Monday, November 19, 2007

Daily Instruction- Media Literacy Unit

Media Literacy

12 Day Unit

Daily Instruction- 12 90 minute block classes

Day 1:

Objective: The students will define media and discover the different types of media they are exposed to on a daily basis, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each medium. Students will learn about media use in the United States, begin to think about their own usage, and learn to evaluate a news source and find reliable sources for both news and commentary that will contribute to a broad understanding of the world around them and provide them with the knowledge to act on issues that matter to them.

Methods: Students will begin by taking a brief survey that will explore how they use different types of media in daily life. Students will then be asked to list some of the differences between these media: tv, print, radio, and the internet. In groups we will discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each medium and then discuss together as a class.

We will then read as a class page 16 from Al Gore’s book “The Assault on Reason.” The teacher will call on a few students, each to read one paragraph. The students will then react to this reading and the class will discuss the differences between one-way mediums and more interactive mediums like the internet. What are the advantages and disadvantages to each?

The Wikipedia debate- Is Wikipedia a valid source? Students will list reasons why they think wikipedia is a useful tool or not, and whether it is a valid source for research. Is wikipedia more or less reliable than a paper encyclopedia?


  • Media Use Survey
  • “Evaluate a News Source” handout 1.1
  • Group handout 1.2 – Advantages and Disadvantages of Mass Media
  • Copy of page 16 from “The Assault on Reason” by Al Gore (handout 1.3)

Assessment: Media use survey will serve as a form of diagnostic assessment to see what their media use and perceptions are going into the unit. Discussion will be used as a formative assessment.

Differentiation: Group work

Homework: Begin to monitor your news consumption and media habits.

Day 2: Fact vs. Opinion & Take on the Text


  • Students should be able to differentiate facts and opinions, neutral language and bias language.
  • Students should be able to recognize how a source may sometimes pass off an opinion as neutral or factual information.
  • Students should understand how prevalent advertisements are and how they attempt to influence us.
  • Students should be able to recognize subtle bias in the textbook, understand multiple perspectives on history, and practice effective revision and paraphrasing skills.


  1. The teacher will distribute copies of an editorial about junk food in schools.
  2. On their own they will be asked to read the article to differentiate facts from opinions. Students will highlight facts and underline opinions.
  3. We will then discuss as a class what facts we can point out and what opinions the author expresses. Ask students how they know the difference.
  4. Distribute magazines, ask students to browse advertisements.
  5. Ask students to record a blank piece of notebook paper how many pages are consumed by advertising. They should pick an article and read it. They will write the facts in one column, opinions in another, and sentences that they can not determine in a 3rd column.
  6. Ask and Discuss: Was is difficult to differentiate sometimes between facts and opinions? Why do you think this is?
  7. The teacher will ask students to put everything else away and take out their textbook and their notebook or blank paper. The teacher will talk about the importance of understanding that history is written by the victor and that there are multiple histories and perspectives. The teacher will choose a chapter from the textbook. Students will be directed to pick a claim, assertion, or statement passed off as a fact from the textbook and dispute it. Students should explain why they think the statement is misleading and if the statement includes bias language. Students will then be asked to re-write that paragraph from the text with more neutral language or in a way that is fair and includes multiple perspectives. Students will then share the original paragraph, their new version, and why they changed it.


  • Salt Lake Tribune Article
  • Newspapers
  • Textbook
  • Notebook




  1. Read “Re-Thinking Objectivity” from the Columbia Journalism Review here- .
  2. Read page 191-194 in “News: The Politics of Illusion” by Lance Bennett.

Day 3: Truth or Objectivity?


· Students should have developed an opinion on whether objectivity or balance, is a more important goal for the media and whether they think the media is responsible for achieving either, both, or neither of those. Students should also weigh the advantages of striving for objectivity and balance versus an approach based only on truth and accuracy.

· Students should be able to articulate the arguments for and against each side of this issue.

· Students should have an understanding about how the American media approach to balance and objectivity differs from the approach of many other democracies in the world.


