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Book Censorship Vocabulary

When discussing book censorship, there are a number of common terms that are often misused or misunderstood.

Banned Book

A book that has been removed or restricted. Another word for this is a censored book.

Book Challenge

The process of requesting that a book is in some way restricted or removed. 


Formal challenges involve submitting some sort of challenge form that lists the book, what they find objectionable and why, and what the challenger wants changed (i.e. make the book unavailable to a certain age group, require parent permission to read the book, or remove the book from the library).


Informal challenges are done by email or by voicing a complaint aloud. A challenge is generally evaluated by a librarian, educator, or school board.


The removal or restriction of ideas or information that a certain group or individual finds objectionable. There are many different forms of censorship, the most common being autonomous (self-censorship), social (based on social convention), legal (censorship in laws), and extralegal (illegal).

Educational Intimidtion Bills

These are executive orders, bills, and laws which target what or how teachers can teach certain topics, such as race, gender, sexual orientation, and more. These are seen in things such as anti-CRT laws. 95% of these types of bills target K-12 education.


Based on the Miller Test, a work can only be considered obscene if it contains “patently offensive” descriptions of sexual conduct and lacks “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value… when taken as a whole”


Works with “blunt, often exploitative sexual content designed solely to arouse a sexual response and to satisfy the sexual urges of the beholder” according to the APA Dictionary. This does not necessarily include sexual violence or sexual orientation.

Teaching About Book Censorship

Goal of Censorship Seminar

Students will be able to analyse the reasons and impacts of book censorship and how they can protect their freedom to read.

Scope of Censorship Seminar

45 minute lesson to a group of 7th graders at a local middle school.

Copy of Censorship Seminar - Product Lesson.jpg

This 40 slide presentation was used to teach 7th graders about the circumstances and impacts of book censorship both within and outside of the classroom.

This plan can be adapted based on the seminar's focus, whether it is educating students on the subject, challenging their beliefs or addressing student rights. Each section is approximately 45 minutes each but can be condensed or expanded.

Adapting This Seminar

Time Management.

For 1+ hour lessons, give students more opprtunities to share out and discuss. For a faster paced lesson of around 30 minutes, split the lesson into a lecture and activity; you teach from the slides, and then students demonstrate what they learned with an activity.


There are many different ways to teach about book censorship and related topics. Figure out what you want students to focus on: Diverse literature? Critical thinking? Their rights?


Case Studies

Highly Recommended Activity.

Whether based on recent, historical, or hypothetical book bans or a mixture of both, these cases should emphasize the dual sides of a book ban and allow students to grapple with the difficulties of evaluating books and understanding different perspectives.

Navigating Complex Ideas in  Books

The following two approaches focus on different aspects of introducing and supporting diversity in classrooms. Although they are more generally about teaching, they work just as well for a lesson or unit around censorship or a novel. The words “topic” or “idea” on this page refer to the complex ideas present within the novel/material being discussed, such as LGBTQ+ people, race relations, sexual violence, history, and more.

Promoting Inclusivity
Part 1: Promoting Inclusivity in the Classroom

This is for educators who may be having trouble introducing topics of diversity to their students, whether this is at a school, district, or state level. Recommendations are based on a 2016 study by Brianna R. Burke and Kristina Greenfield.

Colorful Books


Lesson Planning

Make an outline of what will be taught available to the school principal, superintendent, parents, with relevant connections to state standards.


Opting Out

Provide students an opportunity to opt students out of topics and complete an alternative activity.  Remind students about the importance of diversity and address common misconceptions that might be pushing them to opt out.



Advance students’ critical thinking skills by initiating conversations about the importance of the topic, why it is censored, how it impacts free speech and expression, and how to be a better ally.

Part 2: Incorporating Diverse Material in the Classroom

This is a four step plan for integrating multiculturalism into curricula, focusing more specifically on how educators can plan lessons with inclusivity and critical thinking in mind. This plan was developed by Laura Moorhead in her 2018 paper “LGBTQ+ Visibility: In the K-12 Curriculum.”


Mention heroes, holidays, key vocabulary, and cultural events as a way to introduce students to the topic within everyday lessons.


Additive Content

Expand the previous step into a lesson of its own, making sure not to promote the idea of this group or idea being “other”.


Transformative Content

Alter the structure of the class to encourage students to view the content from multiple perspectives. Incorporate different types of media and encourage students to discuss how an idea is misrepresented, suppressed, or considered taboo.


Social Action

Include media on and discussion around contemporary issues and encourage civic engagement, focusing more on why an idea is misrepresented, suppressed, or considered taboo.


Additional Resources

EveryLibrary offers every community who launches a petition against book bans $1,000 in digital ads to help them reach people in their community, pro-bono consulting, fundraising and community organizing tools, and access to data and resources to help them win.

The ALA’s Challenge Support page provides educators and librarians with information on what a book challenge is, how to respond to one, and how to report censorship.

Through PEN America’s form, anyone can submit a book ban to be counted in future reports and research and to be connected to someone who can help.


Full, downloadable versions of the book censorship seminar,  a template for a book censorship seminar, and the case study sample referened in the seminar.

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