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"Media Literacy" Activities

Help students look critically at news media.

E-mail Pen-Pal Activities
"Living with Change" Activity
"Media Literacy" Activities
News Comparison "Dealing With Differences" Activities

  • Students will analyze how news is presented in U.S. newspapers from different parts of the country.
  • Students will develop and sharpen their critical awareness of news media.
"Today's Papers," a column published daily by Slate, is a valuable tool to help students develop critical awareness of news media. (For a free e-mail subscription to "Today's Papers," go to and click on "E-mail Services".)

Each night, a Slate reporter reviews the early editions of five US newspapers: THE LOS ANGELES TIMES, THE NEW YORK TIMES, THE WASHINGTON POST, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, and USA TODAY. The reporter then prepares a critical summary/comparison of the coverage of the main stories of the day, noting, for instance, that THE WASHINGTON POST fronts a story that THE NEW YORK TIMES stuffs, or questioning a particular paper's "take" on a story.

After subscribing to "Today's Papers," print out and read one of the columns with students. If possible, access one or more of the papers reviewed (see list above), in print form or on the Web, so students can read the "real thing" on which the review is based. Discuss whether the Slate review seems complete, fair, and accurate, as well as what the papers' similar or different treatment of the news might signify.

Students can then read another day's column on their own and write a summary and analysis. They can also check the paper editions or Web sites of the five newspapers to see if they agree with the reporter's analysis. As an extension activity, have students check the paper edition or Web site of papers in your community whose coverage leans toward the sensational and compare them to the papers reviewed by Slate. Papers of this kind include THE NEW YORK POST and THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS. Alternatively, give your students a more international perspective by directing them to a foreign newspaper such as THE SUN, a tabloid from the United Kingdom. (For a comprehensive listing of news Web sites, visit Newslink, or go to Google and click on "News and Resources".)

Related lesson plan:
Thirteen Ed Online: How Media Shapes Perception
This lesson plan (grades 10-12) addresses the role of media messages in shaping reactions to tragic events conveyed in the news. Students explore news broadcasts and Web-based news sites and discover how experts view the media's impact on young minds.

Related resource:
IN THE MIX: Media Literacy: TV -- What You Don't See! (Discussion Guide)
This episode of IN THE MIX offers a revealing look at video editing tricks and techniques, a lesson in how news stories are chosen and covered, personal insights from Peter Jennings, and a close-up examination of images used in advertising and music videos. Learn ways to analyze and evaluate what you see on TV -- and know whether or not to believe it.

Stereotypes in the News

  • Students will watch television news shows and evaluate them in regard to stereotyping.
  • Students will develop and sharpen their critical awareness of messages conveyed by the media.
  • Students will engage in dialogue and discussion about stereotyping.
Television news is supposed to be "objective". But do stereotypes creep in? Bring in a videotaped news clip or watch news clips online with students, asking them beforehand to look for instances in which stereotyping and bias affect the reporting. (You may wish to discuss definitions of these terms. For more on stereotyping and bias, see the "Dealing with Differences" Activities.) Then, ask students to watch 15-20 minutes of local, national, or international news on a regular or cable network at home. As they watch, they should take notes and write a two- to three-page report, using the following questions as a guide:
  • What stories are covered?
  • Who are the people shown? (Note qualities such as gender, race, ethnicity, age.)
  • What kinds of visuals accompany the stories and the portrayals of individuals and events? (E.g., are "experts" shown against a backdrop of books?)
  • What kinds of words are used to characterize individuals or groups? (E.g., is a group of demonstrators described as "an angry mob" or "passionate rights activists"?)
  • Do you see instances where stereotypes are promoted or perpetuated? Describe.
  • Do you see instances where stereotypes are counteracted? Describe.
  • How does the style in which news is presented and the choice of newsworthy stories affect viewers' perceptions and judgments?
Assign this activity as homework. Students can then work with partners or small groups to share and discuss their responses in class. Allow students to share the results of these group discussions with the entire class; students can then write group reports based on their conclusions. (Note: It is useful for discussion purposes to plan ahead with students and determine which shows they will watch. This way, each student can have at least one other person who saw and responded to the same program.)

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