September 2012


In this lesson, students will:

  • Strengthen media literacy skills
  • Become familiar with national and international policy issues
  • Track news coverage of the 2012 presidential campaigns
  • Form their own opinion on policy issues and the candidates

This lesson is intended for use over the course of multiple weeks. Part I may be completed during one class period, while Parts II and III require more time.


Student Handouts

News Sources

Note to Teachers: Prior to conducting Part I, select four to five different news sources on a single current event or topic relevant to your class. For the purposes of this activity, choose sources that vary by type (blog, editorial, news story), origin (local, national, international), and political leaning (liberal, conservative, etc.). In groups, students will analyze one of the news sources and compare their analysis with others. The following sites may be helpful in searching for sources.


International news in English


In the Classroom

Part I-News Analysis

Begin class by asking students to share how they learn about current events. Do they watch a specific news channel? Is there a magazine or newspaper they like to read? Do they rely on family and friends to keep them informed? Why do students turn to these sources for the news? Then ask students to consider the characteristics of these sources. Do students think their sources are objective? Why or why not? Do students enjoy reading or watching news that clearly shows an opinion? What could be the benefit of consulting multiple types of sources?

Distribute “Analyzing the News” and “News Analysis: Example” and have students read over the first page. Discuss with students the value in understanding the source information, content, and message when they are reading or watching the news. Emphasize how identifying these elements can help students compare sources and better understand the topics being discussed. You may also want to review with students some of the key differences between editorials, news stories, blog posts, and other types of sources. Then review the example on page two. For the full news article used in the example, visit The New York Times.

Comparing the Sources
Divide the class into small groups and assign a news source to each group. Distribute “News Analysis: Graphic Organizer” and have students answer the questions. Students should also highlight and/or record important statements and quotes from their news source. They will share these excerpts with the class as examples for content and message.

Once the students finish analyzing their sources, have groups present a few notes from each section of their organizer and read some of their highlighted statements. Afterwards, discuss the news as a class. What differences do students notice between the sources? Was the same information presented in each news source? Did the author’s tone vary from one piece to another? Ask students to cite specific words or phrases. What do students think are the pros and cons of consulting a news story for information? An editorial? Did consulting multiple sources allow students to learn something new about the issue? Where might students look to get more information on the issue? For example, would they want to watch a news segment with interviews? Or read an editorial from a different news source?

Part II-Following the Election in the News

Inform students that in the coming weeks they will be monitoring the news media’s coverage of the 2012 presidential election. As they strengthen their skills in analyzing the news media, they will also be looking at the candidates’ positions on major policy issues.

  • Assign students to small groups of three or four students and distribute two copies of “Tracking the Issues: Graphic Organizer” to each student. Each week, assign the class a Policy Issue of the Week. You may wish to explore the following topics over the course of this activity: the economy, immigration, the environment, the Middle East, and the war in Afghanistan. Each student is responsible for finding at least two news sources (news stories, editorials, political blogs, broadcasts, etc.) for that issue and filling in “Tracking the Issues: Graphic Organizer” for both sources. Students should find information on both of the candidates or sources with distinct perspectives on the same candidate. Encourage students to search for a mix of news sources (i.e. not all blog posts or television segments).Note: It may be more difficult to find information on some policy issues than it is for others. Tell students to search news archives if they have difficulties finding current, relevant news pieces.
  • For a portion of class each week, have students check in with their groups. Students should discuss what they learned from the news and how they analyzed their sources. Where do the candidates stand on the issue? What are the biggest differences between the candidates’ positions? Are their positions similar in any way? What sources did students use for their research? Were there differences in the content and/or messages of the sources?Have students share their own views on the Policy Issue of the Week. Do they agree with either, both, or neither of the candidates? What policies would they recommend if they were running for president?

Part III-Pre-Election Reporting

In this concluding activity students will take what they have learned from their experience tracking the election to create their own news report on the candidates. There are a few different ways this activity can be completed.

  • Group News Report: Assign one of the policy issues of the week to each group and have students produce their own news broadcast on the topic. Students can take on the roles of news anchor, writer, media director, producer, etc. Encourage students to incorporate information from varying news sources and about both candidates. Remind them to cite their sources in the broadcast. Later, students will present their broadcasts to the class. Students may present their broadcasts live or share an audio or video recording of their broadcast. You may wish to show students a few video broadcasts from Newsy as examples before they begin.
  • Front Page: In this activity, groups will create the front page for a news publication on the election. The front page should reference a few or all of the policy issues covered. As students create the headlines, pick images, and write introductions to articles, remind students of how these elements can reflect the perspective and opinion of its authors. You may wish to have students present their front pages to the class or display them in the classroom.
  • Individual Writing Activity: Have students pick one of the policy issues that they find most interesting. Prior to the in-class activity, ask students to review the graphic organizer for the week that corresponds with their issue and bring in any additional news articles on the topic. In class, have students write a news story presenting the policy issue as it relates to one or both of the candidates. Remind students that a news story, unlike an editorial, tries to present information objectively. Also, remind students to cite their sources.

Extra Challenge:

Have students write an editorial related to the presidential election. Emphasize that an editorial includes personal opinion and may use facts or quotes to try to persuade the audience that the author’s opinion is right. Students may wish to write as a local journalist or a national reporter. Students should note which media organization they are writing for.

Photo: Christopher Dilts for Obama for America and Terence Burlij/PBS NewsHour

Back to top