Lesson Plan: Social Studies


This unit focuses on the role of rhetoric and visual images play in creating meaning across various media. While most students recognize that media is a tool used for disseminating information, they tend not to examine how visual and verbal language are manipulated to produce a specific message that may also reflect a particular bias. The selection of broadcast news sources draw students toward a better understanding of the methods that writers and media producers have used to address social and political concerns in our lives. Increasingly, the media has broadened the process of simply gathering information and publishing it, to include forums for discussion as well. This allows for greater inclusion and debate, but can be overwhelming for students who do not have the critical skills yet to mediate all the information and opinions.

After exploring the coverage of an event involving a popular sports celebrity, students will explore different televised news programs to critically analyze the language and images they use. Students have the opportunity to reflect on media intentions and motives, and to interpret visual messaging and tone in art and graphic design addressing the historical “Scottsboro Boys Trial” from the 1930s.

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 storytelling 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, so students may 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.)
      • In general, where do you get your information? How do you conduct research into things that interest you?
      • How does TV influence your life? Internet? News shows?
      • Do you receive news differently from TV, online newspapers or periodicals, or print newspapers or periodicals? How so?
      • Do you believe that the local or national news is unbiased? Liberal? Conservative?
      • Do you regard news coverage on the TV as providing information or entertainment?
      • How often to you encounter advertising with only words and not pictures?
      • Do the reality TV shows present a perspective of American culture that is familiar to you in your own life?
      • How often do you critically read the lyrics to the music you listen to?
    Analyzing Rhetoric in the Media
    1. To begin the unit, it’s important to provide students with an example of how one incident may be reported in two distinct ways. As a whole group, examine and discuss "Dennis Rodman and the Art of the (Metaphoric) Screen." The American Rhetoric website provides an example of the use of language to depict an interaction between Rodman (basketball player) and a referee in two very different ways. American Rhetoric uses the term, “Terministic Goggles,” because in many ways we have to view much of what we see and hear on TV or the internet with “goggles” on.
    2. After reading the articles, discuss the varying choices in diction in each and how the tone changes. Ask the students to think about:
        • Which version of the story do you think is most true and why?
        • What if we were only provided one version of the Dennis Rodman story?
        • How might we ensure that the news we read or watch on TV is unbiased, or that it represents a fair and balanced perspective?
    3. To engage students in critical viewing and writing about the media, assign the following projects and follow-up presentations. Assign one project weekly, culminating in a final writing or multi-media project; or assign concurrently to multiple groups of four students to research and present their information to the entire class.
    4. Project One: Studying Behavior on Television News and News Talk-Shows

        • Students select various roles on news shows (such as news anchor, guest commentator, news reporter, panel moderator, call-in guest, etc.), observe the subjects intently, and then compare their notes with their group’s findings. This process assists students in developing a more critical eye regarding the messages being delivered.
        • Hand out the Studying New Shows Worksheet to assist students with note taking and analysis.

      Project Two: Study of Sunday News Interview Shows

        • Using a similar study completed by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR, a nonprofit national media watch group), students monitor the guest lists and topics of such shows as NBC’s Meet the Press, ABC’s This Week, FOX’s News Sunday, CBS’s Face the Nation, PBS’s The McLaughlin Group, and CNN’s State of the Union. (For more information on the study, read related article on FAIR website--What's Not Talked About on Sunday Morning?
        • Hand out the Study of Sunday News Interview Shows Worksheet to assist in students’ note taking and analysis.

      Project Three: Study of News Programming

        • Students watch any weekly or nightly national news program and record how the programming is segmented by the minute and second.
        • Hand out the Study of News Programming Worksheet to assist students’ with note taking and analysis.
    5. Students may present their discoveries and conclusions to the whole class in a general discussion format or the information may be used in a class debate. Such debate or discussion questions might include:
        • Does our mass media provide us with adequate sources of information?
        • Does our national media coverage bias our perceptions of the world around us?
        • What is the importance of mass media in a democracy?
    6. Students may continue working in small groups of four to develop their own one-minute news story segment.
        • Choose current local, national, or international stories and divide the stories among the groups making sure that every story is given to two different groups.
        • Then assign the groups with the same stories either a strong liberal or conservative bias. Students write scripts and create visuals to coincide with the segment.
        • The news segments may be recorded as a one-minute slot for an evening news program.
        • After viewing the stories told with different biases, students should provide feedback and criticism on the tone, emphasis.
        • This could expand to students creating and recording their own news talk show.
    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.
    The Scottsboro Boys Trials (1931-1937)
    1. An historical event of the 1930s--The Scottsboro Boys Trials--provides another means to address the influence of various forms of media on an historical event. Students have the opportunity to read primary source materials--periodicals and documents--from the trial that reveal the differing viewpoints on what occurred depending on the bias of the news source. Prof. Douglas Linder, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, "The Scottsboro Boys" Trials 1931 – 1937, from Famous Trials website, from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and PBS’s American Experience segment on the trials both provide an assortment of historical documents, including letters, photographs, trial transcripts, quotations, etc.
    2. The collection of The Wolfsonian-FIU is also a rich resource for historical images and articles, particularly of The Labor Defender periodical produced by the International Labor Defense.
    3. After completing their research, students may write editorials, letters to the editors, or write scripts and stage news reports using the skills their learned in the previous projects.