Censorship in the Classroom: Understanding Controversial Issues

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Four to five weeks
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It is important for young people to understand their individual rights and what they, as citizens, can do to protect these rights. In addition, young people need to understand the way in which bias and stereotyping are used by the media to influence popular opinion. In this lesson, students examine propaganda and media bias and explore a variety of banned and challenged books, researching the reasons these books have been censored. Following this research, students choose a side of the censorship issue and support their position through the development of an advertising campaign.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Controversial texts are ideal pedagogical tools to foster debate and to guide the development of logical thinking skills and cooperative learning.
  • Texts that teach students about ethnic, racial, and sexual diversity encourage understanding of human differences.
  • By exploring controversial texts, students acquire the tools of rational thought by which they can approach, analyze, and debate controversial issues in a forum of mutual respect and understanding.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • A variety of magazine ads
  • Student response journals




1. For this type of lesson, it is important not only to preview all of the Internet information, but also to make parents and administration aware of the outcomes of the assignment. Begin by sending a letter home to parents, explaining the lesson and the purpose for exploring the topic of censorship. Include a list of books that will be explored in class for those parents who wish to "guide" their child's selections.

Before sending the letter to parents, be sure your school administrator has been given a copy of the letter, along with a list of the curriculum objectives to be covered in the unit. If your schedules permit, allow for a meeting to present the letter to your administrator in person so that you can discuss any concerns before you begin.
2. Preview the censorship and propaganda resources suggested for use in the classroom. Although all sites are educationally appropriate, some may not be appropriate for all reading levels. Identify areas of concern and make sure that all links are active.
3. Create a list of censored or banned books that meet the needs and reading levels of your students. Suggestions can be found at Frequently Challenged Books, and Banned Books Online. It is helpful to identify books on the list that require an advanced reading level. Ask your school and local librarians if they can place selected books from this list on hold for your class.
4. Gather a variety of magazine ads that illustrate propaganda techniques. Preview the Forms of Propaganda website, which lists and defines the different forms of propaganda used in advertising. Nike, Volkswagen, and Gap have had some of the most effective advertising campaigns of the past few years. By examining various advertisements, students will be able to explore the propaganda techniques that are most often employed.

It also may prove beneficial to gather and have students view controversial advertisements, such as for alcohol or cigarettes. Media Awareness Network: Points to Consider webpage discusses the issue of tobacco advertisements aimed at young people and provides students the opportunity to explore how advertisers use propaganda to persuade and sell their product to an audience.
5. Preview a copy of the Bill of Rights and scroll down to read the First Amendment.
6. Print out two copies of the Analyzing Advertisements handout for each student and make a transparency of it for demonstration purposes.
7. Although this lesson plan is conducted over several weeks, some sessions will take longer than others and it is important to incorporate time for reading. Read through the lesson and adjust the timeframe according to the needs of your class and curriculum.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Explore bias and media stereotyping
  • Identify and analyze propaganda techniques and how they are used in magazine and television advertisements to persuade an audience
  • Read and examine a specific banned or challenged book
  • Identify and discuss the issues surrounding the banning or challenging of texts
  • Explore the issue of free speech and how it applies in the classroom
  • Demonstrate their understanding of propaganda techniques by creating an ad campaign to support their position on the censorship of a specific text

Week 1

Session 1

1. Begin with a whole-class discussion of bias and stereotyping. Ask students to identify and define stereotypes and how they impact their decisions. Next, ask them to define bias and identify instances of bias that they may have encountered in their own lives.
2. After the class discussion, have students access Media Awareness Network: Media Stereotyping. While reading this webpage, ask students to make a list of the different stereotypes and include general information about their impact.

Session 2

1. Have students identify some of the most commonly stereotyped groups (e.g., women, minorities, young men) and select one group to research further.
2. Have students again access the Media Stereotyping webpage to read more about the particular group that they selected. Ask them to focus specifically on the areas of representation in the news and entertainment, body image, and gender roles. While students are researching, they should compile their findings about the stereotyped group in a chart.
3. End the session by asking students to discuss the overall concepts of stereotypes and how they impact different aspects of society.

Homework: Ask students to bring in magazine ads for the next class session.

Session 3

As preparation for this session, gather a variety of magazine ads for students to view in class. Students have also been assigned to bring in magazine ads.

1. Have students visit the following websites to review and take notes on the different types of propaganda techniques used in advertising: If you do not have access to a full computer lab, information about the propaganda techniques can be printed out and distributed to students.
2. Give students a copy of the Analyzing Advertisements handout. Together as a class, explore the types of propaganda techniques used in the magazine ads you have selected. Fill out the handout on the overhead as you identify the advertisement and the type of propaganda used.
3. End the session by asking students to identify the propaganda techniques used in the ads they brought to class and explain how they reached their decision.

Homework: Distribute another copy of the Analyzing Advertisements handout. Ask students to watch a few television commercials and complete the handout for homework.

