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30-60 minutes
  • Current Events
  • Journalism
  • 7-12

  1. Ask your students: Why do we need news? (Prompts include: What would happen if you couldn’t access news of any kind? What if you: Were going to buy the latest phone and missed the news that the popular model was badly made? Got dressed for the day and didn’t know about the upcoming blizzard? Wanted to join a community rally and didn’t know that the location had changed?) Explain that getting an accurate, clear and timely explanation of the world around us helps us understand communities (ours and beyond). It also helps us make better decisions about how we spend our time and money, what we value, and what we support.
  2. Discuss some examples of what’s in the news now. Encourage them to think of issues or events using prompts about the latest in politics, current events, technology, music, sports, etc.  
  3. Select one of their given topics. Tell students you’re going to test if they can tell the difference between news and the other types of content in the information universe. Distribute the News or Not Sorting Sheet worksheet. Have them label the stories as news or not and discuss how they made their determinations.
  4. Acknowledge that it can be tricky to figure out how to identify quality, credible news. It becomes especially hard when it’s published online alongside rumors, opinions, ads and more. It boils down to five key characteristics. To learn about these five things to look for, watch the “Is It News?” explainer video and review the accompanying flowchart poster.
  5. Discuss the tips from the video. Which did you already know? Which were new? How do they apply to the examples from the start of class? Look back at the News or Not Sorting Sheet and use the checklist to confirm or change their original answers.
  6. Tell students: Now it’s time for a quick-fire challenge. Let’s see how well you can use these tips to separate news items from other media. Distribute copies of the poster, worksheet and sets of primary sources (or provide access to the News or Noise? media map online). Give students a time limit to complete the worksheet; you may wish to add a timer to show them that with practice, they can learn to apply the checklist very efficiently. (Note: Each topic on the map contains at least nine artifacts. The worksheet includes space to analyze six. You may wish to select a subset of fewer than six artifacts depending on time constraints and students’ reading level.)
    • Suggested primary sources for younger students: Pokémon Go
    • Suggested primary sources for older students: Brexit
  7. When students have completed the worksheet, or time is up, review their findings as a group and discuss their experience using the questions below.

  • Which artifacts were easiest to categorize as news or not? Hardest? Why?
  • Which artifacts did you struggle with or change your mind about? What qualities made it hard to tell if those artifacts were news or not?
  • For artifacts that you struggled to label: What more would you need to see, know or do to categorize it?
  • Which characteristics of news were you able to spot quickly? Which ones required more time?
  • How can you use this method in your daily life? Why is it important to be able to tell the difference between news and all the other types of content?

Breaking News

Watch the Ask an Expert: Breaking News” video featuring NPR managing editor Sara Kehaulani Goo. Ask students to discussion the tension between being right and being first. Why do media outlets want to be the first to break a story? What pressures do they face from other outlets — and from news consumers? Then, as a class, select a topic to analyze. Compare and contrast breaking news coverage of this topic from at least three media outlets. What’s the same? What’s different? Repeat with updated stories on the following day. Has any information changed? Been added? Do you think any of the outlets reported too much originally, or too quickly? Why or why not?

A Closer Look at News and Opinion

As a class, create a list of current events, with a focus on events or issues that have generated some controversy and diverging opinions. Individually or in small groups, students select a topic to focus on. They should create a collection of at least three news stories and three opinion pieces about the topic (using the Is It News? poster to help them identify the correct content). After reviewing their collections, they write a short essay comparing and contrasting the news and opinion content, and explaining the role of each in becoming fully informed about the topic.



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