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Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Michael Johnson



In this lesson, students explore propaganda techniques, and discuss how they are the targets of advertisers and politicians. Students will understand and identify how propaganda techniques are used to influence them into doing, feeling and believing a message that may or may not be of benefit to them. Students will create their own propaganda message using one (or more) of 11 known propaganda techniques. The key is to help students begin an awareness of, and the ability to identify, how their outlook on life is related to the messages they see. This lesson takes one 60-minute class period to complete.


  • Students will be able to identify what propaganda is and how is it used.
  • Students will be able to explain the various propaganda techniques and how they affect the dissemination of information.
  • Students will be able to interpret propaganda and spin to make an informed decision.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

Images of propaganda

Judging Propaganda worksheet

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Warm-up (5 minutes)

Instructor will write the word propaganda on the board and ask students, as a class, what this word means to them. What do they think when they heard the word? Prompt students to think about the definition, examples, situations in which it is used, and why it would be used in a situation.

After the discussion, students should understand that propaganda refers to a type of message aimed at influencing opinions and/or the behavior of people. Propaganda may provide only partial information or be deliberately misleading. Propaganda techniques are often found on television and radio, as well as magazines and newspapers.

Step 2 — Samples of propaganda (5 minutes)

Show or distribute the attached examples of propaganda and discuss with students:

  • What technique is being used?
  • What do you think the purpose of this image is?
  • Is this propaganda?  Why or why not?  If yes, which pieces of information regarding the subject of the image are not addressed?
  • What might we learn about society based on the pieces of propaganda?
  • Is propaganda only limited to foreign governments with communistic or dictatorial regimes? Has the United States ever generated propaganda?

Step 3 — Assessing prior knowledge (5 minutes)

Ask students what types of propaganda techniques they can name. After a short discussion, introduce (or review) the following 11 techniques of propaganda:

  • Emotional appeal (i.e. fear):  Appealing to the emotions of an audience.  For example, when a propagandist warns members of her audience that disaster will result if they do not follow a particular course of action, they are using fear appeal.
  • Glittering generalities:  Words of praise for a product or person; use of nice words such as “goodness” or “patriotism.”
  • Testimonials: Famous people or figures who will appear trustworthy speak to the audience in promotion of a product or idea.
  • Bandwagon:  The basic theme of the bandwagon appeal is that “everyone else is doing it, and so should you.”
  • Plain-folks: By using the plain-folks technique, speakers attempt to convince their audience that they, and their ideas, are “of the people.”
  • Scientific approach:  Using scientific jargon (i.e. numbers, statistics, data, etc.) to convince your audience.
  • Snob appeal:  Giving the impression that people of wealth and prestige are on board.
  • Card stacking:  Only presenting one side of the issue/situation.
  • Transfer:  Transfer is a device by which the propagandist carries over the authority, sanction, and prestige of something we respect and revere to something he would have us accept.
  • Name-calling:  The linking of a person or idea to a negative symbol in hopes the audience will reject the person or the idea on the basis of the negative symbol, instead of looking at the available evidence.
  • Euphemisms:  An attempt to pacify the audience to make an unpleasant reality more palatable. This is accomplished by using words that are bland and euphemistic.

Step 4 — Small group work and discussion (5 minutes)

Place students into small groups and hand out the attached Kids Voting worksheet, “Judging Propaganda.” Have students complete the sheet in their groups then go over the answers as a class:

  1. B        6. H
  2. E        7. C
  3. A        8. F
  4. D       9. G
  5. J       10. I


  • Why should we examine advertisements, campaigns, and various media forms in general for propaganda?  Is propaganda a negative tactic in your opinion?  Explain.
  • Out of the types of propaganda from the worksheet, which do you think is most effective and why?  Which do you think may be used to disguise truth the easiest?

Part 2 of lesson: Utilize a Propaganda Technique to Create an Advertisement

Step 5 — Identification of technique (15 minutes)

Next, assign each group one of the propaganda techniques from the handout.  Then, tell the groups to complete the following assignment:

  • You have been assigned a particular propaganda technique. As a group, create an ad to present to class using this propaganda technique. You may create an ad for a newspaper or a poster.
  • The purpose of the ad is to recruit votes for Steve Williams, who is running for your state’s Senate.
  • You may be creative in the content you provide about Williams, but it must be presented in a way that utilizes your propaganda technique.
  • Be prepared to present your ad to the remainder of class in 15 minutes.
  • Instructor note: If using this activity during an election time, assign students a real political figure for whom to create an ad. Students would then need to research facts about that figure and his/her political values and agenda so that their ad is realistic to the candidate while still utilizing the assigned propaganda technique.  

Step 6 — Student presentations (15 minutes)

Once students are finished, have them present their ad to the remainder of class without sharing the propaganda technique they were assigned.  After each presentation, instruct the rest of class to identify which technique the group utilized. Discuss:

  • How did the ads for Williams differ?
  • Of all the ads you heard/saw today from classmates, which ad would make you most want to vote for Williams and why?
  • When politicians are campaigning during elections, in what ways do they utilize the techniques that you just used in your own ads?  How do these propaganda techniques affect the election process?

