Lesson Plan: This Girl Fought for Free Speech

A step-by-step guide to teaching this article in your classroom


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• Incorporate this article into a lesson on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

• Use this piece to spark a discussion on the role individuals play in shaping government policy.

• Include this article in a unit on U.S. history and culture in the 1960s.

• Share this piece as an example of how the judicial branch of the U.S. government works.

Before Reading


Tell students that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech, among other individual freedoms. Ask: What is freedom of speech? Why does it matter? Why might public schools have restrictions on freedom of speech?


As a class, review the key terms in the “You Might Need to Know . . .” sidebar. Then invite students to share additional facts they know about those terms.

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Read & Analyze


Have students read the article on their own, writing down any comments or questions.


Have students write their answers to each question, or use these prompts to guide a discussion.

  • EXPLICIT INFORMATION: Why did Mary Beth Tinker wear a black armband to school?
    (She wore it to protest the Vietnam War, and as a symbol of mourning for both the Americans and the Vietnamese who had been killed in that war.)

  • SUMMARIZING: Why did Mary Beth get in trouble for wearing the black armband to school?
    (The principal said she had disrupted other students by wearing the armband. School officials had banned armbands after learning in advance about the planned protest.)

  • MAIN IDEA: Why was Mary Beth’s protest protected by the U.S. Constitution?
    (Mary Beth wore the armband to express her opinion. The First Amendment to the Constitution protects people’s right to free speech. In the Tinker case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students and teachers don’t give up their right to freedom of expression or speech just because they are at school. The ruling also said public schools cannot stop students from exercising free speech as long as that speech doesn’t disrupt school activities.)

  • SUMMARIZING: How did the Tinker case end up before the Supreme Court?
    (When the school board refused to cancel the students’ suspension, the Tinker and Eckhardt families sued the school district. The case moved through lower courts until the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case in 1968.)

  • CLOSE READING: How did young Americans push for changes in society during the 1960s?
    (Possible answers include: Young people helped lead the civil rights movement. Students marched in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to demand an end to racial segregation. Many young people also protested the Vietnam War.)

  • COMPARE AND CONTRAST: How does life for kids today compare with how it was in 1965?
    (Differences: Kids in 1965 had to dress up for school—jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers were often banned. Kids listened to music on vinyl records, not by streaming. Similarities: Music and comics were popular with kids then and they are now.)

  • ANALYZING DETAILS: Why did law professor Steve Wermiel call the Tinker ruling “almost a Declaration of Independence for students”?
    (He said the ruling gave students the right to express themselves and think critically for themselves.)

  • ANALYZING DETAILS: How did the Tinker ruling apply to the student walkouts in March 2018?
    (The ruling set the precedent that while schools can punish students for skipping class, they cannot discipline teens who walk out more harshly because of the political nature of or the message behind their actions.)

Extend & Assess

As a class, read the skills sheet Analyzing a Primary Source: Tinker v. Des Moines. Then have students work with a partner to answer the questions. Go over their responses as a class.

Have students work in small groups to research major U.S. events from the 1960s and create a timeline of some of the most notable ones, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and the March on Washington (1963).

Find out how well students understood the article by assigning the skills sheets Know the News—This Girl Fought for Free Speech.


Lower Level As a group, discuss the meaning of freedom of expression. Then have students work with partners to list at least five real-life examples.

Higher Level Have students research and write a report on the role of the U.S. in the Vietnam War, including arguments from that time for and against U.S. involvement.

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