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Eva C. Lawson Boice
Social studies teacher
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Lesson Plans

Television: Issues vs. Image

Television: Issues vs. Image

Eva C. Lawson Boice of Dover Middle-High School in Dover Heights, N.Y.

Eva C. Lawson Boice
Dover Middle-High School
Dover Plains, N.Y.

Subject: Television: Issues vs. Image

Description of School and Students:
This lesson will be taught to 12th graders in a class of Participation in Government. The class generally has about 20 students in a semi-rural school setting. The school has successfully transitioned to a block schedule for the past several years, and the students are accustomed to the work ethic of a 90-minute block. The students are just beginning to appreciate the value of the written word as opposed to the "sound bite" infotainment that often prevents them from knowing the whole picture. This lesson will take 3 teaching days.

Generative topic:
Television and newspaper reports cover the same story, particularly political stories, in very different ways.

Generative objects:
"How to Watch TV News" by Neil Postman and Steve Powers; worksheets from "Televised Politics and the 1988 Presidential Election" by John Splaine; video "The Media and Presidential Politics"

Understanding Goals:

  1. Essential Questions:
    1. How do television and newspapers differ in their handling of events and issues?
    2. How can we become more discerning in our viewing so that we elect leaders
      and not image
  2. Critical Questions
    1. How does television obliterate issue in favor of image?
    2. Do television and the print media have anything to learn from one another?
    3. In a presidential campaign, the candidate sent a message, the press conveyed it, but
      the public heard a message the candidate never intended. What happened?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale and Time Line:

Students have read excerpts of the Postman-Powers book and have a working knowledge of its themes. Now it is time for them to get specific knowledge that will enable them to become accountable decision makers in the political process by comparing print and electronic media, and how they influence voters when conveying information about candidates. When speaking to our institute, Postman offered the idea that defending students from the media involved a well-rounded, inclusive education. Seniors in high school are at voting age, and require the appropriate information that will lead them to discernment.

Activity 1
The teacher will brainstorm with students as to all sources where news is available to them; this should lead to a generalization that print and electronic media are dominant. A worksheet will be distributed for student reaction based on Splaine’s work on those principles used by television promoters of political candidates. Students will answer questions by drawing on their own viewing habits:

  • Why does television rely on repetition?
  • How does TV play on emotion rather than intellect?
  • Support or refute: it is not what you say on TV, but how you look when you say it.
  • Why is television successful when you do not really need to know how to read, write, or think to watch it?
  • If television is form over content, why do we rely on it so?

Students and teacher will then discuss what they need to know about a presidential contender that TV might not tell them. Assignment sheet will be distributed to be filled out while watching a nightly news broadcast.

Activity 2
Students will compare news broadcast from previous evening with coverage in morning newspaper as to lead story, air time and print space devoted to it, other stories covered, sound and sight bites, human interest stories and amount of coverage, attention span and
content void.

  • Were some stories too long to hold attention?
  • Were some too short and left you needing more information?
  • What items were covered in the newspaper but obviously absent from the television broadcast? Why?

Teacher will then ask the class to predict the future use and viability of Internet news service. Once that discussion has taken place, students will use classroom computer or go to computer lab and find a story online that they saw both in the morning paper and on last night’s television broadcast. What charactertistics of both print and electronic media are in evidence?

Activity 3
Students will watch video "The Media and Presidential Politics" which uses the presidential election of 1988 as its focus (Splaine’s work is also based on that election). Afterward, students will prioritize and discuss stakeholders in how the media presents candidates. Who is responsible and to what degree: viewers/voters, reporters, news directors, news producers, corporate owners, poltical parties, the candidates themselves? In conclusion, the class will develop five guidelines that can be used by networks that will help prepare
young voters for future elections.

Students will write an essay, using rubric guidelines, on the following topic: " Smile; It’s a Camera, But It Isn’t Always Candid: What Young Voters Need to Know About the Influence of Television."


  • Postman, Neil and Powers, Steve. "How To Watch TV News" (paperback edition)
  • Splaine, John. "Televised Politics and the 1988 Election." This can be found in The Center for Learning publication "U.S. History, Book Four, Seeking New Directions"
  • "The Media and Presidential Politics" is a video that can be ordered from the Social Studies School Service catalog.

Eva Boice’s lesson plan, "Television: Issues vs. Image" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1999, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 232.

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