Step 7 — Assessment

For homework, instruct students to bring in an example of propaganda. Students should examine magazines, the Internet, or watch TV and scan for examples then summarize the ad example on notebook paper, classify the type of propaganda used in the ad, and evaluate its effectiveness. Ask students to bring in copies of the ads if possible.


Exceeds Expectations – Student performance far exceeds minimal level of performance.

Meets Expectations – Criterion is met at a minimal level.

Revisit – Criterion not met. Student responses are weak or unfocused to be acceptable.

Exceeds expectations Meets expectations Revisit
Student understands and knows the 11 propaganda techniques.
Student created a propaganda message that fits into one (or more) of the 11 techniques.
Student presented their assigned propaganda technique to the class.
Student located a current example of propaganda.



Judging Propaganda

Listed below are the names of propaganda techniques, followed by specific examples. Match the name of the technique to the example by placing the letter in the box.

a. Emotional appeal           f. Scientific approach

b. Glittering generalities    g. Snob appeal

C.Testimonials                   h. Card stacking.

d. Bandwagon                     i. Transfer

e. Plain folks                       j. Name calling


  1. These are vague, nice-sounding descriptions of things: “Have a lawn that makes you proud.” “Get the biggest bang for your buck.” “… stronger, brighter.”
  2. This appeals to your sense of home and family: “Lemonade, just like grandma used to make.” “The hearth-baked goodness of whole grain bread.” “It’s as American as apple pie.”
  3. This is a direct line to your fear, anger, pity, or sense of humor: “Don’t be bullied into paying more taxes that you already do.” “If you know the feeling of a dead battery on a lonely road, then buy …”
  4. Since many people want to do what everyone else is doing, you are urged to get onboard and join the crowd: “Be like Mike.” “Keep up with the Jones and make your home the best it can be.” “Join the younger generation and vote for …”
  5. One blame problems on a group, person or idea: “Our downfall began with the other party.” “I inherited the budget deficit from my predecessor.”
  6. One only presents one side and hides the other. One only presents what is favorable or what is unfavorable, whatever serves the cause.
  7. These refer to people who are either unnamed, unknown or famous who have something positive to say about the product, issue or candidate. Everyone is made to sound like an expert: “Most experienced mothers depend upon …” “These movie stars are voting for …”
  8. Tests, statistics and pseudo-scientific jargon are used to be convincing: “Four out of five dentists use …” “Research shows …” “The polls show our candidate ahead.”
  9. These give the impression that people of elegance, wealth, good taste and intelligence will buy the product or vote for the issue or candidate” “When only the very best will do, buy …” “People of status will vote for …”
  10. One groups things for a stronger effect. The following combinations of traits do not necessarily go together: “Young and joyous,” “think and juicy,” “old and wise.”

Examples of Propaganda

Works Cited and Resources (2017, May 21). Name-calling. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

Child Abuse. 2012. Photograph. Child Health Foundation. Child Health Foundation, 9 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 May 2017.  <

Perkins, Matthew. “Food and Society.”: Subway Sunday: Eat Fresh? Blogger, 16 May 2014. Web. 21 May 2017. <>

Proactive. Digital Image. Propaganda Project 16 May 2014. Web. 21 May 2017. <>

Williams, Morgan. Digital image. N.p., 9 Apr. 2013. Web. 21 May 2017. <>

Beneker, Gerrit A. Digital image. Library of Congress., 1918. Web. 21 May 2017. <>.

Burger King. (2013). Big taste. Less fat. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from <>

Under Armor. (2013). The advantage is undeniable. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from <*C6Doj5eueL0gE2wu24qFAerMHUz%7C3dG0YXV4ts/>

Corona. (2014). Find your beach. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from <*C6Doj5eueL0gE2wu24qFAerMHUz%7C3dG0YXV4ts/>

Hopps, Harry R. “Destroy This Mad Brute.” Digital Desk., 1917. Web. 21 May 2017.  <>

The Concensus Project. (2011). Climate change is real. [Advertisement]. Retrieved from <*C6Doj5eueL0gE2wu24qFAerMHUz%7C3dG0YXV4ts/>

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Spin and how it works

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Michael Johnson


Spin and how it works

In this lesson, students pick up where they left off in propaganda techniques as well as the concept of “spin” and discuss how politicians use these techniques to sway public opinion. Students will identify propaganda used in past and current ads and create their own advertisement using an assigned propaganda technique. Students will also examine how politicians spin current events to suit their own agendas and will assume the role of a prominent political figure’s communication representative who is responsible for spinning news events.


  • Students will identify what is spin and in what ways to politicians employ this technique.
  • Students will be able to explain how a candidate’s party affiliation and agenda inform their public comments.
  • Students will be able to show how spin affect the media and the way it reports news.
  • Students will be able to demonstrate how citizens decipher spin to make an educated decision on issues and reported news.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze in detail its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language evokes a sense of time and place; how it sets a formal or informal tone).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).


