Featured School Papers:

Know Your J-Jargon

editorial cartoonist: An artist who works on editorial page cartoons.

Learn more J-Jargon »

Lesson Plans

Terry Gillis Sugrue
Library/media specialist
Full-bio »

Lesson Plans

Becoming Informed: Recognizing the Heart of Democracy

How Do The Media Measure Up?

Becoming Informed: Recognizing the Heart of Democracy

Terry Gillis Sugrue of Reingold Elementary School in Fitchburg, Mass.

Terry Gillis Sugrue
Reingold Elementary School
Fitchburg, Mass.

Title: Becoming Informed: Recognizing the Heart of Democracy

Description of School and Students

This curriculum is designed for a 12th grade applied communications (tech prep) class in an urban high school of approximately 1,000 students. This senior class of 25 students exhibits a wide range of reading and writing abilities. Many of these students plan on attending community college after graduation. However, some of the students will not continue their education after high school.

Generative Topic

The Freedom of the Press

Generative Object

A recent copy of the local newspaper “Sentinel and Enterprise”

Understanding Goals

 Essential or Guiding Question

  • What is meant by freedom of the press?

Critical Engagement Questions

  • What are the media?

  • What influence does a free press have on a free society?

  • How can a free press raise society’s awareness of important issues?”

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

In this unit on the freedom of the press and its importance in a democratic society, students will review the First Amendment, analyze the effect of the media on their lives, and investigate the perceptions that other citizens have concerning the function of a free press. This unit will be introduced at the beginning of the year so that the students receive a basic media education and will understand this constitutional guarantee. In addition, students will work collaboratively to survey their school and community about their awareness and knowledge. The time-line for this unit is approximately three weeks, and we will be utilizing the double block of class time to work in groups.

Activity 1

Students will write a journal entry answering these three questions:

  • What are the media?

  • What influence does the media have on our society?

  • How do the media affect your life?

I collect these journal entries and read them to determine “where” students are in their understanding of the relationship of democracy and a free press. I take examples of students’ responses from these papers and make overhead transparencies to use in class discussion the next day.

Activity 2

Using the information on the overhead, students discuss their own and their classmates comments and perceptions about the media and its importance in our society. I will ask if anyone is familiar with the First Amendment and have a transparency ready to show. After a review and brief discussion, I will then show students Thomas Jefferson’s quote:

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.”

and continue the class discussion.

Activity 3

Distribute copies of “Hollywood, D.C.” by David M. Shribman (Boston Globe Magazine, Aug. 9, 1998). Ask students to read the article and write an evaluative essay that will be shared first in small group discussions and then with the entire class. This assignment can be completed for homework.

Activity 4

Divide the class into six groups and ask them to share and discuss their evaluations of “Hollywood, D.C.” After sufficient time has been allowed for small group discussion, convene the larger group and discuss what we have learned from the article.

Activity 5

In their small groups, students brainstorm and create a questionnaire to use with a specific group of people (i.e. high school freshmen) to discover their knowledge and perceptions of the media. Students decide which target group to survey and how many to include in their survey. Students will be given a sufficient amount of time to hand out questionnaires in the school and the community and to tabulate the results.

Activity 6

Student groups decide how to present their findings to the class by using some sort of visual which will be saved and displayed in the class.


Activity 1

Students will be graded on the content and thought shown in their journal entry.

Activity 4

Students hand in their evaluative essays for grading on content, clarity, and adherence to the standards outlined by the English department.

Activity 6

Students will be given a group grade on their presentations. They will be assessed on the quality of their visual, and on their oral presentation to the class. Students should be knowledgeable about the results of the group survey and the conclusions drawn from the results.


  • David M. Tribesman, “Hollywood, DC” (Boston Globe Magazine, Aug. 9, 1998)
  • Overhead projector and transparencies

Terry Gillis Sugrue’s lesson plan, "Becoming Informed: Recognizing the Heart of Democracy" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 15.

Archived Lesson Plans »