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A Free Press: Rights and Responsibilities

Level: Liberty Explorers - Elementary School Liberty Discoverers - Middle School Liberty Patriots - High School
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Liberty Nation GenZ believes in educating young Americans about the U.S. and its Constitution. This middle school lesson plan can be used in the classroom or the home and can be adapted to a range of student abilities.

Objectives

  • Students will identify the rights of the press in the United States.
  • Students will identify the responsibilities of the press in the United States.
  • Students will discuss their experiences and views regarding the news media.
  • Students will analyze news samples.

Materials:

HANDOUT: “News Media and You” sheet

VIDEO: A Free Press: Rights and Responsibilities

HANDOUT: Free press comprehension sheet

ARTICLE: A Free Press for a Free People

HANDOUT: Free press discussion sheets

Headline cut-out sheet or a selection of real headlines written on paper strips or blank strips of paper for students to write their own headlines.

Other:

  • pens
  • markers
  • scissors
  • computers with internet access (optional)
  • newspapers (optional)
  • a hat or other container

Suggested Procedure:

Step 1

Ask students if they ever watch the news and their general impressions of the news media today. 

Step 2

Introduction activity: Give students the “News Media and You” handout. Allow them a few minutes to fill in the sheet individually, or they may discuss in small groups. Come back together as a class to compare answers and write them on the board. 

Step 3

Divide the board into two segments: One half is for media rights and the other half is for media responsibilities. Ask the students what they consider to be the rights and responsibilities of the news media in America today. Write their answers on the board in the relevant section. Allow for discussion or debate this may bring up. Ask students if the media has power and how this may affect society. 

Step 4

Display the video A Free Press: Rights and Responsibilities.

Step 5

Students complete the comprehension sheet based on the video. Check answers – is there any disagreement? If so, allow discussion.

Step 6

Students read the article A Free Press for a Free People either as a group or individually.

Step 7

Students complete the discussion sheets – this can be done individually or in small groups to facilitate discussion. 

Step 8

Teacher has strips of paper, each with a news headline or a short media passage written on it (use provided made-up headline cut-out sheet or gather real ones). Alternatively, students could write a number of headlines each to put in the hat. 

Students are called to the front individually to pick out a headline at random and read it to the class. Students vote on whether the headline is “acceptable” or does not live up to the responsibilities of the press discussed previously in the class. Students suggest changes to “correct” any unapproved headlines.

Step 9

Have students choose a news story each – they can either find one online, or the teacher can bring newspapers into class as a source. Students read their selected article and then write a 250-300-word analysis of it, looking at features such as bias, persuasive language, accuracy & completeness, independence, or affiliations of the source. Go through the instructions as a class, brainstorming key points to include in the analysis, with students taking notes. Further research may be needed – this can either be done in class if students have access to a computer or completed for homework.

Extension 1

Case Study: Choose from the articles The Spanish-American War and the Media’s Instigation or Yellow Journalism: A Legacy of Sensationalism. Students write a summary of the chosen text and analyze how the media did or did not fulfill its rights and responsibilities in each instance.

Extension 2

Creative Writing: Students make up a news story, or they can choose a real story that is of interest to them. They write two versions of an article covering the story: One objective news report and one that demonstrates biased reporting. Students could then present their news stories to the class, with the other students voting on which is genuine and which does not live up to journalistic standards. Optional: This could be completed in pairs, with one student writing and presenting each version. 

Extension 3

Analysis: Students find two news stories from different outlets on the same topic. They write an analysis comparing and contrasting how each outlet approaches the subject.

Download a PDF of this lesson plan and handouts.

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