Lesson Plan: Language Arts


This unit focuses on the ways in which propaganda messages are formed in various genres of literature. While most students recognize that media is a tool used for disseminating information, they tend to not regard genres of literature or art as influenced by biases. The selection of print and non-print texts draw students toward a better understanding of the methods that writers and artists use to address social and political concerns in our lives. Media today allows for greater participation and debate, but it can be overwhelming for students who do not have the critical skills yet to mediate all the information and opinions.

The texts in this lesson provide examples of differing perspectives, as well as the variety of modes of messaging available today. Students have the opportunity to reflect on authors’ intentions and motives; to read and listen to artists’ recordings of songs with varying tones; and to interpret visual messaging and tone in photography and art.

General Understandings
  1. Media is designed to inform, disseminate and publish information and entertainment, and provide a forum for discussion.
  2. Media takes place in various forms of mass communication (broadcast media/print media/Internet) and interactive media.
  3. Media is a tool for informing or misinforming the public depending on the agendas of governing bodies, individuals, and commerce.
Learning Objectives: 21st Century Skills

The 21st Century Skills framework is a complex system that incorporates content knowledge, specific skills, expertise, and literacies to create a cohesive system of student outcomes and support systems. The Teen Thoughts on Democracy program utilizes the Partnership for 21st Century Skills framework to further the skills cultivated through this progressive game-based curriculum such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.


Download this user-friendly chart for detailed information on lesson components and how to access the lesson resources for Media theme.

Learning Objective

Spin is designed to promote student reflection on the power of words and images by creating and altering meaning in a fictional narrative. This fast-paced, small group story-telling game provides students the experience of “spinning” a story in different directions to convey diverse storylines or viewpoints—much like it occurs in print, broadcast, and digital media today. Visual, verbal, and image-based reading skills are put into play during the game, enabling students to gain a better understanding of how words and images may be manipulated to promote a particular interpretation of an event or to advocate a social, political, or governmental agenda.

Basic Strategy

In SPIN, players take turns crafting a cohesive story using random images and words drawn from a deck of cards. Opponents may foil one another by playing a Spin wildcard that requires the previous player to spin the story in the opposite direction! This game is intended to be fun and fast-paced.

Detailed Teacher Instructions are included in the Spin game materials below.

  1. Once the game is completed, have all the students return to their seats in the circle for a debrief.
  2. This is an opportunity for you to guide the students’ reflection and prepare them for the period of history and the genre of literature you plan to study or have already studied.
  3. Guiding Questions (Adapt depending on how you approach the texts and music.)
      • Where do you get your information? How do you conduct research into things that interest you?
      • How do you know what is reliable?
      • How do we read or hear tone? How to we interpret information? Is it possible for two people to hear the same story, but analyze it differently? How do we account for such varying perspectives?
      • What happens to messaging or information in the news if the diction (word choice) is changed and thus the tone is changed?
    Analyzing Tone and Mood in Various Media

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939), or dramatic adaptation by Frank Galati (1988)

    Not much more can be said about the excellence of Pulitzer Prize winner John Steinbeck’s writing or his novel, The Grapes of Wrath, but if time or accessibility is an issue, consider Frank Galati’s adapted dramatic play of The Grapes of Wrath. Galati won a Tony Award for Best Play for his adaptation.

    1. Either The Grapes of Wrath (Steinbeck) Chapter 28 or The Grapes of Wrath (Galati) Act 2 will work for the following activity. The importance of these scenes for the characters, plot, and themes, and for American progress as a whole during the Great Depression should be discussed.
      • What is the significance of Tom’s final words to Ma in Chapter 28 of The Grapes of Wrath:

        "Whenever they's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Whenever they's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there... I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad an'-I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when our folks eat the stuff they raise an' live in the houses they build-why, I'll be there…”

    2. An excellent way to bring multimedia into the classroom and capture the power Steinbeck’s writing still has on current generations is to have students read Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics to the song “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Rage Against the Machine has an extremely powerful cover of Springsteen’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad” as well. Playing both versions for students would allow for a deep discussion about tone, style, and imagery in the two very distinct versions.
    3. Hand out Music Comparison Worksheet for student to use to analyze and compare the two versions.
    4. A final comparison can also be made using the Animoto video Dust Bowl & Great Depression. Discuss how the tone would change if the video had used Rage Against the Machine’s version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” instead of Bruce Springsteen’s original.

    Media Bias and Artistic Expression

    Artists and designers have long responded to social and political events to express their personal feelings and opinions or to promote the agenda of the media, a political movement, or other organization. Often these images have addressed the rights protected in the U.S. Constitution, such as the freedom of speech, the right to a fair trial, or the right to organize and appeal for legal change.

    An event that began in 1930—known as “The Scottsboro Boys Trials”—was just such a provocation. Reflecting the racial injustice common in the United States at the time, the case was often sensationalized in the news media and was adopted as a cause for change by the International Labor Defense (or ILD, which was founded by The Communist Party USA in 1925.) The focus of this lesson is on a book entitled Scottsboro: A Story in Block Prints, which is part of The Wolfsonian collection.

