Free Speech

“Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently”

Rosa Luxembourg (1871 – 1919), German-Polish Marxist philosopher
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LESSON OVERVIEW

This free ESL lesson plan on free speech has been designed for adults and young adults at an intermediate (B1/B2) to advanced (C1/C2) level and should last around 45 to 60 minutes for one student.

In early 2021, former president Donald Trump was banned from various social media sites for incitements to violence. This added to the already hotly debated topic of free speech, especially how it relates to internet free speech. Supporters of the former president argued that everyone should be allowed to express themselves as they wish on these platforms, while the law as it stands right now, says that, as private companies, it is the social media sites that have the freedom to decide what views are expressed on their networks. Banning Donald Trump for his views has also been used by the right to highlight a supposed “cancel culture” by the left, where public figures who have expressed unpopular views have been “cancelled” from their jobs. However, as Winston Churchill said, the people who demand free speech all too often only want it for themselves, not for those they disagree with, and want to be able to express themselves without anyone else having the right to criticise what they say. Freedom of speech is only freedom of speech if it applies to everyone, not just a select group of people. In this ESL lesson plan on freedom of speech, students will have the opportunity to discuss and express their opinions on issues such as the importance of free speech, under what circumstances there should be limits to free speech, and their thoughts on online freedom of speech.

This lesson plan could also be used with your students to debate these issues for National Freedom of Speech Week, which takes place in the United States in October. For more lesson plans on international days and important holidays, see the calendar of world days to plan your classes for these special occasions.

For advice on how to use this English lesson plan and other lesson plans on this site, see the guide for ESL teachers.

PRE-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Reading activity
Before the English class, send the following article to the students and ask them to read it while making a list of any new vocabulary or phrases they find (explain any the students don’t understand in the class):

DW | Germany at odds over Twitter ban for far-right AfD party

The article talks about a free speech debate that emerged in Germany over whether or not a far-right party should be banned from social media. At the start of the class, hold a brief discussion about what the students thought about the article. What do they think about the issues raised in the article? Do they agree with what was said? Should far-right views be protected as free speech?

Video activity
To save time in class for the conversation activities, the English teacher can ask the students to watch the video below and answer the listening questions in Section 3 of the lesson plan at home. There are intermediate listening questions and advanced listening questions so teachers can decide which would be more appropriate for their students. Check the answers in the class.

The video for this class is called “Should social media platforms censor hate speech?” by Big Think which looks at the issue of hate speech on social networks and whether these companies should have the power to determine what people can and cannot say on these platforms.

IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

The focus in the class is on conversation in order to help improve students’ fluency and confidence when speaking in English as well as boosting their vocabulary.

This lesson opens with a short discussion about the article the students read before the class. Next, the students can give their opinion on the quote at the beginning of the lesson plan – what they think the quote means and if they agree with it. This is followed by an initial discussion on the topic including whether free speech should ever be limited, whether people are truly free to say what they want, and which opinions could be considered dangerous.

After this, students will learn some vocabulary connected with free speech such as hate speech, cancel culture and incitement. This vocabulary has been chosen to boost the students’ knowledge of less common vocabulary that could be useful for preparing for English exams like IELTS or TOEFL. The vocabulary is accompanied by a cloze activity and a speaking activity to test the students’ comprehension of these words.

If the students didn’t watch the video before the class, they can watch it after the vocabulary section and answer the listening questions. Before checking the answers, ask the students to give a brief summary of the video and what they thought about the content.

Finally, there is a more in-depth conversation about freedom of speech. In this speaking activity, students will talk about issues such as whether teachers should be free to express their opinions to their students, whether people should be free to insult religion, and whether or not social media companies should have the right to decide who says what on their platforms.

HOMEWORK

After the class, students will write about their opinion of free speech. This could be a short paragraph or a longer piece of writing depending on what level the student is at. The writing activity is designed to allow students to practise and improve their grammar with the feedback from their teacher. For students who intend to take an international English exam such as IELTS or TOEFL, there is an alternative essay question to practise their essay-writing skills.

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