100 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

Panetta homework


Put a political spin on things

Spin reflection chart

Computers/laptops (day 2)

Lesson step-by-step Day 1


Exploring “Spin”

Step 1 — Warm up (2 minutes)

As a warm-up, write the following on the board for students to read as they enter class:

  • As of next month, condom dispensing machines will be installed in both male and female bathrooms.

Step 2 — Small group work and debrief (18 minutes)

Divide students into small groups and tell them to write a short blurb announcing this news in the school newspaper from the perspective of one of the following groups (group assignments can be repeated if you have a larger class):

  • Group 1: School administrators who are concerned with teen pregnancy numbers on the rise among younger-age girls.
  • Group 2: Student health advocacy group called “Making Wiser Choices.”
  • Group 3: A student faith-based organization.
  • Group 4: Parent-Teacher Organization (PTO).
  • Group 5: A group of pregnant teens who favor the installation of the machines in male and female bathrooms.
  • Group 6: A male group of young fathers (Young Fathers Making a Stand) who favor installation of the machines.

Give students 5-10 minutes to compile their news blurb then have each group share their blurb with class. Discuss:

  • In what ways did our blurbs differ?
  • Even though we were all responding to the same topic, why did our blurbs differ? (They were told from people with differing perspectives and agendas).
  • In what ways does this happen in the media today?

Step 3 — Debrief and second practice (20 minutes)

Explain to students that when newsworthy events occur, politicians often utilize “spin,” which is a heavily biased portrayal in one’s own favor of an event or situation. Politicians will provide their point of view or interpretation of the event in a way that is compatible with their own agenda to sway public opinion. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often, though not always, implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics. Politicians are often accused of spin by commentators and political opponents when they produce a counter argument or position.

  1. Give students another scenario to report on, such as:

This year, prom will not be held on the school premises. Rather than a DJ, a band has been hired to play. Ticket prices will cost $50 extra.

  1. Again, in their small groups, students will write a short blurb for their town’s paper regarding prom from their perspective:
  • Group 1: Parent Prom Planning Committee, who likes the changes since they want to make the prom a very exclusive, high-class event in hopes of attracting wealthier families to the school system.
  • Group 2: “Students for Students,” a student lead group who is concerned less wealthy students will not be able to attend prom due to the changes.
  • Group 3: School administrators, who hope cut back on prom cost while charging more; this will create extra revenue for updating the library collection.
  • Group 4: “Rock Till’ You Drop,” the band that has been hired to play the prom.  This is your first gig and you hope it will be the start of a big local career.
  • Group 5: “DJ Jazzy Jake and Company,” the DJ who was not rehired to play this year’s prom.
  1. After a few minutes, again have students share their blurbs and discuss:
  • How did news of the same event change when given by people with different agendas?
  • Can you think of any events, either current or historical, that have been ‘spun’ by politicians?
  • Is it ethical to spin a situation in one’s favor, or towards one’s own agenda?
  • When dealing with politics, do you think it is possible to say something neutral about a political situation?  

Step 4 — Read and discuss (10 minutes)

Have students link to the opinion article “American Political Spin Cycle is Out of Control.” (While the article is from 2001, its subject maintains relevance.) After students have read, discuss as a class:

  • Laura Weiss states, “What politicians write and say dizzies the public’s mind on a grand scale” and that spin has gotten “out of control.”  Do you agree or disagree and why?
  • How can political spin be deceiving?
  • Why do you think Weiss calls the White House (regardless of the party in power) “America’s largest spin producing institution”?
  • Who is responsible for uncovering the validity or underlying truth (if any) beneath spin?
  • Weiss says that the White House attempts to keep “scandalous news” from breaking on the TV. Is this a violation of freedom of the press in your opinion? Should there be limitations to what the press can report on? Explain.
  • What can the public do regarding campaign spin?

Lesson step-by-step Day 2

Practicing Political “Spin”

Step 1 — Brainstorm and assignment overview (10 minutes)

Have students brainstorm recent events that have been in the local, national and/or international news that they think are very susceptible to spin. Then, divide the class into small groups, assigning each group a current political figure. Give the group the attached assignment explanation, “Put a Political Spin on Things.” Go over the assignment sheet together, which explains to students that they are to imagine they are their assigned politician’s communications team. They must first research the views of the political figure assigned to them. Students will need computers with Internet access; sites such as will help students understand the views and voting records of politicians. Visit one of the following two web pages:

Instructor may have students select their current home state or choose any state they wish. Once students become familiar with their chosen/assigned political figure, they will attempt to spin a recent news event.

