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Media Literacy

Lesson: Evaluating Sources to Write an Intl. Policy Brief

This classroom-ready activity helps students recognize and evaluate the multitude of perspectives and biases present in the news media in order to write a briefing paper on an international topic.


Updated Feb. 21, 2017

Join Susan Ikenberry and NewseumED staff in a #worldgeochat at 9 p.m. ET on Feb. 21, 2017, as they discuss this lesson plan and other tips on evaluating international news.

Susan Ikenberry has taught AP Comparative Government at Georgetown Day School in Washington, D.C., for over 20 years and is an alumna of the Annenberg-Newseum Summer Teacher Institute.

In order to engage students in the complexities of comparative government and policy, Ikenberry has found it beneficial to give her students assignments and prompts that help prepare them for the adult world in which they are about to enter.

She developed “internal memo” assignments, where students research and present information on a current events issue in a foreign country. These memos, she describes, should be written as if to the secretary of State or another high-level State Department official. She also uses this method in “executive news briefing” assignments, in which students research a topic through various news sources and summarize them in a concise manner, a task common in the offices of NGOs and governmental agencies. Some students, she says, have come back and told her how frequently they’ve been assigned these kinds of briefings when they’ve had internships.

Throughout her time in education and experience in assigning these briefings, Ikenberry has found that many students don’t judge the sources they use very well, and can often get a skewed version of events based on the publication they use for research. She tries to help students understand that in addition to a wide array of news sources, it’s also important to look at official sources of information in order to get the government’s view on a given situation.

To help other instructors teach this vital skill of news discernment, Ikenberry has prepared a classroom activity that helps expose students to the multitude of perspectives and biases that are present in the news media. This activity helps students understand how those in power frame an issue and how opponents of those in power offer a different frame of the same issue. In the current climate of “fake news,” Ikenberry says it’s more important than ever to prepare students with the necessary skills to navigate the intricacies and complexities of the news media landscape.

Ikenberry’s classroom-ready activity contains the following, available for download:

Ikenberry’s background is in U.S. and European history, so she came to international affairs with little formal background. She has taken advantage of the professional development offered by groups such as the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, the World Affairs Council-DC to shore up her knowledge of international institutions and events. She participated in an educational tour of Turkey for teachers sponsored by the Turkish Coalition of America and was chosen as one of two U.S. delegates to participate in the Teacher’s Institute on Parliament several years ago in the United Kingdom. Ikenberry and her school have worked closely with the Pulitzer Center to bring reporters on international subjects to the school in person or via Skype.

She is on the advisory board of WAC-DC, and has many students successfully participate in Academic World-Quest as well as Euro-Challenge. She has organized school trips to Turkey and to Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Georgetown Day School’s location positions it to take advantage of speakers from local NGOs and think tanks, and to visit such places as the European Union Delegation headquarters.

Read other guest blogs here.

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