New York Times v. Sullivan Lesson Plan

Instructor: Kristen Goode

Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.

Understanding the impact of high profile court cases is important. In this lesson plan, students will learn about the New York Times v. Sullivan and create a newspaper headline highlighting the case.

Learning Objectives

  • Explain the court decision for the New York Times vs. Sullivan
  • Create a newspaper article headlining the outcome of the case


60-75 minutes

Curriculum Objectives


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.


Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of the source distinct from prior knowledge or opinions.



  • Begin by talking about why we study court cases.
    • What can we learn from them?
    • What precedent do they set?
  • Ask students to share what they know about the idea of ''freedom of the press'' or ''freedom of speech.''
  • Give each student a printed copy of the lesson.
  • Read through the lesson as a class. Stop occasionally to discuss:
    • What is libel and why is it a problem?
    • What are punitive damages?
    • Explain the case. What happened? Why was it taken to court? What did the courts need to decide?
    • Why did the case go all the way to the Supreme Court?
    • What is malice? Why was the court looking for signs of malice?
    • What did the courts decide?
    • What did this decision mean for the press? How about in the future?
  • Check for understanding.
    • Read the Lesson Summary together and discuss.
    • Have students complete the quiz.

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