Lesson Plan: Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties

Morning Hour Debate, Gov't Overstepping Bounds

In morning hour debate, Rep. Tom McClintock of California spoke from the House floor about recent actions by the government that he alleges have infringed on the rights of everyday Americans.


In this lesson, students will explore the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Specifically, students will a) read and interpret the text of the Bill of Rights, b) consider arguments about civil liberties, and c) explain the meaning of an amendment. After watching a clip that raises the issue of freedom and tyranny, students work with a partner or a small group to watch a video clip about a specific freedom protected by the Bill of Rights. Each group answers a set of guiding questions about their video and their topic, and they then create a poster to illustrate their learning and share it with the rest of the class. The lesson is intended to take one to two block periods or three to four regular class periods.


  • STEP 1.

    Prepare the introductory video clip to be watched as a class. Introduce the speaker, Rep. Tom McClintock of California. Explain that he is a Congressman speaking about issues related to civil liberties. Before beginning the clip, ask the students to think about the question - "Why is Tom McClintock angry"?

    VIDEO CLIP: Morning Hour Debate, Government Overstepping Bounds (5:13)

    Briefly discuss responses to the video. Rep. McClintock complains about specific actions taken by the government, but his complaints fall into one of three categories:

    a. freedom of the press

    b. freedom of political organizations

    c. protection against searches and seizures.

    In general, he makes an argument that we need civil liberties and personal freedoms to protect us from tyranny.

  • STEP 2.

    Explain that the major topic for the lesson is the Bill of Rights, which lists the essential freedoms and civil liberties of American citizens. Project a list of specific topics on the board, break the students down into pairs or small groups, and assign each one of them a topic.

    • Freedom of Religion
    • Freedom of the Press
    • Freedom of Speech
    • Right to Bear Arms
    • Unreasonable Searches and Seizures
    • Right to Remain Silent
    • Right to Counsel* Right to a Speedy Trial
    • No Cruel and Unusual Punishment
  • STEP 3.

    Each group first examines the text of the amendment and comes to a consensus about the meaning of the text. Then, they watch a video clip which provides an explanation of the amendment and/or raises a critical issue in understanding the amendment. After watching the clip, students discuss three general guiding questions along with one question specific to their video clip.

    • What does the amendment mean?

    • Why is this specific right or freedom important?

    • Can you think of a situation in which people would disagree about the meaning of the amendment?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of Religion (5:56)

    • Do you think the principal should have been suspended for allowing the student led prayer?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of the Press (6:55)

    • Do you think the press should be able to publish classified information?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Freedom of Speech (7:04)

    • Do you think Mary Beth Tinker should have been suspended?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Right to Bear Arms (9:08)

    • What would you consider a regulation on the right to bear arms?

    • What would be an example of an unreasonable regulation?
  • VIDEO CLIP: No Unreasonable Searches (4:16)

    • Do you think the police acted properly in this situation?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Right to Remain Silent (5:19)

    • Do you think the police acted properly in this situation?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Right to Counsel (6:14)

    • According to Mr. Gideon, which part of the Constitution should have provided him with legal counsel in his case?

    • Is it fair to make states (or towns or counties) pay for attorneys if a defendant can’t afford one?
  • VIDEO CLIP: Right to a Speedy Trial (2:31)

    • Explain the parameters of the Constitutional right to a “speedy” trial.

    • What time frame would consider to be “speedy”? What would make you say a trial took too long?
  • VIDEO CLIP: No Cruel and Unusual Punishment (4:55)

    • Explain the differing interpretations of the term “Cruel and Unusual” by Justice Scalia and Justice Breyer.

    • Is it “cruel and unusual” to execute a sixteen year old, if it is not “cruel and unusual” to execute an adult?
  • STEP 4.

    Each group then creates a poster to help illustrate the meaning of the amendment for the rest of the class. The poster should include:

    • The relevant text of the amendment.

    • A statement on the siginificance of the amendment.

    • A picture representing or illustrating the meaning of the amendment.
  • STEP 5

    Each group presents their poster to the rest of the class. As students present their posters, the rest of the class should complete handout below to take notes on the presentation.

    HANDOUT: Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties (Google Doc)

  • Potential Follow Up Assignments / Homework

    Students may choose one additional amendment to follow up and research in depth.

    Students create a pamphlet explaining a citizen’s basic rights as protected by the Bill of Rights. The best pamphlet may then be reproduced and distributed to people in the school.

    Students choose one civil liberty that was presented. They identify one potential disagreement over that amendment and write a one page editorial taking a position on that particular liberty.

Additional Resource


  • Amendment
  • And Cruel And Unusual Punishment
  • Bill Of Rights
  • Freedom Of Religion
  • Freedom Of Speech
  • Freedom Of The Press
  • Right To A Speedy Trial
  • Right To Bear Arms
  • Right To Counsel
  • Right To Remain Silent
  • Unreasonable Searches And Seizures


Civil Rights & Civil LibertiesConstitutional FoundationJudicial Branch


Middle SchoolHigh School