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Lesson Plans

Camille Pepe Sperrazza
Journalism teacher
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Lesson Plans

Balancing Journalism in Wartime

Balancing Journalism in Wartime

Camille Pepe Sperrazza of Joseph B. Cavallaro Middle School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Camille Pepe Sperrazza
Joseph B. Cavallaro Middle School
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Title: Balancing Journalism in Wartime

Description of School and Students

This unit is prepared for 8th-grade Journalism students at Joseph B. Cavallaro Middle School, a New York City public school. Students in this program have already taken two consecutive years of journalism, and many were tested to gain entry. All students speak English. Many are of Russian and Asian descent. The class is comprised of about 25 – 30 students.

New York State Standards

  • Standard 1: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding;
  • Standard 2: Students read, write, listen, and speak for response and expression;
  • Standard 3: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for critical analysis and evaluation;
  • Standard 4: Students will read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction.

New York City Standards

  • E1 b, c, d: Students extend ideas; make connections to related topics; analyze arguments; identify an author’s stance. They become familiar with public documents; identify social context of documents; examine its appeal to audiences; and identify persuasive techniques.
  • E2 a, b, e: Students produce reports and make judgment that are interpretive, analytic, evaluative, and reflective. They support judgments and demonstrate an understanding of literary works.
  • E3 a, b, c, d: By working in groups, students listen to each other’s ideas; display appropriate turn-taking behaviors; solicit other comments; offer opinions; respond appropriately; give reasons to support opinion; clarify explanations; brainstorm; problem-solve. They demonstrate an awareness of the media and evaluate its role and impact.
  • E4 a, b: Students demonstrate understanding of the rules of grammar; proofread; add and delete detail; clarify work; rearrange sentences; and sharpen focus.
  • E5 a: Students evaluate literary merit; identify literary forms; make inferences; and interpret authors’ decisions.

Generative Topic

  • Exploring the role of the journalist and the press during wartime

Generative Objects

  • a dollar bill
  • current newspapers

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Question
    • How deep should journalists “dig” to get a story?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Why is a journalist’s job sometimes dangerous?
    • What risks are involved in getting information about war to the public?
    • Why is it necessary for journalists to report viewpoints that others may find offensive?
    • From what government officials do reporters get information about the war?
    • How do journalists prepare for an interview?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline

This unit will give students insight into the dangers journalists face covering wars and the ethics involved in reporting information that others may prefer not to read in print. It will also provide a deeper understanding into the complexities of war and introduce students to key government officials involved in delivering information to the press. The unit should take about two weeks.


Activity 1

  • Hold up a dollar bill, and tell students: Patrick Healy, a journalist who has covered the war in Afghanistan, says that money is often the only weapon journalists are “armed with” when they cover wars. Ask: How can money protect journalists when they are facing men with weapons such as machine guns and grenades? Engage students in a discussion about the dangers war correspondents face.
  • Who was Daniel Pearl? How did he die? Elicit class discussion. Why might countries who don’t have a free press believe that journalists are “spies” for the government?

Activity 2

  • Write on board: According to The New York Times, “37 journalists died in the line of duty” in 2001; another “118 were imprisoned,” and “more than 600 came under attack by beatings, arrests, censorship, or harassment because someone just didn’t like what they wrote.” Why is a journalist’s job so dangerous? Allow time for students to jot down their ideas. Elicit discussion about the risks of writing something that another person may not like to read. Compare it to problems we’ve had with our school newspaper when we’ve reported information others found offensive. Why do we take these risks?
  • Point out I believe the 600 figure to be far too low because, even as a journalist who writes features, editorials, advertorials, and reviews, I have been “harassed” by people who didn’t appreciate my views. Share some of these stories with students. Why is it necessary for journalists to take positions that may not be popular? Elicit discussion.
  • You may want to consult The Freedom Forum’s Journalists Memorial Web site for current information about journalists dying in the line of duty. (http://www.newseum.org/scripts/journalist/yearBrowse.asp)

Activity 3

  • Read the article, “Daniel Pearl’s Essential Work,” by Ann Cooper.
  • After the reading, divide class into small groups to answer the following questions:
    • Why would Daniel Pearl and other journalists risk their lives for information?
    • Why does the author compare journalists to firefighters, police, and soldiers? Is this comparison an accurate one?
    • To what extent does the possibility of earning a Pulitzer Prize have on taking dangerous risks?
  • Each group presents its ideas to the class, and students share their thoughts.

Activity 4

  • Write on board: Journalist Nicholas D. Kristof writes about covering the Congo civil war: “I was in a plane crash, was chased through the jungle for two days by rebel guerrillas and caught the most lethal form of malaria. Yet, the rewards of digging up tough, fresh stories made it perhaps the most satisfying journalistic trip I’ve ever made.” How could Kristof find this experience “satisfying”? What motivates journalists to take these types of risks? Allow students time to jot down their thoughts, then elicit discussion with class.
  • Read “A Life of Balances,” by Nicholas D. Kristof. After the reading, divide class into small groups and have each group answer the following questions:
    • What anecdote about the dangers of being a journalist made an impression on you? Why?
    • In general, should journalists be more cautious when covering war? Or, will being cautious prevent them from getting the story? Support your points with information from the article.
  • Each group shares its thoughts and presents ideas to class.

Activity 5

  • From what government officials do reporters get information about the war?
  • Write on board: If you could ask a government official a question concerning the war, what would that question be? Allow students time to jot down thoughts, then have them read aloud questions and share ideas.
  • Read, “War and Destiny: The White House in Wartime,” by Christopher Buckley with the class. This article introduces students to government officials involved in supplying information about the war to the press. As the class reads each person’s brief biographies and looks at the photos, each person is to consider who might be the best person to answer their questions.
  • After the reading, ask students to whom would they address their specific questions and why?
  • Discuss.

Activity 6

  • Divide students into groups: those who wish to address questions to Donald Rumsfeld; those with questions for Colin Powell, etc. Have each group spend a class session or two scanning newspapers for articles that may contain answers to their questions. At the end of the session, each group should be able to supply the following information:
  • Have any of their questions been answered? Which ones? What are the responses to these questions?
  • Do any of the answers given need to be expanded upon? How might these questions be worded to get a more specific reply?
  • After reading several articles, are there any additional questions for the person you’ve Selected?

Activity 7

  • Each group should present its thoughts on the previous day’s activity to the entire class, seeing where questions overlap, expanding on ideas, and re-wording questions to be specific and clear.


Students have engaged in class discussions and oral presentations. They have presented their ideas and re-evaluated them. The culminating project is to have the groups of students compose letters to the persons they’ve Selected. In these letters, the class should introduces themselves as journalism students and ask the questions they have compiled. This may be done in class and should take a day or two to complete. The proper way to write a business letter should be reviewed. Students in each of the groups will be responsible for revising and editing letters to perfection. The teachers will read the letters carefully, as they will be mailed. Later, when the responses come in, students will evaluate this information and use it to write an article for the school paper.


This lesson plan was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 2002, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge,Mass., p. 47.

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