Step 2 — Small group work clarification and work (35 minutes)

Allow students to ask questions, then instruct them to work on their statement. After groups are finished, bring everyone back together and give each student the attached Spin Reflection Sheet. Have each group present their work, first giving a summary of who they work for (the political figure chosen/assigned to them), their figure’s political party, and the figure’s views/political agenda. Then, groups should share their statements that have been prepared with spin. All students should take notes on their reflection sheet as they listen to each group’s presentation. After all student have presented, discuss:

  • What were the major differences between the talking points of political figures? Did their party affiliation make a difference? Explain.
  • What makes a successful “spin”?
  • For any given event, is there a single truth about what happened or does it always depend on who is telling the story and how they tell it?  Explain.
  • Is spin deceitful in your opinion?  Is it possible to eradicate spin?  Explain.
  • How does a candidate’s political agenda as connected to their party, and the way he/she communicates, shape our political system?
  • Do you use spin when discussing events in your own life? If so, in what ways and why?
  • If you were a politician, is there anything that you would consider to be off-limits to spin? Why or why not?
  • As responsible citizens, how do we make an educated decision on which candidate to vote for when there is so much spin and propaganda at play? What questions do we need to ask ourselves when viewing, hearing, and reading campaign ads or candidate response blurbs?

Step 3 — Homework (5 minutes)

Assign the attached homework assignment in which students respond to Leon E. Panetta’s opinion of spin and how it is affecting America.


Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Revisit
Participation in three classroom activities
Student understands the concept of spin.
Student understands how certain groups use spin for their own benefit/agenda.
Student successfully “spins” a fictional news event that fits his/her candidate’s political agenda/platform.


Put a Political Spin on Things

  • Your group has been hired as the communications team for a prominent political figure assigned to you.
  • As new employees, you must first learn about the views and political agenda of your politician by reading information from the aforementioned “” web links.
  • Pay close attention to this person’s political party, current and past positions, and his/her fundamental political beliefs and/or agenda. Together, discuss and summarize this information and be prepared to present to your classmates.
  • Once you are familiar with this figure’s political perspective, your first public relations assignment is to comment on the following situation. Create a 5-10 sentence statement that “spins” the following situation in a way that encompasses your figure’s point of view and supports his/her political agenda:

Ten U.S. soldiers were killed and 14 more were wounded, along with scores of other soldiers from NATO countries, in action during fighting yesterday with ISIS forces in eastern Syria.

  • Remember, the spin you put on the statements you make to the media on behalf of your political employer will affect his/her status in the public eye and could possibly affect his/her election or re-election during the next cycle. In other words, this affects YOUR employment, both current and future prospects.

Spin Reflection Chart

Political figure Party Affiliation Beliefs/Agenda Summary

Name ______________________________________________



Read the following excerpt from Leon Panetta’s article, “The Price of ‘Spin’ Versus the ‘Truth,’” and answer the following questions that follow:

Huey Long—the infamous Louisiana politician of the Thirties—once promised a certain constituency in an election campaign that he would deliver a public works project to them if elected. When he failed to deliver the project after he was elected, he was asked why. His reply: “I lied!”

Long’s admission was brutally frank. It was the kind of honesty that worked well for Long. Why is it so difficult to work for many of those in public office today?

The typical strategy is to tell people what consultants and pollsters say the public wants to hear and when the facts prove differently, to keep repeating the same words in the hope that repetition somehow will make it right. But there is a terrible price to be paid for this political “spin” game—the lost trust of the people.

As our parents did, we try to teach our children to be truthful. Our very democracy is dependent on a strong relationship of trust between the people and their leaders. But in recent years, whether because of lost values or the ease and speed of modern communications, a bad example is being set for future generations by those who tell people the political message rather than what is really happening.

This may provide some short-term political gains, but ultimately, the nation pays a terrible price. Huey Long decided to tell the simple truth when he said he lied in his campaign. It might just be that telling the simple truth can work to restore both our politics and our democracy. Lord knows, it’s worth a try.

From “The Price of ‘Spin’ Versus the ‘Truth,’” by Leon E. Panetta, The Monterrey County Herald, Sept. 9, 2001.


Respond to the following questions with your thoughts (Use the back, if necessary)

  1. Panetta says, “… honesty … worked well for Long. Why is it so difficult to for many of those in public office today?” Do you agree that many people in public office are dishonest? Why do you think public officials find it difficult to be honest?
  2. Do you agree with Panetta when he says that due to the “spin game,” people have lost trust in government and politics? Why? What evidence makes you think this?
  3. Panetta also states, “… a bad message is being set for future generations by those who tell people the political message rather than what is really happening.” How do you interpret this comment? Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  4. The [spin] may provide some short-term political gains, but ultimately, the nation pays a terrible price.” What terrible price do you think Panetta is implying?

Works Cited (2017, May 21). Name-calling. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

Panetta, L. E. (2001, September 9). The Price of ‘Spin’ versus the ‘Truth’. Retrieved from The Monterrey County Herald:

Weiss, L. (2001, September 10). American Political Spin Cycle Is Out of Control. Retrieved from The Utah Daily Chronicle Archive:

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Satire’s role in current events

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Michael Johnson


Satire’s role in current events

According to Wyatt Mason in an online article published in the New York Times Magazine titled “My Satirical Self,” readers in the 21st century have “taken shelter in the ridiculous.” He provides an excerpt from The Onion, a satirical online news source referenced as “America’s Finest News Source,” as an example of an escape from the inescapable ridiculousness of society, politics, and other vice and follies. New literacies have helped grow the genre of satire, and as Americans turn to this genre as a source for news and entertainment, students must understand the core elements that create satire.


