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Banned Book Essay Assignment Ideas

Happy Banned Books Week!

This annual celebration presents us with a teachable moment to encourage reading and open minds in our students. What better way to make reading cool than to make it an act of rebellion, right?

Here are 12 creative ways you and your class can use Banned Books Week as a learning opportunity.

Read & Discuss a Banned Book as a Class

Choose a banned/challenged books for your class, whether it’s a short children’s story, a passage from a novel or an entire book you’ve been reading with the class.

Use this to kick off a discussion on
1.    Why people would have wanted to ban this book
2.    Why it is a blessing that people/students are free to read it

Banned Books Story/Comic

Have students write a short story or create a comic that celebrates the first amendment (Hint: book burners could be a comic villain). Try Bitstrips to create comics online with drag and drop characters, backgrounds, etc.

Celebrating Characters from Banned Books

Allow students to celebrate characters from banned books. This can be through dress up, drawing, creating a poster for their character, an “In Defense of Huckleberry Finn [or other character]” essay, etc. You can also have students give a speech AS their character describing who they are and why they shouldn’t be banned.

For your celebration, you can use specific books to make this more recognizable. For instance, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, James and the Giant Peach, Harriet the Spy, Where the Sidewalk Ends, Bridge to Terabithia or Lord of the Flies.

Censoring Student Reading - Risk vs. Reward Brainstorm

As a class brainstorming activity or as an individual assignment, ask students to think of different results, both positive or potentially negative, that reading banned books can have on people.

If you want to up the ante, create a venn diagram for your brainstorm. One circle can be for Positive Effects (pro-reading banned books advocates) and one circle can be for Negative Effects (those who challenge books to be removed from schools and libraries).

For example, reading Banned Books may cause:

Rewards: open-mindedness; exposure to new ideas; etc.
Risks: exposure to sexuality or obscene thoughts; loss of values; etc

Banned Books Debate

It's important for students to understand both sides of an argument in order to fully understand and make their own conclusions. Either as an independent activity or building on the brainstorm, you can organize a classroom debate on banning books.

Split the class into two groups. Have one side argue for the freedom of schools to read often-challenged books and the other side to argue why students reading materials should be screened and approved by parents and the school board.

First Amendment Lessons

Banned Books Week is also a great opportunity to teach the First Amendment and the concept of censorship. There are a plethora of lessons and activities available for free online.

Here's a list of resources divided by elementary, high school and additional links for teaching the First Amendment. Channel One also has a good catalog of Constitution and First Amendment lesson plans.

Banned Books Display Activity

Have students complete the analogy: A room without books is like….
Then, create a poster, bulletin board or visual display that brings this analogy to life. Here is an example from the Columbia Pike Library.

Banned Books Poll

ReadWriteThink provides a fun classroom polling activity that introduces the topic in a creative way that should surprise and catch the attention of your students.  It also lets them practice conducting their own research.

Writing Prompts: From Banned Books to Required Reading

Grades K-5: What is your favorite book? Why do you like it?

Grades 6-12: Why do you think so many banned books have gone on to become curriculum-required reading?
(i.e. Of Mice and Men, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Bluest Eye, etc.)

Science & Censorship: The Scopes Monkey Trial

Fiction isn’t the only materials that has struggled against censorship in the classroom. Darwin’s theories on evolution had to fight for their way into the curriculum. In fact, the Scopes Monkey Trial was a historic event in US History in which a teacher was put on trial for teaching evolution in the classroom.

Here are a few classroom activities and resources to get started:

PBS: The Debate Over Teaching Intelligent Design

Evolution Timeline Activity

Comparing History & Social Issues through Banned Books

Literature is often reflective of the time in which it is written. By looking at what books are being challenged, we can think critically about the changing social issues throughout history.

Pick from select books for examples to demonstrate political and social issue. These resources list the book and the reasons given for the challenge against them.

ALA Frequently Challenged Books by Year

Another List of Banned Book with Reasons

Banned Books A-Z

Once you've chosen a book, examine what caused the book to be banned. Does that coincide with any historical change or social issues relevant to that time period? Let these discussions spark a classroom discussion or research project.

Here a few examples:

Book: And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson

Year: 2010

Reasons: homosexuality, religious viewpoint, and unsuited to age group

Book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Year: 1977

Reasons: Considered "dangerous" because of profanity and undermining of race relations.

Book: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh.

Year: 1983

Reason: Considered "dangerous" because it "teaches children to lie, spy, back-talk and curse."

Book: Animal Farm by George Orwell.

Year: 1963, 1968, etc.

Reason: Challenged for the novel's use of the phrase "masses will revolt" and later because "Orwell was a communist."

What activities will you use to celebrate Banned Books Week? Share in the comments section!

Challenges to school materials are a common occurrence. How should such challenges be handled? How can they be avoided?

What books should be taught in schools? It sounds like a simple question but the answer can be complex.

