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Catherine Rahaim
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A Tough Sell: Newspapers to Teens

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A Tough Sell: Newspapers to Teens

Catherine Rahaim of Gardner High School in Gardner, Mass.

Catherine Rahaim
Gardner High School
Gardner, Mass.

Title: A Tough Sell: Newspapers to Teens

Description of School and Students
Gardner is a former industrial community seeking a new economic base. The high school services a population of 850 students who come mostly from lower middle class families. This unit will be used in a junior U.S. history class, general level. Traditionally, these classes are large — around 30 students — with more ethnic and cultural diversity than honors and college prep classes.

Generative Topic
Why read newspapers?

Generative Objects

  • Separate newspaper pages representing some of the following:
  • An article about our high school football team
  • An article about extending the school year
  • A continuing sensational current story
  • A breaking report
  • A politically-charged item
  • A tabloid “extra-terrestrial”-type item

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Questions
    What is a “good” newspaper? Is some information too private to print in a newspaper? Is it easy, or always necessary, to be objective in news reporting?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • What motivates people to read newspapers?
    • What is the difference between a reliable and an unreliable newspaper?
    • To whom do newspapers appeal? Is telling the truth always justified? Who decides?
    • When might it be better to refrain from “telling all”?

    Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

    Newspapers compete with television, computers, school, family and social life for our attention. Particularly for the average 16-year-old in a general course of study, newspapers do not fare well. Students need to be encouraged to get comfortable with this medium, to be informed about the newspaper’s goal to get them as consumers, and to find that personal connection that makes the newspaper relevant to them.

    While it is easy to get students’ attention about articles in local papers involving themselves, their friends, celebrities, and their school team, this lesson aims at challenging that interest to the next level, i.e. discussion by the state board of education to extend their school year or the legislature’s debate about the drinking age. Optimally, this unit aims at moving to a more nationally-focused interest through year-long exposure to newspapers and a growing personal connection there as well.

    Some of that connection is knowledge-based and power-based. Why read an article about Mexico’s controversial new president if finding Mexico on a world map might be a challenge? This one week unit of four activities is the starting point of a year long goal of tying our study of United States history to current events. Hopefully, this will allay students’ anxiety about understanding those daily headlines, and even help them become more critical readers.

    • Activity 1
      “What’s In It For Me?”
      Since it is essential to see the newspaper’s personal connection in a hometown paper, students’ first assignment will be to bring in the previous day’s local paper with five articles blocked off that they chose to read.

      In groups of five or six, students will fill in a teacher-prepared chart of the type of story Selected — local interest, political, club report, sports, entertainment — and the reason for the interest.

      In full class, tally overall groups’ Selections and question the rationale behind the choices and, especially why certain topics/articles seem to be avoided.

      What types of articles were most often Selected? Why? What types of articles were generally avoided? Why? What would/could change your decision to read articles outside your normal interest? Can you think of a time when a certain type of article which does not normally get your attention seemed quite important to read?

      For an assignment, require each student to poll two adults about their newspaper article preferences. Add that information to the charts to highlight the variety of interests that a newspaper may address.

      In class journals, students write a one-paragraph profile of themselves as a newspaper consumer — frequency of reading, likes and dislikes.

    • Activity 2

      “Why Read When I Can Watch?”

      The regional paper will be used for this activity, and the comics page, sports and classified sections are not used.

      Taping a typical evening television news segment, the teacher Selects one story which half the class will view. The other half of the class will read a newspaper article about the same story. In a face-off discussion, each side will take turns challenging each other for details and insight into the full story.

      In the debriefing, list pros and cons of television coverage versus newspaper coverage of that story. Anticipating that the visual aspect of the television news will be compelling, students may also realize that the newspaper was able to give a more complete story, background information, and provide them access and ability to examine the information “in hand” as opposed to a fleeting TV image.

    • Activity 3

      “Who’s On First?”

      In an effort to examine reliability of some articles (especially some of the more outlandish tabloid examples Selected), prepare the following role-playing: With seven students, prepare a “hall incident” that carries a school suspension punishment. Have the protagonist tell his story, the antagonist tell his, a friend of each should give his rendition, a teacher who happened on the scene should explain the incident, three uninvolved passers-by should tell what happened, and the principal (who was not there) should comment on the event.

      For homework, each class member should be the reporter and attempt to write an objective account of the happening.

      Read sample reports to class to evaluate for reliability and objectivity.

    • Activity 4


      Give small groups teacher-prepared scenarios for news stories, including “factual” material that provides, as part of their coverage, information which may not be appropriate or necessary to publish, such as:
      • The name of a rape victim
      • The dollar amount of a scholarship
      • The weight of a cheerleader
      • Someone’s SAT scores
      • A person’s religion
      • Family income
      • An indiscernible disability
      • A psychiatric history

      In full-class discussion, debate which of these controversial facts are relevant to include in a news story.

    Class discussions and group activities are part of the overall class participation requirement. A class journal will have a minimum of entries by year’s end, with a rubric set-up which will require several entries focused on newspaper evaluations and changing (hopefully, evolving) newspaper habits.


    • “Educating Americans about Public Issues in an Era of Distrust,” Robert J. Blendon Readings and lecture notes from two sessions listed
    • Local and regional newspapers
    • Sensational tabloid front pages
    • “Jim Lehrer’s Guidelines for his Daily Practice of Journalism,” memo from Henry Bector.

    Catherine Rahaim’s lesson plan, "A Tough Sell: Newspapers to Teens" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 2000, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 61.

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