  • Students will become more aware of the language and moves associated with satire and challenge students to not only analyze the effectiveness of satirical pieces but also to create their own.
  • Students will become familiar with underlying concepts behind satire.
  • Students will be able to analyze the interaction between satire and current events, and apply their knowledge of satire and the news to create their own satirical pieces.

Common Core State Standards


Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term or terms over the course of a text (e.g., how Madison defines faction in Federalist No. 10).
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.3 Analyze how the author unfolds an analysis or series of ideas or events, including the order in which the points are made, how they are introduced and developed, and the connections that are drawn between them.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access


Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Introduction (15 minutes)

Students will watch a slideshow about satire, what it is and key terms associated with it. 

Step 2 — Satirical examples (30 minutes)

Students will read two examples of satire from The Onion: (Note that some stories may contain vulgar language; instructor should ensure content is appropriate in a school setting).

Students will notate the methods each author utilizes to create the satirical piece. Students will work in small groups to create their annotations, and then small groups will share with the class. Ask students to consider the following questions on paper to turn in:

  1. What does the author assume about the attitudes of the audience in the piece?
  2. What aspect of society is the author satirizing?
  3. What is the goal or purpose of the satire?
  4. What methods/techniques does the author employ to create the satire?
  5. How effective are the author’s methods?
  6. What knowledge is required to understand the jokes?
  7. How can serious events be rendered in humorous ways?

Step 3 — Homework assignment (5 minutes)

Students will choose a current event, research and write their own Onion-style article on the topic to present in class the following day. Students will write a minimum of five paragraphs (about 300-350 words) and include a satirical headline and a tagline at the end of the story telling readers who they are or how to contact them. Students may use a story from The Onion as a guide only to show how satire is written so that they may craft their own original work. Students will then read their satire piece to the entire class the next day and turn in their work to the instructor.


Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Revisit
Student understands the concept of satire and its associated vocabulary terms.
Student is able to differentiate satire from real news content.
Student collaborated with others during small-group sessions in class.
Student answered the seven questions at the end of the group exercise.
Student successfully created an original piece of satire content that connected to a current event.

Works Cited

American News. (2017, May 29). ALERT: Bananas Being Injected With HIV Blood… Here’s How You Can Tell. Retrieved from American News:

Anti-Defamation League. (2017, May 21). What is Fake News? Retrieved from Anti-Defamation League:

Borowitz, A. (2017, May 7). French Annoyingly Retain the Right to Claim Intellectual Superiority Over Americans. Retrieved from The New Yorker: (2017, May 21). Name-calling. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

Panetta, L. E. (2001, September 9). The Price of ‘Spin’ versus the ‘Truth’. Retrieved from The Monterrey County Herald:

PBS. (2015, March 27). Satire’s role in current events . Retrieved from PBS Newshour Extra:

Robertson, E. K. (2016, november 18). How to Spot Fake News. Retrieved from

Rustling, J. (2016, November 11). Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The National Anthem At All Sporting Events Nationwide. Retrieved from ABC News:

Seale, T. (2017, May 29). Analyzing Satire. Retrieved from Google Docs:

Shannon Doyne, H. E. (2011, April 15). That’s Funny: Comedy Across the Curriculum. Retrieved from The New York Times Learning Network:

The Associated Press. (2016, November 28). Dylann Roof, Charleston Church Shooting Suspect, Can Act as His Own Attorney. Retrieved from

The Onion. (2015, September 9). NASA Deploys Congressional Rover To Search For Funding. Retrieved from The Onion:

Weiss, L. (2001, September 10). American Political Spin Cycle Is Out of Control. Retrieved from The Utah Daily Chronicle Archive:


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Journalists as professional skeptics

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Kristin Taylor


Journalists as Professional Skeptics

The first lesson explores ethical decision-making about what to publish and the importance of verification in that process. It is a case study that puts students in the role of an editor as they walk through a hypothetical story pitch and consequences of publishing an unverified story. The activity ends with a class reflection about best practices for verification and accountability. This lesson works best after teachers have already discussed how their schools are affected by state and federal laws (see SPLC First Amendment rights diagram) so students are familiar with their First Amendment rights as student journalists.
The second lesson builds on the activity from the day before by discussing the purpose of skepticism during the reporting process by looking at a real-life situation where a professional journalist was duped. It also examines the balance between healthy skepticism and unhealthy cynicism.


