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Daily News Lessons (show all)

Class activity: Discuss how to process brutal images of war in the news

March 10, 2022


NOTE: Some segments from this broadcast contain disturbing images of war. Please review all material before sharing with your classroom. 

Russian bombing on Wednesday struck a maternity hospital, sending patients and new and expectant mothers fleeing. The attack came as Russia increased strikes against civilian targets and as evacuations from Ukraine became more desperate. More than two million Ukrainians have now fled their nation, as more seek shelter within it.

Media literacy activity: Ways to discuss news coverage of war and violence

As teachers, we know you are constantly reflecting on how you will teach critical issues like the war in Ukraine. It may be helpful to share some of that reflection with your students in the questions below. They will appreciate your frankness.

Let your students know that PBS NewsHour Classroom creates lessons on difficult and even scary news events, like the war in Ukraine. According to PBS NewsHour Classroom’s mission statement, they have the responsibility using the standards and resources of the PBS NewsHour to provide teachers and students with quality educational resources based on current issues and events and offer an outlet for young people to speak out on issues important to them.

  1. Should PBS NewsHour Classroom include graphic footage of the war in Ukraine in their lessons? Why or why not? Are there any stipulations you’d put on this?
  2. Judy Woodruff includes a warning that the images in the story are graphic. Do you think this is helpful? Should more news outlets give similar warnings?
  3. Are there times you show only part of the video to your class, making sure to leave out the more graphic images? What do your students think of this decision? Do you explain your reasoning?

Find out what students already know – follow their lead

You’ll have to use your best judgement here, knowing some students will want to discuss events in Ukraine and other types of violence conflict more than others. But it’s always amazing how much students already know about current events and have seen many of the images adults have seen. We all need a thoughtful place to process and discuss difficult topics. The video featured in this lesson showed the victims of war in Ukraine: people walking past bombed out buildings where they live, a pregnant women being rushed away from a maternity ward after Russia bombed it and a photocopy of shrapnel in a boy’s chest.

  • Ask your students if they’ve seen these images or similar images before class–and where–on their phones on the way to school? With friends? Watching television/online news programs with their families?
  • Do students think discussions about the war in Ukraine should occur in school?
  • Do they think images of the realities of war should be shared and discussed in class in a responsible, sensitive and thoughtful way? Do you allow students who don’t wish to view the video a chance to work on something else?

Media literacy using See, Think, Wonder with non-graphic news stories about war

Media literacy can provide an excellent alternative avenue to understanding difficult issues in the news or from history. Analyzing and evaluating news coverage gives students a chance to talk about the issues without thinking they have to give their own personal opinion on the matter. Find an excerpt from a few different news organizations on the same topic — one that does not include images or descriptions of war but maybe focuses more on policy decisions. You may want to use the story about President Joe Biden banning Russian oil in the U.S. Here’s NewsHour’s story on it. Now find this story on two other news organization’s websites. This is a good place to use See, Think, Wonder comparing and contrasting the three stories.

You will find some students want to share their opinions right off the bat, and in fact, this is their favorite part of class, but many other students don’t want to share their personal thoughts for all sorts of reasons. This is when media literacy questions like whose voices were included in the story and whose voices were left out are useful. Study the headlines and the sub-headlines using See, Think, Wonder.

How the media has covered Ukraine compared to other conflicts

You may wish to check out this podcast: Podcast: Media bias, and refugees ‘like us’ or read the article In Ukraine reporting, Western press reveals grim bias toward ‘people like us’ both by the Los Angeles Times. The description of the podcast episode reads: “The European Union is doing everything possible to welcome Ukrainian refugees. And people around the world have donated money and supplies to help. But this open-arms response has people in similar situations wondering: Why so much goodwill toward Ukrainians, and not us? Today, we talk about the media’s role in deciding who is the “right” type of refugee — and how that helps or hinders displaced people around the world.”

  • Ask your students, who they think the “not us” is? Why are African, Middle Eastern and Indian refugees from Ukraine facing discrimination at the Ukraine-Poland border? What should be done about the difference in treatment white Ukrainians and non-white refugees are experiencing?

You may also want to check out Yousef Munayyer’s piece in The Nation: On Watching Ukraine Through Palestinian Eyes: The rightful outpouring of support for Ukraine teaches us that the West can condemn occupation when it wants to.

And conduct some research as to why Vogue magazine removed the word “Palestine” from their Instagram post quoting supermodel Gigi Hadid’s pledge on Instagram to donate her Paris Fashion Week’s earnings to Ukraine and Palestine. Vogue issued a correction here after facing backlash. This Al Jazeera article mentions the double standard seen in several media organization’s coverage of Ukraine — including Al Jazeera English.

Ask students: What does criticism of the media’s coverage of Ukraine compared to other atrocities say to you about how different people perceive injustice? If there are different perceptions of what makes an event just or unjust, how do you end up solving the conflict?

It’s understandable to feel upset – that includes you, too

Explain to your students that It is understandable to feel upset because of events in Ukraine and other images of conflict you may see on the news. Discuss people with whom students can talk about their feelings inside school and outside school. If they are not sure, mention the role of the school counselor and let them know they can speak to you after class if they don’t want to comment out loud. If you yourself are feeling upset, be sure to talk with a colleague or friend.

For More

You may want to choose another news segment from Wednesday night’s broadcast below. Use the following discussion questions to make sure your students understand the basic facts of the story.

  • Who are some of the individuals or groups of people mentioned in the news summary?
  • What stories are covered?
  • Where do some of the stories take place?
  • When did those stories occur?
  • Why did the event(s) take place?
  • How do you think the NewsHour’s producers decided which stories made it into the news summary?

Media literacy: Who else do you think should have been interviewed in the story you watched?

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