    Depending on time, you may choose to focus on either the whole book of linocuts or select several images to use in the lesson below. They may be downloaded and printed out or projected for a group discussion.

    1. Allow students to arrive at their own conclusions about the image by facilitating an open group discussion using the Visual Thinking Strategies© methodology:
        • What’s going on in this picture?
        • What do you see that makes you say that?
        • What more can we find?

      NOTE: Use the second question to prompt students when they do not provide evidence for their reasoning; for example, “What do you see that makes you say that the man looks sad?”

      After this discussion, IF students request more information, you can provide some historical background on the creation of these linocuts.

    2. After the group discussion, place students into small groups of 3-4.
    3. Download, distribute, and circulate copies of the linocuts and covers from the website; or you may provide the link to the website for students to view images online or project them in your classroom.
    4. Each group will then design a poster or artwork on an approximately 12 x 18 inches poster board (or roughly one-half of a board), collaging images and texts to convey a message about a trial, labor or political conflict, or human or civil rights event/issue in the news today. Distribute the Poster Design Rubric to each group for review as they begin their design process.
    5. Each group will make an in-class presentation about the artwork they designed explaining the choices they made in terms of topic it is addressing and their use of text, fonts, images, and colors.
    6. The class should vote on the most successful artworks to be uploaded to Interact section of website. (You will need to request to set up a Community Group before images can be uploaded.)
    Newspaper cover, The Young Worker, April 1, 1933. The Wolfsonian–FIU
    Book, Scottsboro: A Story in Block Prints, 1933. Designed by Lin Shi Khan [and] Ralph Austin.
    Analyzing Different Points of View

    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Pages referenced refer to the Penguin Classics edition, however the text is also available online through the Project Gutenberg)

    Set in England, this powerful Victorian novel explores the Industrial Revolution and the relationship between the master and the hands (those that run the factories and those that labor, sometimes giving their lives to the factory work). The novel also explores issues of class hierarchies and expectations, and gendered roles in society. Elizabeth Gaskell does not point fingers or tend toward bias, as she honestly portrays the varying roles the unions, the factory owners, and the workers play in the machine of society.

    1. Chapter X, Wrought Iron and Gold:
    2. What does Thornton believe about capitalism and the opportunities of men? Explain why you may or may not agree with Thornton’s statement that, “a working-man may raise himself into the power and position of a master by his own exertions and behaviors...” What is Margaret’s response to Thornton’s discussions with her father?

    3. Chapter XIII, A Soft Breeze in a Sultry Place:
    4. Describe Betsy’s ailment and what has caused her sickness? What does this mean figuratively and literally about some of the factory workers?

    5. Chapter XVII, What is a Strike?:
    6. This three-part writing exercise demands the student answer the same question from the points of view of three different characters.

        • In this chapter, Margaret asks, “Why do you strike?” Write a detailed answer to Margaret as though you are Betsy or Higgins using details from the novel and this chapter.
        • Write a response from the perspective of a union organizer answering the question: “Why do we strike?”
        • Write a response from the perspective of a manufacturer or owner, such as Thornton, answering the question: “Why do they strike?”

      Read and share the students’ writing and discuss the different perspectives, the changes in tone, diction, and rhetoric. Explore closely how one scene or scenario can be described differently depending on an individual’s (or character’s) point of view.

    7. Chapter XXII, A Blow and Its Consequences:
    8. Discuss and analyze with students how this chapter is a climatic scene for the owners and workers; Margaret and Thornton; and Margaret and Mrs. Thornton.

        • Write a script for this scene that does not use any spoken dialogue, but instead focuses on the characters’ actions and movements only. This type of activity is called a tableau.
    9. Chapter XXXVI, Union Not Always Strength:
    10. Paraphrase and restate Higgins’s statement about the unions.

        • In what ways are they similar to the factory owners? Analyze the situation of the factory workers; what power they have and what choices they have available to them.
    11. Chapter XLII, Alone! Alone!:
    12. Discuss with students how far Thornton’s ideas on the relationship and independence between the owner and the workers have moved.

        • What are his plans? Why have they come about? What does he hope for?
        • What might have been the impetus or inspiration for Gaskell’s novel?
    13. Students should research recent articles and editorials regarding labor and employment in the news, noting in particular the varying perspectives and how the media is portraying each side and discuss in class.
        • Which scenes in North and South are comparable to current situations regarding jobs and employment, union reform, and changing industries and perspectives regarding labor?

    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Penguin Classics, 2006); or adapted play “The Grapes of Wrath” by Frank Galati (Dramatist’s Play Service, 1991)

    North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell (Penguin Classics, 1986). Available online at Project Gutenberg


    PDF for Music Comparison Worksheet

    PDF for Lyrics to Bruce Springsteen's "The Ghost of Tom Joad"


    "Ghost of Tom Joad”, Bruce Springsteen.

    “Ghost of Tom Joad”, Rage Against the Machine.

    Dust Bowl & Great Depression, Animoto video by Charlene Ortuno.

    Visual Thinking Strategies©


    Book, Scottsboro: A Story in Block Prints, by Lin Shi Khan and Ralph Austin. United States: s.n., ca. 1933. 1 v.: ill. (linoleum prints) ; 31 x 24 cm.