  • Students will be able to explain the role of the editor as coach and explore how an editor can coach reporters during the reporting process.
  • Students will be able to identify red flags during the reporting process that suggest questionable sourcing and a need to verify information.
  • Students will be able to describe the importance of verifying information before publishing a story through participating in a hypothetical role play surrounding an unverified news story.
  • Students will be able to describe why it is important for journalists to be skeptical by reading and discussing a Rolling Stone article about a rape victim; the article turned out to be inaccurate.
  • Students will be able to employ strategies for fact-checking and determining when a source has a fact wrong or lied.
  • Students will reflect on how this may impact their own journalistic practice.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.10 By the end of grade 9, read and comprehend literary nonfiction in the grades 9-10 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range. By the end of grade 10, read and comprehend literary nonfiction at the high end of the grades 9-10 text complexity band independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.3 Analyze a complex set of ideas or sequence of events and explain how specific individuals, ideas, or events interact and develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2 Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


60 minutes

Materials / Resources

Whiteboard and markers

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Slideshow: “If You Were the Editor” (See the bottom of this lesson)

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Warm Up (5 minutes)

As students enter the classroom, the first slide from the PowerPoint “If you were the editor” projected on the board. Read the prompt and have them journal for five minutes:

SLIDE 1: “Sometimes students want to report on some really tough subjects. How should an editor respond to a story likely to cause community outrage or unrest? Why or why not? Journal for five minutes and then we will share our thoughts.”

Step 2: — Class Discussion (5 minutes)

Allow students to share their initial thoughts and then advance to the next slide. Ask a student to read the question and respond: “Why might editors be tempted to avoid certain stories?” Discuss briefly as a class. (Possible answers: fear of “getting in trouble,” complaints from parents, too controversial. Teacher may want to introduce two types of censorship: external, where someone outside of the staff censors, and self-censorship where the reporters themselves decide not to pursue a story out of fear of the consequences. This is not the same as using good news judgment to determine whether or not a story is worth covering.)

Step 3 — Small Group Activity (15 minutes)

Advance to the next slide, which lays out the case study. Have a student read it out loud and then break the class into groups of 4-5. Students have 10 minutes to discuss this scenario, using the discussion questions below.

SLIDE 2: The situation: You are an editor. One of your student reporters wants to do an article on a student who has been expelled from school. That expelled student is alleging misconduct on the part of one of the school administrators and claims she was expelled just to cover up what the administrator did. However, the administration says that, due to confidentiality agreements, they cannot comment on the situation at all.

Discuss these questions with your group, using your staff manual for guidance.

  • Do you have any initial concerns about this story? Do you see any red flags? What questions would you initially ask the reporter about the story? (Possible discussion/responses: Is a student being expelled newsworthy when it’s primarily a private event? How can they verify this expulsion given that administrators cannot legally comment on confidential situations like this one? How can they verify the student’s allegation of misconduct? Are there public records or multiple reliable sources willing to go on the record? If not, students should be concerned about libel law.)
  • Who are the stakeholders in this story? How will a story like this affect them? The school as a whole? Why is that important to consider? (Possible answers: the expelled student and his/her family, the school’s reputation)
  • Would you feel tempted to not pursue this story? What information/sources would the reporter need and what steps would she need to take in order for you to feel comfortable with this story being written?

Step 4 — Class Discussion/Role Play (15 minutes)

After 10 minutes or once all groups have completed their initial discussion, advance to the next slide. Remind them that they are playing the role of the adviser. You can complete this part of the lesson through discussion or role play, with the student taking on the role of the editor and the adviser pretending to be the student reporter who is determined to write the story.

SLIDE 3: Questions to consider: How would you coach the reporter during

the process if …

  • The reporter is persistent and tenacious but still can’t get any comment from any administrator about the expulsion? (These school leaders are unable to comment on personal information like this by lie, so they don’t really have a choice about commenting. You may want to tease out why this is so problematic — we will definitely only be getting one side of the story.)
  • The reporter cannot verify that any misconduct took place, though the expelled student maintains it did? (Not being able to verify should stop good reporters and editors in their tracks. This scenario should be setting off lots of warning bells, but don’t give this away yet; the teacher will reveal consequences in the next slide.)
  • Despite these problems, the reporter wants to publish the story? She promises she will frame any claims the expelled student makes with “allegedly” and make it clear she reached out for comment and administrators declines, citing confidentiality agreements. (While it’s good that the student would include a disclosure statement, students may not know that simply adding the word “allegedly” does not protect them from liability if they publish harmful, false information. This scenario should be setting off lots of warning bells, but don’t give this away yet; the teacher will reveal consequences in the next slide.)

Before advancing to the next slide, tell students that, ultimately, the editorial board DID decide to go ahead and publish. Ask them how they feel and if they have any predictions about the outcome.

Step 5 — Assessment (20 minutes)

Advance to the next slide and have a student read what happens next:

Slide 4: Aftermath: The reporter publishes her story, and the administration is very upset. The administrator accused of misconduct contacts the adviser and you as the editor and says it was irresponsible for you to let it be published, as it is one-sided and libelous. She says she is considering shutting down the paper entirely given this situation.

Another source comes forward and tells you that she heard the expelled student made the entire story about the misconduct up. Upon further questioning, the expelled student admits it was a lie.