I will start the class with that short video clip and brief reaction (5-10 mins)

I will then put up on the board this definition- “Objectivity- the practice of presenting both sides of an issue.” Students will then be asked what the problem is with this definition. We will discuss the issue of presenting multiple perspectives vs. dualism (2 sides to every issue), whether each side to any given issue has equal weight and deserves to be presented as equally important. To illustrate this I will have a student pick an issue (out of list or out of a hat) and have students brainstorm all of the different opinions on that issue as I write them on the board (10 mins)

Next I will present a different definition for objectivity- “not influenced by personal feelings, interpretations, or prejudice; based on facts; unbiased: an objective opinion.” Based on that students will be asked to discuss whether it is possible for individual reporters to truly be objective. (5 mins)

Students will then be given two articles on the same issue. One article will be from an American newspaper and one will be from a European newspaper. The articles will be covering the same issue. Students will have 5 minutes to read the two short articles.

Students will then be put into 6 groups with about 5 people in each group. The group will have about 5 minutes to discuss what differences they found between how the two newspapers covered the issue, how many viewpoints they presented and whether they believe the emphasis was put on truth and accuracy or objectivity and balance. (5 mins in groups)

After the groups have finished discussing we will come back together as a class for a 15 minute closing discussion with the following guiding questions:

1. In striving to achieve objectivity and balance in reporting, do we end up accomplishing neither?

2. Would we be better off if American media were run more like Europe? Should each channel, network, etc… state their bias upfront so that at least the viewers know where they are coming from or is the goal of objectivity worth it even if we can’t be perfect?


· Projector and laptop to play video clips

· Copies of the articles being used- and,,1818696,00.html

· “News: The Politics of Illusion by Lance Bennett.

· Students will need a notebook, pen, and hi-liter.


This lesson will be assessed in a few ways. The class discussions, both at the beginning and end of class will serve as formative assessments to see how their knowledge is developing as we explore each subtopic of this lesson. The way this skill will ultimately be assessed is through our media literacy performance assessment at the end of the unit. Students will be asked to keep a journal of the media that they watch and use and one of the things they will be asked to observe is how that television program, newspaper article, radio show, etc… either promotes a certain agenda openly, or strives for objectivity and balance. Their analysis will be a good indicator of whether or not they have developed the right analytical skills and whether they can put them into practice.

Differentiation: Working in groups (interpersonal), using technology (video clips)


  1. Read “A Brief History of the Public Interest Standard” here-
  2. Read “The Role of the Media in a democracy” here-
  3. Reflection on the readings- homework handout

Day 4: Public Interest vs. The Bottom Line

Objectives: Students will explore the debate about the role of the free press in a democratic society, develop their own opinions about the responsibility of the media to the American people, and critically examine the commercialization of news.


  1. Define: Hard news, soft news, infotainment, sensationalism, ratings.
  2. Have students list examples of hard news, examples of soft news
  3. What do you think the mainstream media in America focuses on?
  4. Short lecture on the commercialization of the news based on this-
  5. Students will be given a news website and be asked to evaluate the balance of “infotainment” to “hard news.” Students will have approximately 10 minutes to examine the website and come to their conclusions.
  6. A speaker will come (An editor of a local newspaper) in to discuss the choices editors face in balancing pop culture and soft news with hard news and news in the public interest. After a brief speech students will be able to ask the speaker questions about the balance between serving their democratic function and ensuring their success as a business.


Assessment: Participation in the discussion will serve as a formative assessment, students will be judged both by participation, questions asked, and listening.

Differentiation: Use of neighborhood resources

Homework: Read page 159-163 by Lance Bennett from “News: The Politics of Illusion” on “The Top Ten Reasons the Press Took a Pass on the Iraq War.”

Day 5: Iraq as a Case Study: Did the media fail us?


  • Analyze whether the media failed to critically question claims and assertions made by the administration in the lead up to the Iraq War.


Class will begin with a clip from the movie “Uncovered: The Truth About the Iraq War,” The clip will discuss the idea of the media’s failure to critically examine the justifications made for war in Iraq.

Students should have read “The Top Ten Reasons the Press Took a Pass on the Iraq War” for homework. Students will then be put into groups of 3 or 4. They are first to review each of the ten reasons to determine whether they think that they are accurate. They are then to try to come to a group consensus about which reasons they think were the most influential in the media’s lack of scrutiny leading up to the Iraq War. We will then come back together as a class and try to come up with a consensus top 5.

Students will then read two mea culpa’s on the Iraq War, one by the editorial board of the New York Times and one by Bill O’Reilly (conservative commentator).


  1. Should there be consequences for media that fails at its most basic responsibilities?
  2. How can we make sure that doesn’t happen again?
  3. How can average citizens hold the media accountable?



Assessment: Group work and consensus building in developing reasons the media failed regarding Iraq.



