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Emily Tymus
English teacher
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Lesson Plans

Comparing News Sources: Where Would You Turn?

Comparing News Sources: Where Would You Turn?

Emily Tymus of New Berlin West High School in New Belin, Wis.

Emily Tymus
New Berlin West High School,
New Berlin, Wis.

Title: Comparing News Sources: Where Would You Turn?

Description of School and Students
This series of lessons, lasting approximately two weeks, has been designed for a ninth-grade English class in a public, suburban high school in Wisconsin. This mini-unit will follow the study of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and attempts to connect the thematic underpinnings of the novel to the students’ own lives. Most of the students in the course have English as their primary language; the cultural mix is roughly 80% Caucasian, 15% Asian-American, and 5% African-American.

Wisconsin State Standards

  • Wisconsin Model Academic Standards—English Language Arts
    • Reading and Literature: A.12.1, A.12.3, A.12.4
    • Writing: B.12.1, B.12.2, B.12.3
    • Oral Communication: C.12.1, C.12.2, C.12.3
    • Media and Technology: E.12.1, E.12.2, E.12.4

Generative Topic
Sources of “news” information

Generative Objects

  • Matches (because of our study of "Fahrenheit 451") and a large hammer
  • One newspaper, a news magazine, a radio, a TV, and a computer (the last three are always in the room)

Understanding Goals

  • Essential Question
    • What is the highest quality source for news?
  • Critical Engagement Questions
    • Where can a person find news?
    • Why is it important to get “quality” news?
    • What makes “quality” news?
    • What is the purpose of news?
    • What is the responsibility of the news media?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Timeline

Few high school students have acquired a regular news habit or a reliance on legitimate news sources. Rather, they get their information from short snippets on the radio or television—this form usually existing as some type of divergence from the “real” business of those media outlets. For example, a student might catch something about Iraq in the context of MTV’s news clips or en route to school in the morning. Today’s adolescents tend to “snack” on news instead of getting well-balanced meals. This plan introduces students to more news sources and asks them to evaluate the job that each one is doing. Because the class has recently read Ray Bradbury’s novel about a society that has extremely limited access to information, the hope is that students will take more of an interest in exploring and critiquing news sources than they might otherwise. Perhaps they will experience a heightened desire to consume quality news products.


Activity 1

  • Divide the class into groups of 3 to 4 students.
  • Give each group a large piece of paper and have the students brainstorm their responses to the following question: What happened this week that was newsworthy?
  • After giving them a few minutes to get their ideas down, ask them to list their sources next to each news item on their lists.
  • As a large group, have students share their brainstormed lists. Together discuss the commonalities on their papers:
    • which stories seemed to appear on multiple lists
    • which news sources tended to be the class’s primary sources of information
    • why are those sources the most common?
  • Before class is over, use the generative objects and references to "Fahrenheit 451" to pose these questions:
    • What if people in our community started burning newspapers and magazines on a regular basis?
    • What if they started seizing or smashing radios, televisions, and computers?
    • What would happen to our society?
    • What would happen to you?
    • What would you do about it?
  • Homework: On a piece of paper, write down (in your opinion) the two best sources of news. Also right down your criteria for a “quality” news source.

Activity 2

  • Have each student meet with a partner to share their lists from last night.
  • Together, as a class, make two giant lists that will stay on the wall for the duration of the unit; one list is entitled “Our Picks for Best News Sources,” the second is called “What Makes Quality News?” then briefly coach students to watch a tape of last night’s BBC World News.
  • Give them a template for recording the information they get from the show. (This same template will be used during the entire unit. It requires students to keep track of the types of stories that are reported, the length of the stories, and the details of the stories.)
  • Finally, watch this news program together.
  • Homework: Watch the nightly news (ABC, NBC, or CBS—the class will be divided into three groups) and complete the template.

Activity 3

  • In small groups (arranged by the same network), share the results from last night’s viewing.
  • As a large group, share any reactions (to content or format) to the network news.
  • Together watch a segment of CNN. While viewing, record information on the template. Then discuss and begin comparing the sources.
  • Homework: Watch the local news or the "NewsHour" on PBS (the class will be divided by network). Complete the template.

Activity 4

  • In small groups (each group will have one student who watched ABC local, one who watched NBC local, one who watched PBS…), share and compare the results from last night’s viewing.
  • As a large group, share reactions (to content and format) and then revisit the list that we made during Activity 2.
  • Have students respond to the following prompt in writing: Of the television news you’ve watched this week, which source has been of the highest quality? Why? Have volunteers share their writing.
  • Give students copies of Newsweek. Give them the rest of class time to read/browse through the magazine and complete their templates.
  • Homework: Each student will receive a copy of the local newspaper, the local metro daily, The New York Times, or USA Today. Their assignment is to read the paper and complete the template.

Activity 5

  • Go around the room, having each student read a headline from her paper (no repeats). Then, as a class, make a comparison/contrast chart about the different papers.
  • Move that discussion into a free-write about the differences between the papers we’ve read and the television news we’ve watched.
  • Finish class by listening to a taped version of NPR’s news from Washington. Have students complete templates.
  • Homework: Listen to at least one of the news segments on your favorite radio station. Complete the template.

Activity 6

  • Have students answer the following question in writing: From what you can tell, what is the mission of your favorite radio station? Is the station living up to its mission? Have volunteers share to read.
  • Move this sharing into a discussion about the “missions” of the other media we’ve looked at this week. Have students share opinions about these “missions” (think back to slogans the different networks/companies use) and whether the outlet is living up to the projected mission. Also, have students give reasons why it is important to get “quality” news.
  • Homework: Divide the class into seven groups. Each group is assigned one website (see list in Resources Recommended). By tomorrow every member of the group needs to view the site and complete the template.

Activity 7

  • Students get into groups according to their Web sites.
  • On large paper, the students should list the top stories presented on their Web sites. Share with the class.
  • Then, explain the final group assessment and begin those projects.


  • Group presentations: The Best Source within a Medium
    • Students arrange themselves into groups of 3-4.
    • Each group chooses one medium—no overlapping (network TV, cable TV, public TV, newspapers, news magazines, radio, or Internet/other).
    • Over several days the group needs to “consume” as much news from its medium as is possible, being careful to interact with many different examples of that medium. In the presentation to the class, each group needs to give an overview of the information sources it consumed within the chosen medium, identify the highest quality source, and give a rationale for the choice.
    • Groups will be assessed with a rubric that measures thoughtfulness, thoroughness, and professionalism.
  • B. In-class essay: The Best News Sources
    • One class period to answer the following prompt: A powerful group has come into the community and started burning newspapers and magazines on a regular basis. They are also in the process of seizing and smashing radios, televisions, and computers. At this time, you have no ability to stop this group from gaining control or from limiting the community’s access to information. However, for some unknown reason, you will have continued access to two news sources of your choice. You’ll be able to consume this information without risk and you’ll be able to pass on any information you receive through word-of-mouth. Which two sources do you choose? (Be careful. Newspapers would not count as one source—it’s way too broad. Rather, the local metro daily would count as one source.)
    • Essays will be assessed with a holistic rubric, measuring how well the student accomplishes the purpose of the essay, including such elements as rhetoric and word choice.

Resources Recommended

  • Patterson, Thomas E. “Doing Well and Doing Good: How Soft News and Critical Journalism Are Shrinking the News Audience and Weakening Democracy – And What News Outlets Can Do About It” Cambridge, MA: Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, 2000)
  • Videotapes of BBC World News and CNN
  • One newspaper for each student in class
  • Recording of NPR news
  • Web sites of major news organizations: The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Reuters, CNN and The New York Times.

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

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