  1. What processes along the way could have prevented this from happening? (Potential responses: Looking for any kind of firsthand verification of the misconduct beyond the initial source; doing follow-up interviews with the source and asking for some kind of evidence of these accusations; stopping the story when verification became impossible.)
  2. Who should respond to these developments, and how should that person or persons respond? How do you rebuild public trust? (Potential Responses: If students have an error correction policy established, they should look at now to see what steps they need to follow. Since this is such an extreme case and could cause a libel lawsuit, students should also consider more public responses, such as writing a letter to the community with a transparent accounting of what happened. Reading this blog about how one staff dealt with a recent editorial mistake might also be helpful.)

Either in small groups or as a whole class, discuss how students feel about this situation and brainstorm responses to the two questions.

Advance to the final slide (SLIDE 5) and ask students to write an individual email to you describing what they learned from the activity and how they better understand the importance of verification before publishing a story.


Students with writing challenges could talk to the teacher in person rather than send an email describing what they learned.

Additional Resources:

Ask these 10 questions to make good ethical decisions

SPLC First Amendment rights diagram

They need the freedom to make mistakes, too,” Lindsay Coppens, JEA Scholastic Press Rights Committee

Day 2


60 minutes


Whiteboard and markers

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Student laptops

Paper slips with story scenario

Columbia School of Journalism report on Rolling Stone’s ‘A Rape on Campus’

How a teacher prepared her students to take on the adults and win.”

Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Warm up (5 minutes)

Projected on the board:

skeptic |ˈskeptik| noun: a person inclined to question or doubt all accepted opinions.

Given the “You be the editor” activity we did last class, why do you think some say a journalist’s primary job is to be a professional skeptic?

Students share thoughts on this warm-up question. Potential follow-up questions:

  • How would yesterday’s activity have gone differently if the student journalist and editors had been more skeptical? (Possible answers: Students would have seen red flags such as lack of verification and stopped the story if it couldn’t be verified; students wouldn’t have been as likely to believe the accusing student.)
  • Why is it dangerous to trust sources without verifying, even if you think there are trustworthy? (Possible answers: Sources lie sometimes because they are embarrassed or worried about getting in trouble, but even if they aren’t purposefully lying, they may be incorrect. They may not know the real story even if they think they do, or they may misremember something.)
  • What would you do if you suspected a source was lying to you? (Possible answers: Attempt to verify the source’s story through other credible sources; discuss the situation with the editors and adviser; depending on the situation, the reporter might confront the source. If verification isn’t possible, do not use the information.)
  • Is it possible to become too skeptical? What might the consequence of that be? (Possible answers: reporters may become cynical and think everyone is a liar rather than remembering the purpose of their work; reporters may continue to doubt even after reliable verification.)

Say, “Today we are going to be looking at a couple of cases where journalists either were or were not skeptical and the consequence of their choices.”

Step 2 — Small group activity (20 minutes)

Break students into groups of three or four and hand out a slip of paper with the following on it:

You are a reporter for a professional publication and have heard about how a nearby university is one of 86 schools under federal investigation due to being suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints. After doing some initial research, you find a student who says she was gang-raped by a group of male students at a fraternity party; she’s willing to be the subject of your story, but only if you change her name and don’t reveal her identity. She claims the university is trying to sweep the allegations under the rug, which fits the picture painted by what you have learned about the federal investigation. The school and the fraternity deny this student’s claims.

  1. Before you begin, do you have any personal biases you need to be aware of?
  2. How will you check out this source’s story? What evidence will you need to feel confident it’s accurate and honest?
  3. If you do find enough evidence, will you grant the source’s request to change her name to hide her identity? Look at your staff manual guidelines for using unnamed sources and be ready to justify why you would or would not be willing to proceed.
  4. Ethically, who else do you need to talk to before writing this story?
  5. What, if anything, would make you decide to not use this source?

Step 3 — Class discussion (35 minutes)

After 20 minutes of discussions, each group presents and compares its responses to the four questions. The teacher will then say, “This scenario you were working on was based on a real situation. In 2014, a reporter from Rolling Stone wrote a 9,000-word story about a rape victim she called “Jackie” at the University of Virginia, which was indeed being federally investigated. The problem? The story ended up being untrue. Other publications such as the Washington Post debunked “Jackie’s” story, and the reporter and Rolling Stone publisher later lost a multimillion dollar defamation suit brought by a UVA administrator. So let’s talk about what went wrong and the consequences of this situation.”

The class will go around the room reading one graf each until finished with this article: “Columbia School of Journalism report on Rolling Stone’s ‘A Rape on Campus’

Discussion questions:

  1. What went wrong? What mistakes did this reporter make? (Possible answers: Main issue: The reporter relied on a single source. Reporter never got in touch with “Jackie’s” friends to verify her story; Reporter didn’t speak directly to “Randall/Ryan” to verify his statement; Editors did not disclose that reporter could not verify the existence of “Drew” and had not spoken to him; the reporter did not give the fraternity enough information about the story she was working on for them to adequately respond.)
  2. Who was harmed by this false story? (Possible answers: the members of the fraternity, the school administrator accused of not taking the allegation seriously, the reputation of Greek organizations, UVA administration and general reputation, Rolling Stone’s reputation, the reporter herself, students who really have been raped)
  3. What other consequences might this story have beyond the defamation lawsuit the reporter lost? (Make sure students talk about the damage to real rape victims and how much more difficult it will be to report a similar story in the future.)  