  1. Read “Why Media Ownership Matters” article here-
  2. Read “Facts on Media in America- Did You Know?” -

Day 6: Corporate Media and Consolidation, a threat to democracy?


  • Students should develop an understanding of the consolidation of media ownership in the United States, what it’s effects are, and why it is important.


We will start by defining several terms as a class: Media consolidation, FCC, conglomerate.

We will then view a You Tube video of a Bill Moyer’s newscast on the FCC and media consolidation.

Students will be divided into 6 groups representing GE, Time Warner, Disney, News Corp, CBS, and Viacom- the 6 large media conglomerates in the United States. Students will use and draw a graphic organizer that shows the major ownership components of their group. Students will then pick one of the companies owned in each medium (tv, radio, publishing, film, online holdings, etc…) and brainstorm how that ownership could bias the reporting of their news outlets and why it would be in their interest to that company. Students will then present their findings to the class.


Assessment: Graphic organizer and presentation

Differentiation: Visual/ Spatial assessment method

Homework: none

Day 7: Censored: The stories the media didn’t want you to know about. Why not?


  • Students will be able to identify reasons why stories are often censored in the mainstream media and who it benefits.

Methods: Today students will begin by choosing one topic from the list of the top 25 censored stories of 2007 from Project Censorship. Students can choose to work on their own or with a partner. First students will read the article on their issue and then work on paraphrasing the idea for the class. Students should consider the following: what is the main idea of this report? What is the supporting evidence provided? Are the sources reliable? Why do you think this story was not widely reported on? Who would want it censored and why? After students have had a chance to consider these points and summarize the article, they will give a short presentation to the class on their story. If time remains in class we will have a more broad discussion about what reasons mainstream media sources might have for censorship.


Assessment: Presentation of their story and analysis of why the story was censored and who it benefits.

Differentiation: Differentiates between intrapersonal and interpersonal learners by allowing them to work on their own or with a partner.


Day 8: Political Language


  • To acquire the skills to decode and break-down political messages and understand emotive language and how it is used to advance an agenda
  • To learn how to fact check information sources and political candidates in order to make more informed political decisions.


Asking the right questions
To the teacher: Encourage students not to accept claims at face value. Rather, have students test claims by asking a few questions. Who is speaking, and where are they getting their information? How can I validate what they’re saying? What facts would prove this claim wrong? Does the evidence presented really back up what’s being said? If an ad says a product is “better,” for instance, what does that mean? Better than what?

Arguments consist of sentences that use language informatively. But, of course, not all sentences are informative. Some are emotive, which means they use language in a poetic fashion. Emotive language is intended to express feelings and attitudes. In the case of these two advertisements, the emotive function is meant to trigger a certain reaction in viewers. The word "amnesty" could inspire a sense of injustice. Other emotive terms, such as "Washington politicians," could prompt viewers to feel impotent or powerless, while the euphemism "tragic day" and the blanket label "terrorists" could be used to inspire fear.

Emotive language can keep viewers from realizing that key facts are missing and leave them open to accepting misleading statements. For example: The Citizens United ad, after it rekindles the fear of 9/11, claims the bill would put "potential terrorists...on a path to U.S. citizenship," which is both vague ("potential terrorists") and inaccurate since it implies the bill would allow actual terrorists to become U.S. citizens.

Have students view the and Citizens United advertisements and review the storyboards (, Citizens United). Give each student a copy of the Emotive Language Handout. Allow students to pick out the expressive words/phrases in the ads as well as any claims they believe may be misleading. Their list should include the following:

Emotive Terms/Phrases

  • amnesty
  • our values
  • tragic day
  • terrorists
  • Washington politicians
  • aliens
  • great nation
  • gangs
  • drug dealers
  • convicted criminals
  • wrong
  • rule of law
  • worse/better
  • meaningless
  • nation of immigrants
  • foundation of law and order

Misleading Phrases

  • "9/11 hijackers were in the United States illegally"
  • "put millions of people who are in our country illegally, including potential terrorists and gang members, on a path to U.S. citizenship"
  • "bill does not even allow convicted criminals to be deported"
  • "Now Congress and the president want to give amnesty to millions of illegal aliens instead of securing the border"

Organize the students into groups of 3 to 5. Instruct them to discuss their findings and answer the following questions:

  • Do any of these words serve two functions? In other words, are there any words that are both emotive and informative?
  • Where else have you seen these words used?
  • What emotions do these words convey?
  • Do these words obscure or reinforce the factual statements? If so, how? If not, why?
  • How reliable is the source of the information in the ad? What is the source?
  • What information do we need to keep someone else's choice of words from doing our thinking for us?

