Is it Really "Ok" to Say What We are Thinking?

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SWBAT...demonstrate understanding of the effects of our constitutional ideals through debating the pros and cons of having freedom of speech.

Big Idea

Life changes. People change. Ideals change as society grows and matures. What was good for mankind years ago may not continue to be good for people of today. To ensure we protect our freedoms we need to evaluate what ideals we still believe in.

Creating the Purpose

10 minutes

In this lesson I want students to apply what they have learned to a debate about an issue that was brought up in the Bill of Rights lesson- Freedom of Speech.  I know this is a heated and sensitive issue that can stir up some emotions if delved into too closely but one that students can relate to because of their age and emotional sensitivities. I feel current issues create the strongest emotions with students and create young adults who grow up caring about the big things. 

I shared today that we are going to look at the Bill of Rights to determine if there are any laws that may need changing to help protect our freedoms and rights.

I share that Benjamin Franklin believed in the value of the right to freedom of speech. But then add that life was different back then without internet and TV. I ask,  "Is this right still a good thing to give to everyone today?' I let them turn and talk with their partners on this issue to begin their thinking process - most are saying "yes" ... and that's what I'm going to change with the rest of the lesson.   

I introduce students to our objective - that they are going to move into groups of three and each read an article on Freedom of Speech. They will then share and make notes on their worksheets on the pros and cons of freedom of speech. They will then discuss in a Socratic Circle whether or not we should allow freedom of speech.

Guiding the Learning

25 minutes

I start off the lesson by sharing that I am going to read them three short articles about the freedom of speech. I share that their objective is to listen and think about what the benefits and dangers are for having of freedom of speech.

I now share the first article Pros and Cons of Freedom of Speech. I stop and think aloud that I am hearing some positives - freedom to be creative and not fearful of sharing what I feel and some negatives - hateful rumors, bullying and threats. 

I then share the other two articles Freedom of Speech and Thought and Freedom of Speech is a Privilege that can be Revoked aloud and think aloud that it sounds like the government is considering whether or not they should add consequences for using hurtful or untruthful words - I add that I wonder who would decide what was lying and what was just the opposite opinion?

My purpose is for students to think about both what they have been warned and what they experienced to debate if we should have more censors or consequences for untruthful words? 

I now have students count off into groups of three. I give each number the corresponding reading passage. These passages are a bit longer than I had hoped for but I made adjustments by initially reading it aloud, with groupings (strong with weaker readers) and with timing by adding an additional 10 minutes added to the lesson. Their group structure should also allow for a higher level of understanding after their shared discussions. I lead them with the guiding question - What are the benefits of freedom of speech? and then ask them What are the risks or dangers? I want to lead them to thinking about the internet and of people who share their opinions without getting all the correct information (gossiping or other harmful talk). We make a list of the pros and cons of being able to say what we want freely.

Here's my groups reading quietly and taking notes

I share that students are going to get the opportunity to create written notes that either support or debate our right to freedom of speech.

In this video the groups of three are discussing their articles and sharing their opinions. This helps those who are struggling to hear more ideas and to form opinions. It also gives students good practice for speaking aloud in a small group format before they need to share in a whole class one.

They are informed that they will use their facts and opinions to debate in a socratic seminar debate when the timer sounds.

I set the timer and have students read and discuss their findings together until the timer sounds.

Independent Practice

20 minutes

Now the debate and learning begins. Students move back to their regular seating. We are currently using the semi-circle classroom format, but if you do not have this in class this is when you want them to move their seating into this arrangement (Socratic Seminar circle format). Students who are seated in the front rows are the first discussion starters. The ones in the back rows get out their whiteboards and quietly listen and take notes while the others are speaking. I share the rules and expectations for the activity each time we begin it so that they know what is expected of them. 

Usually we use this format for a reading passage but I felt that this debate would be strengthened with the shared discussions, the personal connections and the reading for evidence involved in the task. I use a student timer to keep track of time. He or she use a quiet end signal to show that the speaking needs to end. I also have a Speaker of the House Leadser who quietly points to students for their speaking turns so that there is no jumping into conversations. I know this is a variety on the typical seminar format but it helps to keep the focus on the questions and allows for greater student participation.   

Another option is to assign to each of the outer circle students one person to assess a rubric score on while they also take notes on the responses.

Students discuss their positions on the issue for 30 seconds each / total of 10 minutes per group using their Habits of Discussion prompts and then the sides rotate jobs. 

Here's some videos of my students discussion (my timer person was a little bit too quick because she used hand motions and internal counting - you may want to use a "real" timer instead)

and a clip from the continuing discussion from this group:

and a short clip from the rotation to the second discussion group responses:


Closing the Loop

10 minutes

When they have all spoken and/or time has run out - students return to their desks and write their responses to our focus question - Should the government set restrictions on our right to freedom of speech?

Here's an example of students' responses from a high, middle, lower all showing that discussion really builds on understanding

This doesn't leave much time for discussions but in that we have just heard from most student's viewpoints on the issue I feel that I have a pretty good grasp of their thinking. I do take a vote and have students show their approval or disapproval of regulating freedom of speech. Most are in favor of some regulation which doesn't surprise me because they really don't have enough experience with government regulations (fair and unfair) at this stage in their lives. Plus many have heard on the news or experienced some form of lying or bullying online so they hold a fear of not having enough rules to keep them safe.