Assessment: As a ticket-to-leave, students share a takeaway from this lesson; how will it impact their reporting in the future?

Extension: Now let’s look at a situation where reporters were skeptical despite a lot of pressure. Read this article and come prepared to discuss tomorrow: “How a teacher prepared her students to take on the adults and win.”

Additional Resources

Skeptical Knowing presentation

Using anonymous sources with care

Quick Hit: Using unnamed sources

Slideshow: If you were the editor

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Free expression and your school

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in Blog, Lessons, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching | 0 comments


by Lori Keekley


Free expression and your school


In this noncontinuous lesson, students will localize the 2016 Gallup survey “Free Expression on Campus: A Survey of U.S. College Students and U.S. Adults.”  Students will use their technical writing skills to craft the directions (teachers and students), questions similar to the Gallup questions, and an email in addition to tabulating and comparing the survey results. Students will then compare their results with the national results, create an infographic and then write a reflection of the process.

Note: You must leave several days between Day 1 and Day 2 for survey results to be returned. Teacher will need to plan accordingly.


  • Students will work on a survey plan that represents their school as a whole.
  • Students will examine their own survey results and compare them to the study.
  • Students will compare their data to the Gallup survey data.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.B Paste the description of the standard in this box. (Example: Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.)
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.1.D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives; synthesize comments, claims, and evidence made on all sides of an issue; resolve contradictions when possible; and determine what additional information or research is required to deepen the investigation or complete the task.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.


150 minutes

Materials / resources

Gallup survey questions (photocopied for Day 1)

Computers (if possible)

Tabulation form (photocopied for Day 2)

Butcher paper for results

Infographic rubric (See JEA Curriculum for rubric if needed)

Reflection sheet

Gallup survey information

Lesson step-by-step

Preparation: In addition to the materials/resources listed above, you will need a list of all the classes taught and the hours offered. Also, you will need the enrollment of these courses.

Day 1

Step 1 — Introduction (5 minutes)

For this activity, we will be working to find out the free expression climate of the school. The class will administer a survey to a representative sample of the school population. (For more information on this, see Surveying in the JEA Curriculum.)

Step 2 — Creating the plan and putting technical writing to use (15 minutes)

Teacher should separate the class into groups of three. If possible, each group should have a computer. Students should craft the directions for the students directions, teacher directions and survey questions. Students may want to model their questions after all or some of those in the Gallup survey.

Step 3 — Survey preparation (30 minutes)

Teacher should have students break into groups and work on the following:

Group 1:

Crafting an email to the teaching staff: For this group, students should craft an email to be sent to the teaching staff. Email should include (at minimum) what you are doing (localizing a national survey), purpose for the activity, directions, due dates, etc.

Group 2:

Identifying classes targeted for the survey

Students should look at the classes offered during the same time as the class they are taking. (For example, if you teach this class during first period, then make a list of all the first period classes offered.)

Group 3:

Photocopying and preparing the surveys for the first half of the teachers listed. Count out the amount of surveys for each class and put the teacher’s name on a blank sheet of paper on the top of each survey stack. Ask teachers to return these so you can keep track of who has returned the surveys.

Group 4:

Photocopying and preparing the surveys for the second half of the teachers listed. Count out the amount of surveys for each class and put the teacher’s name on the direction sheet, which should be placed on the top of each survey stack. Ask teachers to return these so you can keep track of who has returned the surveys.

Students could either deliver the packets to the teachers or put them in their mailboxes at the end of the hour.

Day 2  

Step 1— Tabulating (This day could be skipped if the data is collected electronically.) Students will need to tabulate the results. Have small groups in charge of marking the data for specific questions. (See the form titled “Tabulating the Results.”) They should compile and report back to the group when finished. If time allows, have a second group of students verify the results.

Suggestion: have one group in charge of using butcher paper and marking the results after they are verified. Leave room to add the national results as well.

Day 3

Step 1 — Introduction (20 minutes)

Examine your school results. Teacher should ask students if anything surprised them in the results as well as what they assumed might be the results.

Step 2 — Compare/contrast (20 minutes)

Again group the students so each group has at least two of the questions. Have them discuss the school results and then post the national results if applicable. They should lead the class in discussion of class thoughts about the results. Examine how these relate to your school. Teacher or students should read the blurbs included in the Gallup poll to help put this into context.

Students should create an infographic showing what was the same and different with their results.

Step 3 — Reflection (10 minutes)

Please pass out the reflection for the assignment. Students should complete this prior to leaving class. Teacher could use this as an assessment for this project if desired. Teacher could also assess student participation in the project.

* Depending on the class productivity, it may take an additional day to prepare.


Have students write their own conclusions to their data. They could then compare and contrast theirs to the one included in the poll.

Looking at the survey results, how can students then work to further educate and inform students about the First Amendment.

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