Keep students in their small groups and have them go through the Citizens United ad and remove the emotive and misleading terms and phrases. Their final product should look something like this:

Citizens United Ad Script

Newt Gingrich: _______________ were in the United States illegally.

Today, more than five years since that _________, our borders remain open ______________.

____________, the new McCain-Kennedy immigration plan _______ millions of people who are in our country illegally, including __________ and ________, on a path to U.S. citizenship.

This bill_______even _____________ to be deported. That’s ________.
The United States is a __________. The ________ should be nonnegotiable.

But our ___________ was built upon a _______________.

_____________ makes our laws __________ and ________ millions more to cross the border illegally – making the problem _________. Not ________.

The new McCain-Kennedy immigration plan ____________ our borders, and it ________. Don’t let the _________ compromise our security.


After students have removed the emotive and misleading terms/phrases, have them replace the words with neutral terms/phrases. When they are done, hold a class discussion. Ask the students if they found the assignment to be difficult or easy, and how they think the ad has changed.

Cross-checking / Weighing the evidence
To the teacher: Be sure to tell students not to rely on one source or one study, but to look to see what others say. Not all sources are equal.

Now that students have parsed through the ads and identified the emotive and misleading terms/phrases, it's important that students learn to seek relatively unbiased information from competent sources. Point out to students that they must keep an open mind and actively look for facts in order to counteract the sometimes erroneous conclusions that can be made based on deceptive terms and phrases. In order to combat the effects of emotive language, viewers have to be ready and willing to discover the facts on their own, while using reliable, impartial sources.

In this case, students will be given a article and a summary of the immigration bill's provisions from Project Vote Smart, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that gathers and organizes information on candidates for political office. Using these sources, students should be able to check the phrases in the ad and determine if they are indeed accurate.

Keep students in their small groups and distribute the and Project Vote Smart research materials. Instruct students to read through the sourcing and answer these questions:

  • What is the definition of “amnesty"?
  • Were the 9/11 terrorists in the United States illegally?
  • Who are “potential terrorists” and how many people would that account for?
  • Would the bill put actual terrorists and gang members “on a path to U.S. citizenship"?
  • Would the bill allow convicted criminals to be deported?
  • Would illegal immigrants be punished for breaking the law? If so, how?
  • Can accurate statements about the bill be conveyed in an ad without using emotive terms/phrases? What would the ad look/sound like?


Assessment: Replacing emotive words with neutral words exercise will help determine if the students understand the difference between the two and how it affects the message.

Differentiation: Using technology (watching the commercial)


Think about these questions?

- Is framing effective?

- Do you find anything wrong with the Luntz memo? Anything particularly insightful?

- Is framing ethical? Do the ends justify the means?

Day 9: Media Manipulation


  • Students will understand how politicians and political operatives manipulate language in order to advance an agenda
  • Students will be aware of the tools used to frame the news in the favor of a particular group and how communications professionals try to influence how the media frames issues.


    1. Review vocab: VNR (Video News Release)- Handout, Spin, Framing
    2. What is spin an how is it used? The teacher will give a description of spin and give some prominent examples of how it has been used. Students will then be asked to practice spin.
    3. The teacher will give a description of framing and how it has been used over time.
    4. Students will watch the segment “Give Us What We Want” about Frank Luntz and political framing from the PBS Series “The Persuaders.
    5. Students will then be assigned a particular bill such as “No Child Left Behind”, “The Patriot Act,” and “The Clear Skies Initiative.”
    6. Students read over collected information on their bill from Wikipedia and then fill out the accompanying worksheet.
    7. At the end of class we will have a group discussion about each bill and how students answered the questions on the worksheet.


  • VNR handout
  • Framing and Spin handout
  • PBS online presentation “The Persuaders” here-
  • No Child Left Behind-




Assessment: The worksheet will give a very good indication if the students understand why words matter and how they can be manipulated to influence public perceptions. This is a formative assessment.

Differentiation: Using technology (PBS presentation), group work.


  1. Read “Liberal Media Evidence” from the Weekly Standard here-
  2. Read “What Liberal Media?” by Eric Alterman, here-
  3. Write down arguments for each of these points of view- the media is liberal, the media is conservative, the media has only a corporate bias, the media has no bias.

