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Lesson Activity

Election 2008: What is the Media Missing?

Download File Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will:

1. View a list of unreported and under reported election topics and discuss reasons why these topics are not being addressed by mainstream media sources.
2. Conduct in-depth research about one of the unreported or under reported topics presented using a fact-based resources.
3. Create research-based scripts for role-plays based upon unreported and underreported topics that voters should understand.
4. Present role-plays as a means of increasing public awareness about unreported and underreported election topics.
5. Discuss out loud and/or in writing three specific things they have learned about the political candidates, system and issues and how this new knowledge affects them as potential and future voters.


Related National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning), at http://www.mcrel.org/standards-benchmarks/.

Civics
Standard 7: Understands alternative forms of representation and how they serve the purposes of constitutional government.
Standard 17. Understands issues concerning the relationship between state and local governments and the national government and issues pertaining to representation at all three levels of government.
Standard 20: Understands the roles of political parties, campaigns, elections, and associations and groups in American politics.
Standard 29: Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy.

Language Arts
Writing
Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes.

Reading
Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.

Listening and Speaking
Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.

Viewing
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media.
Media
Standard 10: Understands the characteristics and components of the media.

Thinking and Reasoning
Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument.
Standard 2: Understands and applies the basic principles of logic and reasoning.
Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques.

Working with Others
Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of a group.
Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.


Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
Two to three 50-minute class periods


Materials Needed
  • Poster board/chart paper (1 piece per small group)
  • Markers (at least 1 per small group)
  • Internet access for research and viewing broadcasts, transcripts, podcasts, etc. from NOW's 2008 Election Coverage at http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/index.html and other online resources
  • Handout: Project Guidelines (PDF file, page 7)
  • Handout: Project Planning Sheet (PDF file, page 9)
Backgrounder for Teachers

As the presidential campaign continues to heat up, Americans are bombarded by news of every speech, stop and flub made by the candidates. While this provides interesting coverage and fodder for the late-night talk shows, it does not encourage viewers to delve more deeply into some of the tougher, less publicized issues that voters could benefit from exploring.

Using content and election coverage from the NOW website, this series of lessons offers students and teachers the opportunity to explore questions such as the fairness of the electoral college, the role of various groups in the outcome of the election, voting laws, the effect of money and campaign contributions on political policy, and political spin tactics and political advertising.

Giving students an opportunity to look at the election and focus on issues that are not often part of mainstream news will help broaden their understanding of the political process and foster a greater awareness of the role of democracy in shaping our everyday lives.


Assumed Student Prior Knowledge

Students should be familiar with the major presidential candidates. Knowledge of terms such as primary, caucus, political poll, Electoral College, delegates, superdelegates, and lobbyists would be helpful in students' ability to understand discussion information and when making decisions about which topics they might be interested in presenting to the class.


Teaching Strategy

1. Explain to students that one way to increase voter awareness and encourage voter turnout is by providing potential and future voters with as much knowledge as possible about the election process and important issues related to the candidates, their policies, and the types of decisions they will make when leading the country. While the mainstream media spends a great deal of time covering the candidates and election topics, not all important content related to the election and candidates gets the attention it deserves. The "Burning Questions" section of the NOW website at http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/questions.html provides examples of these types of topics.

2. As a means of teaching students about unreported and under reported issues related to the upcoming election, review the list of "Burning Questions" on the website by simply reading through them as a means of generating student interest. Ask students to respond to a questions such as:
  • Why do you think topics like these receive little or no media attention?
3. Explain that to be informed voters means to learn as much as possible about the upcoming election and sharing that knowledge with others. Students will be working on a project that challenges them to conduct an in-depth examination of one of the "Burning Questions" from the NOW website at http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/questions.html.

4. To help students find solid, fact-based information that addresses the "Burning Questions", direct students to NOW's 2008 Election Coverage at http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/index.html and explore the "Democracy Toolkit". Explain that the features within the kit are designed to help voters learn more about the topics receiving little or no media attention and to illustrate why these topics are important. Explain that using the toolkit to find specific facts, examples, and information related to the question being researched will ensure quality sources along with accurate information.

