Standard Lesson

What Are My Rights? Exploring and Writing About the Constitution

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 1-hour sessions
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Studying the Constitution can seem less than vital to students who are most interested in issues that directly affect them. This lesson engages students in a study of the First Amendment by using it to explore youth curfews, demonstrating the impact that the law can have on their everyday lives. Using the text of the First Amendment as a starting point, students discuss whether youth curfews are constitutional. They then use a case study to closely examine both sides of the issue, debate the issue with their peers, hypothesize about the possibility of a youth curfew in their own community, and create a blog about the issue.


From Theory to Practice

  • The pedagogic shift in recognizing "writing as a social act" encourages students to "write themselves into the world through producing rhetorical documents that intervene materially in contexts beyond the academy." Thus, educators will ask students "to write purpose-driven documents for audiences beyond the classroom."(pp. 8-9)
  • Socially inclined nonacademic writing theory is important to our understanding of service-learning composition courses because students will recognize writing as a social and rhetorical act rather than just a packet of portable skills.
  • In addition to advancing compelling rhetorical goals, the writing-for-the-community approach to composition encourages meaningful connections between school and society, knowledge and experience, and individual and community.

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.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 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.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access
  • Large chart paper
  • Index cards



1. You will need computers with Internet access for every one or two students in your class. If necessary, reserve Sessions 1 and 3 in your school's computer lab. Session 2 can be conducted in your classroom if you print off copies of the news articles listed in the Resources section for your students.
2. Visit and familiarize yourself with the websites listed in the Resources section. Bookmark these sites on the computers students will be using or print and make copies of the news articles for your students as suggested in Step 1.
3. Create character cards for the role-play in Session 2. There are seven characters as follows:
  • Teen who works at the movie theater
  • Police officer in a high-crime area
  • Mother of three who works nights
  • Middle school student
  • City-council member running for reelection
  • Truancy officer
  • Owner of a corner store
Each card should contain a description of the person; you will need three or four of each character depending on how many students are in your class. Every student will get a card.
4. If you do not already have a classroom blog, create one for this lesson. Check your school's Internet policy to ensure that you and your students can view and post to a blog and to find out what websites are preferable for you to use. Some schools filter blogging sites so you may need to speak with your technology coordinator ahead of time to get approval.

If they are approved, Blogger or LiveJournal are free resources you can use. You will need to collect your students' e-mail addresses to give them permission to post on the blog. You can choose to create a blog that is viewable only to your class or one that anyone can see and comment on. You will need to have the blog created and ready for use during Session 3.
5. You may want to search for blogs on a similar topic (free speech, the Constitution, curfews) to share as examples with your students during Session 3. Please bear in mind that blogs may contain inappropriate content; review them carefully before sharing with the class. Possible examples include:
6. Prepare a set of classroom debate rules to share with students before the mock public forum during Session 2. You want students to understand that a debate is much more than a verbal argument; it is a public way that two opposing sides can learn more about how and why the other side thinks. Debate rules might include:
  • Speakers at a debate should only participate when it is their specific time to do so (as instructed by the moderator).
  • Only one person should speak at a time.
  • Participants must adhere to time limits for speeches and responses.
  • In order to maintain the highest standard of order, all speeches and responses should be made to the moderator rather than to the opposing side of the debate.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Analyze the constitutionality of youth curfews using the First Amendment as a resource to explore both sides of the issue
  • Research and synthesize opinions about this topic and use this information to create a public statement from the perspective of a character interested in the curfew issue
  • Apply what they have learned to write an argument either for or against a youth curfew in their own community
  • Define the characteristics of blog entries and then demonstrate comprehension by writing their own
  • Evaluate each other's work, both in a peer review and by commenting on posts in a class blog

Session 1: Introduce the Issue

Before the class arrives, write the following question on the board: Do local governments have the right to impose curfews on citizens under the age of 18?

1. Students should write a response to the question for five minutes.
2. Coordinate a pair-share discussion. After three minutes, pairs join and make groups of four, and continue discussing the issue for a few more minutes. Groups of four will join and make groups of eight as students continue to listen to other viewpoints on the topic. Eventually the entire class will regroup having heard a variety of opinions. Some students might make reference to the First Amendment in this discussion. Use this to transition into the next part of the lesson.
3. Have students get into their original pairs and use the National Constitution Center: Interactive Constitution: First Amendment website to read both the text of the First Amendment and the explanatory text that appears beneath it. After reading, have students identify and summarize each clause of the amendment. Review responses while individual students write clause summaries on chart paper in the front of the room for reference.
4. After a brief discussion of the individual clauses and summaries, have students work independently to analyze the First Amendment by writing a one-paragraph response to the question: What is the purpose of the First Amendment?
5. Ask students to reconsider the opening question but pose the question in new ways. For example:
  • Does a youth curfew violate the First Amendment?
  • What are the reasons a community might give for implementing a youth curfew?
  • Are youth curfews effective?
Discuss briefly.
6. Students should get into the groups of four they met with at the beginning of the session and brainstorm as many reasons as possible for both sides of the debate about curfews. Explain clearly that they should keep an open mind as they work to recognize the validity of both sides of the argument. They can use A Status Report on Youth Curfews in America's Cities to supplement their own ideas and discover additional reasons for and against a curfew. Each group should construct a large chart outlining both reasons for and against youth curfews. Students can use a bulleted format for the brainstorm chart, and all reasons should be written in their own words. When they are finished, students should hang their charts at the front of the room.
7. Challenge students to choose the most compelling reason, either for or against a youth curfew, from the lists. As the closing "exit ticket" for the class, each student will write on a small piece of paper the reason they find most compelling either for or against a youth curfew and briefly explain why they chose this reason.

