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Lesson Plan

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

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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


Student Objectives

Session One

Session Two

Session Three

Session Four


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • explore the history and meaning of the Pledge of Allegiance.

  • define critical words in the Pledge, focusing on their intention and meaning.

  • read the First Amendment and discuss the right of citizens to speak freely or to not speak, as they choose.

  • make connections between the novel and fictional characters and their own free speech choices.

  • write an original pledge that promises to be true or faithful to something important to them.

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Session One

  1. Begin the session by inviting the students to share what they know about the First Amendment and Freedom of Speech.

  2. Ask them to make connections to the Pledge of Allegiance.

  3. Provide the students with an overview of the project—looking at First Amendment Rights and the Pledge of Allegiance.

  4. Read about the history of The Pledge of Allegiance in this FOX news article, the Wikipedia entry, the Explanation of the Pledge of Allegiance, or a text from your library. Students can read the text online or you can provide printouts.

  5. As the students read the article, ask them to answer questions from the Examining the U.S. Pledge.

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Session Two

  1. As a class, examine the First Amendment. This can be done online or with a printed hard copy.

  2. Invite students to share their thoughts:

    • What does the First Amendment mean?

    • Why is it important?
  3. Ask students to talk about how the First Amendment plays a role in their lives. Encourage student participation.

  4. Examine the Free Speech and the Pledge background sheet.

  5. Discuss the role of the First Amendment in the novel that your class is reading. For instance, in Speak, Melinda chooses not to speak at all because she has something terrible that she cannot tell anyone else. The issue of free speech is brought out in Mr. Neck’s class when he refuses to listen to points of view that conflict with his own even though he opened a debate, which is intended to be a discussion of varying ideas, supported with evidence.

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Session Three

  1. Examine the Supreme Court decision regarding a citizen’s right to choose whether or not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

  2. Invite the students to share their reactions to the court's decision.

  3. Discuss what making a pledge means (making a promise) and that promises are not to be taken lightly or offered frivolously.

  4. Review key definitions from the Pledge of Allegiance: pledge, allegiance, republic, indivisible, and liberty. If desired, share Pledge of Allegiance Explained by Red Skelton or the American Legion Flag Code.

  5. Discuss the Looking at Other Pledges handout: read the alternative pledge and show how it mirrors the national pledge. See the Websites in the Resources section for additional pledges and oaths that can be used to supplement your class discussion.

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Session Four

  1. Examine the Pledge Writing Rubric with the students, so they know the expectations and targets for their own writing.

  2. Using the Writing Your Own Pledge handout, help students brainstorm ideas for their own pledges, each a personal promise to be true to something they believe in, following the style of the national pledge.

  3. (Optional) Refer to the Purdue Online Writing Lab exercise on parallel structure if students need to work on that skill before writing their own pledge.

  4. Students can publish their own pledges using the ReadWriteThink Printing Press, and create a flyer, brochure, booklet, or newspaper.

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  • Conduct ongoing class discussions about free speech and the First Amendment, which would enrich students’ understanding of the novel and of their rights and responsibilities as American citizens. Are the characters in the novel simply expressing their right to free speech or is the situation more complicated? How does peer pressure play into the situation?

  • Discuss how students can respect other citizens’ right to free speech (staying quiet while others recite the pledge if they choose, disagree with ideas and not attacking a person, etc.)

  • Ask students to research other Supreme Court cases regarding students and free speech, drawing conclusions about the court’s decision and whether or not they agree with it. Ask students to present their information to the class or a community group in one of the following ways:

    • Speech

    • Essay

    • Web page

    • PowerPoint

  • Research accounts of American citizens being shunned or harassed for expressing unpopular views. One example is when the Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines told her concert audience that they were ashamed of President Bush. Outraged fans have boycotted concerts and some radio stations have refused to play their music. Are there times to restrain from expressing opinions or is it always wrong to stifle views of citizens? Read about at least three different cases before you formulate your opinion.

  • Think of other books, movies, songs, or other media that you remember having to do with free speech. What was the idea presented? How was it important? How has your perception of that book (etc.) changed now that you’ve reflected on free speech more specifically?

  • Research pledges of other countries. Use the Venn Diagram to compare the two pledges.

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  • As students discuss free speech, the pledge, and their readings, listen for comments that indicate that students understand the specific meaning of the words and the underlying meaning of the pledge.

  • Additionally, monitor student interaction and progress during class discussion to assess social skills and assist any students having problems with the exploration. Look for evidence in students’ contributions to the discussion as well as in their individual work in response to the Examining the U.S. Pledge, Looking at Other Pledges, and the Writing Your Own Pledge sheets that they have engaged in the process of moving from automatic language to deeper understanding and that they have explored the related ideas in their readings.

  • For formal assessment, use the Pledge Rubric to shape your response and feedback.

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