5. Show students some of the specific content that they can locate within the toolkit. Some important links to discuss and demonstrate could include:

  • Follow the "Money" links to "Connections Between Candidates and Top Donors" http://opensecrets.org/pres08/moneyweb.php?cycle=2008 as well as data about "Major Industry Contributions" http://opensecrets.org/pres08/select.php?cycle=2008 through the non-partisan site called OpenSecrets.org, illustrating money's influence on U.S. elections and public policy.
  • In the "Hold the Spin" box, students can obtain "Analysis of Ads and Statements" from FactCheck.org at http://www.factcheck.org/. The website provides a nonpartisan, nonprofit, "consumer advocate" for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics by monitoring the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews, and news releases.
  • The "Track Polling" section provides daily updates about the status of the presidential contest from sources such as Rasmussen Reports at http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/
    election_20082/2008_presidential_election/
    daily_presidential_tracking_poll/.
  • Using "The Basics" menu, students can learn specific information about the Electoral College at http://www.archives.gov/federal-register/electoral-college/faq.html and voting in the U.S. at http://www.declareyourself.com/voting_faq/voting_faq.html by reviewing lists of Frequently Asked Questions.
6. Distribute the Project Guidelines (PDF, page 7) and review the requirements as a group. Allow students to work in pairs to complete the project as a means of learning more about one of the "Burning Questions" posed on the NOW website http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/questions.html.

7. Once students have completed their role-plays, they must be prepared to share them with others in a forum or some other public display that encourages potential and future voters to learn more about election issues not routinely reported on by mainstream news sources.

8. Provide each group with time to share what they have learned with classmates through acting out their role-play and fielding questions from classmates about the topic of the role-play.

9. As a follow-up to the presentation, facilitate a class discussion or have students respond in writing, on a blog, in a podcast, etc. to questions such as:
  • How did conducting your research and presenting it to others help you to become more informed about the election process and/or the presidential candidates and what shapes their political philosophies and policymaking?
  • Based on your learning, how were you changed as a voter in terms of:
    • The candidate(s) you support/identify with?
    • The way you will make future voting decisions?
    • Your involvement in the political process (i.e. interest in doing more than just voting in elections)
  • After hearing all of the presentations, what is your opinion about
    • Specific candidates
    • The political process used to elect our leaders
    • The type coverage mainstream media provides to voters about election topics and candidates
    • The political agenda in the U.S.


Assessment Recommendations

Consider the following assessment ideas:
Give students completion grades for participating in class discussions and group work activities.
Utilize a scoring guide to assess the effectiveness of the role-play at increasing public awareness about the assigned "Burning Question" and the ability to field related audience questions.
Utilize verbal or written peer feedback about what was learned from a specific role-play.
Assign completion or letter grades for the oral/written response activity at the end of the lesson.


Extension Ideas

1. Invite local media representatives into the classroom to discuss the "Burning Questions" that students used as the topic for their projects and learn more about why the mainstream media is not presenting this information in their coverage. Students could encourage media representatives to address these issues by teaching them about the specific topics they researched as they present their projects to the group.

2. Ask the school newspaper or televised news broadcast to share what students have learned about little reported election topics by inviting the students to be guests on the program and present "fast facts" about what they have learned in stories that range from 1-2 minutes in length.

3. Create an interactive website or bulletin board that other students in the school can use to learn information about election issues that are not often reported by the mainstream media. Challenge other students to learn more about issues that interest them and post comments in the form of blogs or facts written on notecards and posted on the bulletin board.


Related Resources

PBS Teachers: PBS Vote 2008
http://www.pbs.org/teachers/vote2008/tools.html
A collection of resources including items such as Ask Your Lawmaker, Ballotvox, Campaign Audio, Get My Vote, Idea Generators, Interactive Map, Select a Candidate, Vote by the Issue Quiz and You Decide.

NOW's 2008 Election Coverage
http://www.pbs.org/now/election-2008/index.html
Provides a "Democracy Toolkit" and "Burning Questions" related to the 2008 election as well as links to current election news, political cartoons, tracking polls, viewer feedback, and other resources.

Online Newshour: Vote 2008
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/vote2008/
Access current news stories, a reporter's blog, delegate counts, candidate profiles and more.

American Experience: The Presidents
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/presidents/2008/
This site connects the past to the present by asking voters to consider a number of questions related to the presidency by examining how past presidents have handled similar issues.

P.O.V.: Election Day (airs July 2008)
http://www.pbs.org/pov/pov2008/electionday/preview.html
A documentary film that follows 11 different voters on election day 2004 and provides a glimpse into the election process and decisions made by voters.


About the Author

Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught middle school and high school English, social studies, reading, and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked extensively with PBS authoring and editing many lesson plans for various PBS programs and PBS TeacherSource. In addition to conducting workshops for teachers at various state and national meetings, Prososki also works with many corporate clients creating training programs and materials, facilitating leadership and operations workshops, and providing instructional support for new program rollouts. Prososki has authored one book and also serves as an editor for other writers of instructional materials.

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