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Duration
30-60 minutes
Topic(s)
  • Current Events
  • Journalism
Grade(s)
  • 7-12

  1. Ask students to brainstorm lists of things that they love and things that they hate. Then ask them to think about their reactions when they read/watch something about a topic or thing on either list. How do these strong feelings affect their reactions? Through the conversation, elicit the idea that we all have internal opinions (or biases) that shape how we react to the world around us.
  2. Further illustrate the concept of individual biases using an approachable issue that still elicits passionate reactions: pizza. Ask students what is their favorite restaurant chain? What is their least favorite? Distribute or project the Pizza Prejudice handout. Tell students to imagine they’re browsing online when they come across this article. How would they react? Why? (For example: Would they feel validated? Outraged? Not care? Would they dismiss the conclusion as stupid?)
  3. Explain that to weigh whether these pizza experts’ opinions should be taken seriously, we have to get past our own feelings about the topic to look at the content objectively. In other words, maybe it’s right to dismiss their conclusion, but we can’t know until we set aside our own biases. Watch the “Am I Being Fair?” video and go over the accompanying tipsheet graphic.  
  4. Revisit the pizza headline and work through the four strategies as they apply to this topic. For each strategy, brainstorm how it could apply. “Be yourself, but know yourself” examples: the type of pizza they grew up eating; whether dietary restrictions limit what types of pizza they can eat (or if they can eat it at all); whether they have fond/bad memories, etc. “Never rely on a single source” examples: Look for additional articles about this committee, its members and its process - what makes them “experts”; have other taste tests been done, etc. “Revisit and revise” examples: Has the student tried all of the chains, especially Uno’s? Could trying a new place require them to rethink how they feel about their own personal pizza rankings? “Engage with Editors” examples: Where could students go to find a perspective to challenge their own? In this case, because the topic is something many people have experience and opinions about, they might start with talking to friends, but could also seek out food blogs, pizza fan sites, etc.
  5. Now tell your students they’ll apply these strategies to a real-life example. Pick one of the following topics/primary source collections from the News or Noise? map (below).
    • For younger students: Pokémon Go
    • For older students: National Walkout Day
  6.  Distribute the Am I Being Fair? worksheet that goes with your selected topic. (There are two versions in this packet.) Have students review the primary sources and complete the worksheet.
  7. Give students a chance to share and discuss their answers. Then use the Discussion Questions below to continue the conversation.

 

  • Which of these strategies do you think is the most/least effective at helping you counter your own biases? Explain.
  • Why is it important to try to be objective when reading the news, especially when it comes to controversial topics?
  • Does being fair about the news we consume mean we should try to ignore or suppress our emotions about the issues covered? Explain why or why not.
  • In newsrooms, if someone has too strong a connection to a story, they are said to have a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest disqualifies them from covering the story. How close to a story is too close? When does prior knowledge or experience cross the line to become a conflict of interest?
  • Are there any stories or issues to which you think you are too close to ever view them objectively? Explain.

Echo. Echo.

Thumbnail

Watch the “Ask an Expert: Echo Chambers” video featuring Rachel Davis Mersey, from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Discuss the video and her tips for getting a fuller picture of a story. Do they seem easy or hard to do? Then, have students identify an issue or topic they care strongly about and their primary sources of information for it. Challenge them to diversify their sources using Mersey’s guidelines. They should follow the news about their topic for one week. At the end of the week, reflect as a class on the experience, what they learned, and how they can help their peers escape their echo chambers. 

Being Fair About Current Events

As a class, create a list of current controversial topics. (If you did this in the Is It Fair? lesson plan you may choose to revisit the same events or issues.) Individually, students should select a topic about which they will write a short (roughly one page) summary with the goal of being as fair as possible. They can also write a short reflection (roughly one page) describing how they used the four Am I Being Fair? strategies to help ensure their objectivity

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