Skip to contentContribute to ReadWriteThink / RSS / FAQs / Site Demonstrations / Contact Us / About Us



Contribute to ReadWriteThink

ReadWriteThink couldn't publish all of this great content without literacy experts to write and review for us. If you've got lessons plans, videos, activities, or other ideas you'd like to contribute, we'd love to hear from you.



Professional Development

Find the latest in professional publications, learn new techniques and strategies, and find out how you can connect with other literacy professionals.



Did You Know?

Your students can save their work with Student Interactives.

More more

HomeClassroom ResourcesLesson Plans

Lesson Plan

Freedom of Speech and Automatic Language: Examining the Pledge of Allegiance

E-mail / Share / Print This Page / Print All Materials (Note: Handouts must be printed separately)


Freedom of Speech and Automatic Language: Examining the Pledge of Allegiance

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 50-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Dawn Hogue

Dawn Hogue

Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin


National Council of Teachers of English



Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice



Most students in American classrooms know the words to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. The words are a kind of automatic language. We say them easily—perhaps every day, but we may not think in detail about what we are saying. This lesson plan asks students to explore this rote learning and their own right to freedom of speech by examining the Pledge of Allegiance from a historical and personal perspective and in relationship to fictional situations in novels they have read. Using a novel such as Speak by Laurie Halse Andersen or Nothing But the Truth by Avi, students learn how the novel's protagonist and other characters in the story deal with free speech issues in varying ways and are invited to think about pledges that they are willing to make and how they express their freedom of speech.

back to top



Interactive Venn Diagram: Students can use this online tool to compare the pledge of the United States to that of another country. It can also be used to organize ideas for a variety of comparison and contrast activities.

back to top



In "By Design or By Habit," Frank Hubbard asks his students to think carefully about the words that we say as a result of rote memorization, such as the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, the "Star-Spangled Banner," or a religious prayer or quotation. Hubbard calls such memorized pieces "automatic language." They are pieces "with language that has been so routinized or memorized that its user finds the language invisible, or nearly so" (4). By examining language word-by-word, students are challenged to "focus on the intention, the meaning behind the words, thus helping them reclaim something from its automatic status and restore it to a living and vital form" (4). Not internalizing such automatic language can have unexpected consequences. A recent Knight Foundation report "found that three out of four students say either that they do not think about the First Amendment or that they take its rights for granted." (Aronson, 2006)

In this lesson, students think not only about the words they say when they recite the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance, but also the specific words of the First Amendment to the Constitution and what the right to freedom of speech means on a personal level.

Further Reading

Hubbard, Frank 1984. "By Design or By Habit: Writing and Learning about Automatic Language." Courses for Change in Writing: A Selection from the NEH/Iowa Institute. Eds. Carl H. Klaus and Nancy Jones. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, pp. 3-21.


Aronson, Deb. "The First Amendment: A Powerful Way to Teach Critical Thinking." Council Chronicle (Sept. 2006).

back to top