Day 10: Is the Media bias?


  • Students should be able to detect direct and indirect sources of bias in the news.
  • Students should have an understanding of the strategies some use to cover their subtle biases.
  • Students should have reviewed the evidence regarding a political bias in the media and should have developed an opinion as to whether they think the media has a liberal bias, conservative bias, corporate bias, or no bias at all.


The teacher will hand out the “detecting bias in the media” worksheet” and review each point with students, provide examples, and check for student comprehension. Different pages from the day’s newspaper will be handed out to students in groups of 3 or 4. They are to take an article and dissect it using handout 10.1 for bias. A short class discussion will follow.

Students will then be put into a large circle with a smaller circle inside of it. All students on the inside circle are expected to participate in the discussion. We will start by claiming that the media is liberal. All who have points to contribute can start on the inside circle. When someone on the outside circle has a point that they want to contribute, they must be “tapped in” by someone from the inside circle who is ready to go out. We will then turn our attention to the second point of view- the media is conservative. Students will then be asked to advocate the position that the media is neither liberal nor conservative, but simply corporate in it’s bias. Finally, students should defend the position that the media has no bias from the point of view of a reporter. The discussion style will remain the same.


  • Handout 10.1 on Detecting Bias in the Media
  • Newspapers

Assessment: Students will be assessed through the discussion in both debate points and listening skills.

Differentiation: This style of discussion can be good for both vocal and more shy students and allow everyone to contribute in the way they feel more comfortable.


Read “The Role of Stereotypes in the News.” -

Day 11: Stereotypes and Cognitive Dissonance


  • Understand the way that the media can reinforce stereotypes and how that can be harmful.
  • Learn the concept of cognitive dissonance and how it affects our learning


Students will be divided up into 8 groups and be asked to list common stereotypes for one of these groups: young people, Latinos, African-Americans, women, lawyers, homosexuals, Jews, the poor.

Students will come back and talk about these as a class.

Then students will be given handout 11.1 and asked to think about what might be wrong with those images. This will lead into a discussion of stereotypes being reinforced by the media and how they can be subconscious and reinforced.

The teacher will then present a brief powerpoint presentation about cognitive dissonance and do an incorporated activity on how they deal with cognitive dissonance. Students will then be asked to brainstorm how cognitive dissonance affects them. Students will be asked to write a plan for introducing themselves to perspectives that they usually do not.


  • Katrina image handout
  • Butcher block paper for each group to record stereotypes of their assigned groups

Assessment: Group work on stereotypes and their own “anti-cognitive dissonance plan” will serve as assessments.

Differentiation: Group work, visual intelligence used with image exercise.

Homework: work on final performance assessment

Day 12: Practicing Media Literacy


  • Break down political rhetoric and spin
  • Fact check claims of political candidates
  • Distinguish between facts and opinions
  • Use all previous knowledge to build a political advertisement for your assigned candidate.


We will start class by assigning each member of the class one of the 8 Democratic presidential candidates involved in the Democratic debate in November, 2007. The teacher will hand out the scorecard worksheet. Students will then watch 25-30 minutes of the Democratic debate and as they watch fill out the worksheet. Students will then get together with the other students in the class who had the same candidate. They will compare their notes and then have the next 20-25 minutes to research claims made by their candidate and claims made against their candidate during the debate. They should divide up the research effectively to make sure they take advantage of this class time in order to discover as much as possible. Each candidate group will then be given 5 minutes to present to the class the evidence they have found to support or refute the claims made regarding their candidate. If there is time remaining the students will get back together in their group and write a 30 second radio ad for their candidate based on what they have learned about them from the debate.

Add-on exercise- Be a press secretary! Students will pretend they are the press secretary of the candidate they were assigned, and from what they have learned, take questions from the rest of the class as practice using political language and spin.


  • Video of Democratic debate
  • Debate watch worksheet

Assessment: The debate watch worksheet will serve as a good formative assessment to see if students are able to incorporate what they know about the use of political language and the use of rhetoric to pass off opinions as facts in order to break down their assigned candidate’s message.

Differentiation: Using technology to watch the debate in the classroom, having students work both alone and in groups (intrapersonal/ interpersonal), bodily-kinesthetic involved in add-on “be a press secretary” activity.

Homework: Complete the performance assessment for the unit.


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