Note: "Exit tickets" give a sense of closure to the class and will allow you to informally assess individual student's understanding. Students should hand their tickets to you at the door before exiting the classroom.

Session 2: Hold a Public Forum

1. Greet students at the classroom door and hand each one a role-play card as they enter (see Preparation, Step 3). Once each student has a card, explain that they should work independently to decide where the person on their card would stand on the issue of a youth curfew. Students can look at the news articles you bookmarked (see Preparation, Step 2) to find ideas that supplement their initial thoughts.
2. After working briefly on their own, students should team up with other students who have the same role-play card. Each small group will work together and write a public statement from the perspective of their character. You should establish the setting and the audience for the public statement before students begin their work. Explain that they are writing in preparation for a public forum or a meeting in which people express their point of view on an issue relevant to them and their community. Write a list of all the identities on the role-play cards on the board so students can see them and know who is in their audience. You should circulate to make sure that students use the news articles to supplement their own writing.
3. Review the rules of the debate with the class (see Preparation, Step 6). Offer students the chance to add to or modify these rules. Explain to students that they will be evaluated on the strength of their arguments, as well as on how closely they follow the rules of the debate. Their public statements must demonstrate an awareness of both sides of the issue and the audience.
4. Hold a mock public forum in which students present their statements and debate the issue of a youth curfew from the perspectives of the various characters.
5. Hold a brief closing discussion in which students consider the possibility of a curfew where they live. Questions for discussion include:
  • Are youth curfews constitutional? Why or why not?
  • How common are curfews around the country and in your area?
  • How effective are curfews at keeping communities safe?
  • Are there any alternatives to youth curfews? How effective are these alternatives?

Homework (due at the beginning of Session 3): Using the concluding discussion as a starting point, students should write an argument either for or against a youth curfew in their city or town. Their audience is similarly aged students who are studying the issue. You may want to divide the class into two groups, assigning one position to each, to make sure you have arguments for both sides.

Session 3: Blog About the Issue

1. Show students the blog you have created and talk about how blogs can serve as forums for opinion. Inform students that blogs are often based on a theme or topic and interested participants can think, write, and post directly about this specific issue. Since blogs are current discussions of topical matters, blog entries should always include a date and a heading. Make sure students understand that blogs also have space for visitors to leave comments about the entries. If possible, show students some sample blogs (see Preparation, Step 5). Tell them they will each be working to prepare a post to publish on the blog.
2. Students should use the paragraphs they wrote for homework to help them write the first draft of their blog entry. Before students begin to work, present and discuss what a good persuasive blog entry should include:
  • The date
  • A heading that introduces the topic
  • Clearly expressed opinions about the issue
  • At least two other sources as support for these opinions (students can use the articles you provided in Session 2 as well as A Status Report on Youth Curfews in America's Cities to find supporting evidence)
The blog author should also be aware of his or her audience. In this case, students should speak to interested teens and should persuade those who are less interested to engage with the topic as an important one. Write these guidelines on the board; students will use them to evaluate each other's work.
3. Students should work with a partner to edit the first draft of their paragraphs. Circulate and meet with each team to help keep them on track. Students should use the guidelines you wrote on the board to help them review each other's work.
4. Once revisions are complete, each student should post his or her position statement to the blog.
5. Talk about blog comments. Comments are what make blogs unique and interactive; they offer readers an opportunity to express agreement or disagreement with a point of view presented. A good comment makes reference to a specific point in the blog and either supports or refutes it with additional evidence.

Homework: Each student should comment on at least two other blog posts.


Schedule a whole-class review of the blog comments a few days after the conclusion of the lesson. You can also return to the text of the First Amendment and pose the following question for discussion: Does the First Amendment's protection of "freedom of expression" apply to 21st-century technologies like websites and blogs?

Student Assessment / Reflections


  • Review students’ charts from Session 1. Students should be able to move beyond a one-sided analysis of a youth curfew and see the issue from a variety of perspectives.
  • Review students’ one-paragraph analyses of the purpose of the First Amendment.
  • Students should demonstrate an understanding of the spirit and meaning of this amendment.
  • Review exit tickets from Session 1. Students should begin to take a stand on the youth curfew issue.
  • Review students’ statements and evaluate each team’s performance at the public forum in Session 2 on the strength of their arguments, how closely they followed the rules of the debate, how well they demonstrate an understanding of both sides of the issue, and how well they acknowledge and address the audience.
  • Evaluate students’ blog entries and comments using the criteria outlined in Session 3.


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