Keep the 5 W’s and H (who, what, when, where, why and how) in mind for news stories and include the most important information at the beginning of the story (inverted-pyramid style). Feature stories can be written in a narrative style and focus more on the human angle of the story. Opinion articles should back up all assertions with facts.
- Photo Essay w/ Story: A photo essay is composed of a series of photos that together help to tell a more complete story than words alone could. Students should work to build trust with the subject of their photos, while maintaining a professional relationship to preserve objectivity. It’s important to include only the best, most telling photos. Photo essays should be concise; include exactly the number of photos necessary to tell the story or make the point. Don’t include every photo that was taken!
- Poster: A poster can be made by hand or digitally using photo-editing or design software, such as Photoshop or InDesign. To create a poster digitally, students should begin by creating a new document with the desired dimensions. Then comes the fun part. Students can get creative; remind them that they are trying to draw attention to their poster to effectively promote First Amendment awareness. For more information on how to get started: Photoshop and InDesign.
- Print Ads: Print ads can be used in publications to promote First Amendment awareness and knowledge of the five freedoms. Common software used to create print ads includes Photoshop and InDesign. Begin by creating a new document with the desired dimensions. Ads can be made in color or black and white. For more information on how to get started: Photoshop and InDesign.
- Web Ads: Web ads are similar to print ads, but they are created with web viewing in mind. They have the same goal, though: promotion of a product or idea. In this case, web ads should promote First Amendment awareness and knowledge of the five freedoms. Web ads are generally small files so that they don’t slow the loading time of a webpage. Most web ads are created in Photoshop. For more information on how to get started: Photoshop and InDesign.
- Educational Video: An educational video should strive to inform its viewers about the First Amendment. It could focus on one freedom or all five. Videos can be shot with any type of camera; students could even use their smartphones. Several video-editing programs are available. Popular programs include Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro.
- Blog: Online blogs are composed of individual entries that are usually focused on a central theme or topic. The possibilities are endless for a First Amendment blog. Your students could work together on one blog or they could maintain separate blogs. There are several free, user-friendly blogging platforms available, including WordPress, Tumblr and Blogger.
- Website: There are plenty of free resources your students can use to help them start up their own website, such as WordPress, Wix or Google Sites. For example, WordPress comes with several built-in design formats and other tools so students won’t have to build their sites from scratch. It’s as easy as signing up, claiming a web address and getting started. Think simple with the website, but don’t be afraid to get creative. Slideshows, videos, polls and other multimedia or interactive features are easy to create and can really spice up the site.
- Short Film/Documentary: In addition to educational videos (above), short films and documentaries are two more ways students could promote and explore the five freedoms of the First Amendment using video as the medium. Work can be shot with any type of camera; students could even use their smartphones. There are several video-editing programs available. Popular programs include Avid Media Composer, Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro.
- Interactive Digital Book: Interactive digital books are a good way for students to learn about and use emerging technologies while also exploring the First Amendment. Searchlights and Sunglasses is a good example of a digital book. Built with HTML5, it uses parallax scrolling, which allows it to have the look of different interactive layers moving at various speeds as the viewer scrolls down. A simpler application for creating digital books is iBooks Author, which is available for Macs and iPads. This user-friendly app offers templates to help create attractive and functional digital books.
OTHER ACTIVITY IDEAS
- Have students conduct a First Amendment survey and report results – how many students in your school can name the five freedoms?
- Have students conduct a news-literacy survey and report results – we cannot protect our rights unless we are informed citizens. How many students at your school know how to tell news from noise, what’s fact versus fiction, what’s credible and what’s questionable? News-literacy resources are available at SchoolJournalism.org.
- Help students create a First Amendment page on the school or other website.
- Publish information in the school newspaper about the First Amendment and news literacy.
- Dedicate an entire school newspaper issue to the First Amendment and news literacy.
- Get a story about the First Amendment published in a local newspaper or other media outlet.
- Ask a local or state government official to issue a proclamation that a particular day is “First Amendment Day” at your school or in your community.
- When planning events for the entire school, get students involved. Students know what First Amendment issues interest them.
- Raise awareness of the First Amendment by having students wear red, white and blue on a designated day.
- Prepare exhibits about the First Amendment.
- Sponsor a reading of banned children’s books.
- Hold public officials accountable. Ask where they stand on the First Amendment and the free flow of information.
- Stand up for others. We all love our own freedom of speech, but it’s important to support the rights of others to express their own opinions.
Much more information can be found online about the software listed above. Search for more tutorials and information about the software and equipment available at your school using your preferred search engine. YouTube is also a good place to find tutorials for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced users.