Session 4

1. In small groups, have students discuss the findings from their homework and class work. Ask them to explore the following questions:
  • Which propaganda techniques were used in magazine ads?
  • Which propaganda techniques were used in television ads?
  • Which propaganda techniques were used most frequently?
  • Do the propaganda techniques used in television ads differ from those used in magazine ads?
  • How did television elements such as sound, motion, and repetition of images impact the student as a viewer?
  • How did these television elements contribute to or distract from the ad?
  • What type of stereotyping did students see in television ads?
  • Which medium, television or magazine, has the most impact on its target audience?
  • Why might an advertiser choose a specific magazine or television program in which to advertise?
2. Following the small-group discussion, ask students to share their findings with the class. Explore the similarities and differences between television and magazine ads.
3. End the discussion by asking students to determine what makes a magazine ad effective and what makes a television ad effective. As students share, record their responses on an overhead for all to see and reference. This overhead can be photocopied later and given to students to help them as they create their own ad campaign.
4. Have students explain why they might choose one medium over the other (television vs. magazine) to advertise and give the reasons for their choice.

Session 5

Hand out the list that you prepared of banned and challenged books. Ask students to identify three choices from the list provided. Have them number their choices in order of preference since they will want backup options if their first choice is unavailable. Bring students to the school library to select and check out one of the books from the list. Give them the weekend to visit a local library if certain books cannot be obtained in the school library.

Homework: Ask students to predict in their journal why the book that they selected may have been challenged or banned.

Weeks 2-3

1. Give students a copy of the Bill of Rights and call their attention to the First Amendment. As a class, discuss the issue of free speech and the importance of this right. Ask students to recall any information they may have learned in social studies class regarding the first amendment. Make sure to include a discussion on the roles and responsibility of teachers and schools in this issue.
2. Have students access the following websites to find information about why certain books are challenged or banned: After researching online, have the class brainstorm and create a chart identifying the most common reasons for banning or challenging a book.
3. Ask students to respond to the following questions:
  • What reasons might be given for the banning or challenging of a book?
  • Why might a particular group or person want to protect a child from some of the ideas in the challenged books?
  • Why might it be important for students to read books that explore controversial or sensitive topics?
  • How might controversial books be used to break down stereotypes and bias?
4. As students read the book that they selected, ask them to use their response journals to explore the ways in which the novel focuses on controversial issues. In their journal, ask them to examine the following areas:
  • Any positive or negative bias or stereotyping that appears in the novel
  • The sensitive topics that are explored
  • The reasons why this book might be considered offensive
  • The theme of the novel
  • Any lessons that are taught
  • The techniques the writer uses to express his or her opinion through the novel
  • The way in which the book might be useful in helping students understand differences between themselves and others
  • Their opinion on banning the book, and selections from the novel that helped them form this decision
5. When students have finished reading their book, have them visit Banned Books Online to learn the reasons that the book they read may have been banned or challenged. Ask them to compare their prediction to the reason cited on this website.
6. End this two-week period by having students write a one-paragraph response supporting their decision to ban or not to ban the book that they read. They should include three specific examples from the text, found during their reading research, to support this decision.

Weeks 4-5

Have students create an ad campaign to support their decision to ban or not to ban the book that they read. Students should use their understanding of propaganda techniques when creating their campaign.

  • Some items to include in the campaign would be a magazine ad, a radio ad, a poster, a bumper sticker, and a t-shirt design. Students can be creative in selecting the elements for their campaign.
  • If your school has access to video you might also encourage students to create a television ad or a public service announcement.
  • Students should incorporate at least one example of each of the propaganda techniques they explored in class. Have students brainstorm which techniques are best suited to each particular medium they are creating.
  • As a summary, have students explain, in writing, what message they intend to get across to the audience and what propaganda techniques they incorporated into their ad campaign and why.


  • Have students write letters to the school committee addressing the banning of books in the school system.
  • Have students explore stereotypes and bias in health-related advertisement and services and the use of propaganda and media bias in anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns.
  • Have students research landmark cases that influenced the issue of free speech. Then, follow up by holding a mock court case to debate whether a controversial book should be banned or not in an elementary classroom.
  • Have students debate the censorship of movies or television programs.
  • Have students create a top ten list of the most important books of their time and why the issues addressed in them are crucial to study.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Make observations and anecdotal notes based on class discussion.
  • Evaluate student's written responses on the Analyzing Advertisements handout.
  • Evaluate the entries in each student's response journal relating to the book that they read during the lesson:
  • Low performance: The student states one or two of the central issues raised in the novel very briefly, but does not provide reflection.
  • At or below average: The student states one or two of the central issues raised in the novel briefly and reflects briefly on each.
  • At or above average: The student explores the central issues raised in the novel thoughtfully and critically.
  • Exemplary performance: The student explores numerous issues raised in the novel thoughtfully and critically.

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