Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

What is the Price of Freedom?

The Patriot Act of 2001

Susan McHale, Kristen Sublett, Billy Rodgers | Published: November 22nd, 2022 by K20 Center


This lesson examines key terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and identifies how the Patriot Act was created to prevent terrorism.

Essential Question(s)

Is it worth giving up personal freedoms for greater protection? How do we define terrorists and terrorism?



Students look at three pictures to identify which picture or pictures constitute terrorism.


Students read about four major terrorist attacks and determine what they have in common, what might be a question to be answered, and what might have prevented a terrorist attack.


Students examine the pros and cons of the Patriot Act by reading the key provisions of the law.


Students look at a new type of terrorism, cyber terrorism, and determine what might be ways to prevent it.


Students complete a T-Chart and 7-minute paper as assessments of what they have learned.


  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Sticky notes

  • Chart tablet paper

  • U.S. Terrorist Attacks Fast Facts handout (attached)

  • Key Provisions of the Patriot Act handout (attached)

  • Pro/Con T-Chart handout (attached)


Tell students that they will be discussing terrorism today. Show slide 2 that has the essential questions for the lesson, and explain to students they will be exploring these questions. Ask students to comment on the first question, "Would they give up personal freedoms (like privacy of their cell phones or social media posts, for example) for greater protection from terrorism?" Allow time for a brief discussion.

Ask students to examine three pictures of violent events on slide 3. Have them determine which picture best represents terrorism to them. They will share their opinions through a Four Corners activity.

Before the lesson, create four signs, one with ALL written on it and the other three each with either 1, 2, or 3 written on them. These will be the students four options for the activity. Post these signs in different locations around the room. Typically, they would be posted in the corners of the room, but if corners are not available, just be sure to leave enough room for students to gather at each sign without interfering with the groups at the other signs.

Ask students to stand by or under the sign that best represents terrorism to them. Allow time for students to choose a location around the room with one of the signs. Have students discuss their choice with others who chose the same picture. Have one representative from each group explain why the group chose that picture. Have students remain standing by their sign.

Show slide 4, which is the FBI's definition of terrorism. Have one student read the definition aloud. Ask all students to notice the words highlighted in bold. Based upon this definition of terrorism, ask students to move to another sign, if they wish. For anyone who moved, ask them which part of the definition prompted them to move to a new sign. Ask students to justify their choice of picture according to the definition. Does it fit?


Discuss with the class how terrorism is a world-wide problem. The United States has had its share of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Tell students that now that we know the definition of terrorism, we will now look at four major terrorist events that have occurred on U.S. soil. Show slides 5–8 and explain that these images are from the terrorist attacks that students will investigate further today.

Assign students to groups of three. Give three sticky notes to each group along with the "Fast Facts about Terrorism on U.S. Soil" handout (located under Attachments) to every student. Ask students to read silently about these 4 terrorist attacks. After they have read the handout, they are to follow the directions of slide 9 and complete their group sticky note answers. You may wish to number the groups and have the students place their group numbers on their sticky notes.

While students are reading and discussing how to complete the sticky note activity, hang 3 pieces of chart tablet around the room. Label each piece of chart tablet as follows:

  1. Sticky Note 1: What do these attacks have in common?

  2. Sticky Note 2: Is there a way any of these attacks might have been prevented?

  3. Sticky Note 3: What questions still exist?

Have one group member from each group share what their group wrote on the sticky note. Discuss all responses, summing up and asking questions of the group members to facilitate discussion. Write the responses the class talks about onto the corresponding chart paper. Continue onto sticky note 2, where a second group member will give their group answers, and then sticky note 3 in the same manner.

You may wish groups to turn in their sticky notes or their three answers on a separate sheet of notebook paper as a participation grade. You may also wish for students to write directly onto the chart tablet paper and not use sticky notes.


Show slide 10 which explains why the Patriot Act was enacted into law. Explain to students that many security efforts were made to prevent future terrorist attacks in addition to the Patriot Act. These safety measures include concrete or steel barriers in front of federal or state buildings to prevent truck bombs, TSA screenings at airports, unidentified air marshals aboard planes, locking doors to the airplane pilot’s cockpit, increased border security agents, increased terrorist training for local police officers in urban cities, and more.

Jigsaw Activity: Number students one through six so that all class members have an assigned number. Pass out the attached Key Provisions of the Patriot Act reading and T-Chart handout to all students. Students are to read the section of the act that corresponds to their number and to write both the pros and cons of how the Patriot Act has invaded the privacy of citizens. These directions are on slide 11.

Monitor student participation filling out the T-Chart and completing the reading of their section. Once students have completed their section, move them into groups of students who read the same section. For the purposes of discussion, allow no more than four people per group. Show slide 12.

Have students determine the best summary of their section and the best pro and con about that section of the law. Call on groups one at a time and have them share their summary or explanation of the section and the pro and con. You can have groups write these on the board or chart tablet. The class should copy or take notes of the other pro/con sections onto their own T-Chart as they are discussed.

After all sections of the Patriot Act have been discussed, show slide 13 and have a general discussion about whether the Patriot Act goes too far in invading citizens' rights to privacy or not far enough in preventing terrorist attacks?


Explain to your students that a new security threat to the U.S. is cyber terrorism. The FBI and the CIA have confirmed that the Russian government hacked servers and supplied fake news to try and influence the 2016 presidential election. How successful they were is still unknown at the time of this lesson. Show slide 14 which shares some of the headlines from newspaper stories.

Option 1: A Definition of Cyber Terrorism Have students get out a sheet of notebook paper. Show students Ask students to revise and expand this definition to include a cyber-terrorism. You may wish to allow them some internet research time to investigate cyber terrorism further They should title their notebook paper with the topic that they chose.

Option 2: Seven Minute Opinion paper Students are to get out notebook paper and can choose ONE of the two topics on power slide 16. You may also want to pass back out the Fast Facts handout and the Key Provisions of the Patriot Act handout to use as references for their paper. Once students have chosen which topic, have them write the topic at the top of their notebook paper. Then time students for exactly seven minutes. They are to write as much as they can and all that they know or believe in this time. They should include factual information that was discussed or learned during the lesson to support their opinion.


The sticky note activity, the T-Chart, cyber terrorism definition and the 7-minute paper can all be used as assessments for this lesson.