Challenges to curriculum content have torn apart communities. On the one hand, advocates of banning certain books maintain that children in grades K-12 will be harmed if we don't protect them from inappropriate materials. Opponents are equally heated in insisting that censorship of books and other curriculum materials violates the academic freedom and diversity of thought protected by the U.S. Constitution.

Among the classic works of literature banned from schools over the years have been Shakespeare's Hamlet, Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. An American Civil Liberties Union report lists among the most frequently banned or challenged books of 1997 R. L. Stine's Goosebumps series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger.

A report by the National School Boards Association (NSBA) found that challenges of school materials are common throughout the United States. Those challenges frequently work; nearly one-third result in materials being withdrawn from schools or their use curtailed.

During Banned Books Week, people are exhorted to fight against banning and censorship. Yet do opponents of banning books believe that any book is appropriate for teaching in school? And where should the line be drawn between books that are appropriate and inappropriate? A number of experts have explored these and related questions of censorship.

Censorship is "the removal, suppression, or restricted circulation of literary, artistic or educational materials ... on the grounds that these are morally or otherwise objectionable in light of the standards applied by the censor," writes Henry Reichman in Censorship and Selection, Issues and Answers for Schools. According to definitions like this, observers point out, many decisions made by school boards about what can be taught in schools might be seen as acts of censorship.

Challenges to materials in school curricula, according to Censorship of Curriculum Materials, by JeanMarie Aurnague-DeSpain and Alan Bass, generally arise in the following areas:

  • sex and drug education
  • literature showing children challenging parents and authorities
  • teaching evolution without reference to creationism
  • showing women behaving in nontraditional ways
  • "invasions of privacy" -- projects requiring students to share personal information.

Supreme Court cases that deal with censorship issues show a broad trend toward supporting the schools, but they also caution educators to remain aware of values, including minority values, in the communities they serve. Experts have cited the First Amendment of the Constitution as protecting both students' rights to know and teachers' rights to academic freedom. At the same time, legal experts argue, parents have the right to protest books or materials that they consider damaging to their children.

In a landmark censorship case, Island Trees Union Free High School v. Pico (1982), the Court asserted that the "Constitution does not permit the official suppression of ideas," and the banned books were returned to school shelves. In this and other cases, the Court seems to allow school boards a rather free hand with curriculum materials.

In the Pico case, Justice Brennan's plurality opinion stated that a basis for resolving censorship conflicts over school materials could rest upon the use of "establishedunbiased procedures for the review of controversial materials" at the local level.

To avoid controversy, school boards need clearly stated policies delineating how materials are selected. Selection policies should weigh the viewpoints of various groups in the community and be implemented by professionals. Those developing selection policies must consider community and parental concerns and demonstrate acceptance of our national diversity, asserts Reichman. If selection policy ignores minority rights, censorship issues may arise. And school materials should not be selected for partisan political reasons.

To develop a community consensus and prevent cries for censorship, Larry Mikulecky (see Resources) recommends several strategies:

  • Ask parents to contribute to developing school reading programs.
  • Give recommended, rather than required, reading lists.
  • Have files of professional reviews that support materials.
  • In collective bargaining agreements, negotiate clauses that protect academic freedom and call for agreed-on selection processes.
  • Discourage the concept that only one text can be used to teach a specific theme.

When controversy flares up despite efforts to avoid it, there are ways of handling it to minimize damage. In "Censorship of Curriculum Materials," JeanMarie Aurnague-DeSpain and Alan Baas say, "good internal communications and public relations offer the best way to avoid unnecessary controversy."

Several experts recommend the following process, says "Censorship of Curriculum Materials":

  • Meet with the complainant and attempt to resolve the issue.
  • If that fails, request a written complaint detailing the questionable material, the bad effect it is thought to have on students, and what replacement materials are suggested.
  • Give the complainant a copy of published district policies for controversial materials and explain the procedure to be followed.
  • Have a review committee provide the school board with a final report.
  • Inform the complainant of the review process and when committee meetings are slated.
  • Provide an appeals process.
  • While the complaint is being explored, keep the controversial material available, except possibly to the student whose family has filed a challenge.

School boards are legally responsible for what is taught in a district, according to U.S. courts in general. The board delegates power to school officials and so is held responsible for school policies.

In summary, the NSBA report states that "the challenge is not to avoid censorship, but to meet it head on with adequate policies and procedures that provide an open forum for deciding what should -- or should not -- take place in public schools."

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 2005 Education World


  • Censorship: Managing the Controversy by Linda Chion-Kenney; National School Boards Association, Alexandria, Va. (1989). 88 pages.
  • The International Reading Association's Role in the Politics of Censorship by Larry Mikulecky; paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Reading Association, New Orleans, La., April 27-May 1, 1981.
  • Censorship and Selection, Issues and Answers for Schools by Henry Reichman; American Association of School Administrators, Alexandria, Va., and American Library Association, Chicago (1988). 141 pages.
  • Censorship Post-Pico by John David Terry II; in School Law Update by Thomas N. Jones and Darel P. Semler, eds., National Organization on Legal Problems, Topeka, Kan. (1986).


Updated 09/23/2005

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