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Audience involvement and tragedy


This single-day lesson challenges students to consider questions of ethics when involving citizens as journalists through social media in dangerous breaking news events. Students participate in large-group discussion about open-ended statements to discern their views on this question before viewing and discussing examples of when citizen journalism enabled the media to get a story they otherwise would not have been able to report. Then, students work with a partner to consider the role of citizen journalism during the attacks on Paris in November 2015. Finally, they complete a homework assignment to extend their thinking about this incident to the scholastic environment and answer the central question: “To what extent should journalists engage citizens as reporters through social media in tragedy?”


  • Students will analyze and evaluate case studies about encouraging citizen journalism through social media during dangerous situations or tragedies, such as the Paris attacks, the Arab Spring, mass shootings or city riots.
  • Students will evaluate the actions of journalists in multiple group settings.
  • Students will synthesize their opinion about the extent to which journalists should engage citizens as reporters through social media in tragedy.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.2 Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including how it emerges and is shaped and refined by specific details; provide an objective summary of the text.


Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1C Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1D Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.


60-70 minutes (could take an additional 1-2 class periods depending on if the teacher decides to implement extension opportunities)


Handout: Audience involvement and tragedy notes

Handout: Group analysis: Paris attacks

Handout: Citizen journalism and tragedy processing activity

Rubric: Case study

Rubric: Citizen journalism and tragedy processing activity

Slideshow: Citizen journalism and tragedy

Lesson step-by-step

1. Preview — 5-8 minutes

Distribute the audience involvement and tragedy notes handout. Prompt students to respond to the opening statements, and then choose the statement they feel most strongly about and the one they feel could go either way, depending on the situation.

2. Small group discussion — 10-15 minutes

Direct students to discuss their views from the opening activity with one or two other students sitting near them using a think-pair-share style. Alternatively, you could conduct the discussion in a speed dating format; play music and allow students to switch discussion partners each time the music stops, or adapt the four corners method by asking students to go to a different area of the room to show their perspective on each statement (agree, disagree, in the middle). Select the method that works for your class given their unique preferences and time available.

3. Slideshow — 15-25 minutes

Solicit reactions to the opening statements from 3-4 students following the partner activity. Then, explain that the class will discuss several scenarios in which journalists were unable to reach a story directly, so they had to rely on citizen journalists to report on what was happening and collate their social media posts to tell the story as news was breaking. Students should complete the chart on the back of their audience involvement and tragedy notes handout. Depending on time available, as an extension, you might choose to assign each case to a small group of students and allow them to use the Internet to research what happened and fill in their charts before reporting back to the class. This might take an additional 30-60 minutes, depending on your students, and would likely extend the lesson to another day.

4. Analysis — 15-20 minutes

Form groups of 3-4 students, if they are not already in groups from Step 3. Distribute the group analysis: Paris attacks handout. Give groups time to read about the attacks in Paris and complete the group analysis questions. This is another extension opportunity where you might consider allowing students to use the Internet to watch news reports from the Paris attacks and analyze their coverage with these questions and considerations in mind. This might take an additional 30-60 minutes, depending on your students, and would likely extend the lesson to another day.

5. Large group discussion — 10 minutes

Ask each group to report its perspective on citizen journalism and the Paris attacks. Look for students to raise the following points:

  • Arguments for reposting
    • There was no other way to get the story, and people have a right to know whether their loved ones are safe.
    • Social media posts are public, so journalists should be able to repost them.
    • When a source posts to social media, they choose to put themselves in harm’s way. They want their story to be told.
  • Arguments against reposting
    • Anyone could be monitoring social media posts, including attackers. Journalists could be allowing attackers to find these citizen journalists more easily by collating or reposting their responses.
    • Someone might most inaccurate or inflated information just to get on television or get followers.
    • So much information that is posted during “breaking news” situations ends up being proven false later. Journalists need to be careful to use only verified information.

6. Homework

Distribute the citizen journalism and tragedy processing activity handout and rubric. Students should consolidate their thoughts about citizen journalism and tragedy by considering situations of danger and tragedy that could occur in a high school environment. Then, they should create either an opinion article or an infographic to show their perspective on the central question.


In a 1:1 environment, consider using digital collaboration tools for students to respond to the warm-up questions and when they are working in small groups.

For slower readers or students with limited English proficiency, distribute the case study in advance or consider reading it aloud as a class. Students could also read together with a partner, switching off reading each paragraph out loud and then summarizing together before moving on. These students might also complete one analysis sheet together instead of each student completing the work alone.

For advanced students, consider the extension opportunities that allow them to explore the examples and scenarios in more depth, and to use research skills.

The homework assignment contains two options for different learning styles — students may either write their responses or create an infographic. You might also allow students to complete this assignment online.