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Data in scholastic and professional journalism


This lesson is a student-led activity and follows the “Why Data Literacy Matters” lesson by introducing students to the use and potential of data in the journalism industry. Students will explore data journalism projects on both the professional and student level and brainstorm how data might be used in their own reporting.



  • Students will brainstorm what school and community data might be relevant to their student media.
  • Students will learn to create database archives for staff use.
  • Students will evaluate how to find stories in school data.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.


At least two 60-minute class periods



Computer lab with 1:2 ratio (students will work in pairs)

Google Slides, PowerPoint or other presentation software

Assignment sheet: Data in scholastic and professional journalism

Online resource: ProPublica investigations

Formative assessment guide (half sheet)


Lesson step-by-step

1. Introducing the activity — 10 minutes

Explain that students will research how data has been used in both scholastic and professional journalism. In pairs, students will spend class time using the internet to explore quality examples of data in journalistic stories. Then, they will prepare a short presentation of their findings using a presentation software such as Google Slides, PowerPoint or Prezi. The goal is to create a class compendium of data projects that will inspire and guide students when they ultimately begin working on their own data projects. Distribute the assignment sheet provided and preview it with students, checking for understanding as you go. Allow students to form pairs of their choosing or divide them into pairs. For each pair, assign two different data stories from the ProPublica site listed above (or only one example, to expedite the process or if you have a large class).

2. Research — 50 minutes

Students should spend 50 minutes reading and evaluating their assigned ProPublica stories. Next, they should find and evaluate two examples of data in scholastic media. They should use the assignment sheet to evaluate and find their examples. Monitor students as they conduct research, and as the time approaches the limit, make sure each pair has chosen a single data story example to present. Also, make sure the presentations will represent a mix of professional and scholastic examples.

How long this takes may vary greatly depending on your class makeup. You should remind students that it will be harder to find scholastic media examples, but they can look at both the college and student level. Using scholastic media award databases, such as those from the Associated College Press or National Scholastic Press Association, might provide a good starting point.

If you think students will struggle with such a broad search for student examples, use your own student media as a starting point instead. Once students have evaluated the professional media examples from ProPublica, provide pairs with copies of student websites, yearbooks and newspapers or news magazines to look for evidence of data use OR to identify stories that could benefit from the use of data to help tell the story.

3. Building a presentation — 20 minutes

Students should spend the remaining 20 minutes building their presentation according to the directions on the assignment sheet, choosing one data story as an example to feature. They should be prepared to present their findings during the next class period.

4. Presentations 5 minutes per pair

Student pairs should present their data story example, using the assignment sheet as a guideline for the presentation. Each presentation should last no more than five minutes. Use the provided formative assessment checklist to provide feedback directly after the presentations.

5. Making connections — 15 minutes

Depending on the size of your class, you may need to complete this lesson on a third day. After the presentations, spend 15 minutes as a class creating a master list of databases and data sources used in each of the examples presented. Google Docs is a great way to create a master list that students can edit and share. Then, decide whether similar data sets might exist at the school level or community level where you live. Ask students:

  • Where could we find data sets like these that apply to our school?
  • What might be the process for requesting and accessing these data sets?
  • What people sources in our community or school could give us more information?

This will prepare them for the next lesson in this series, “Gathering Data.”



Advanced students could complete the assignment sheet and then do a web search to find the databases used in the articles.

Students who require additional support should be given a shorter data story (instead of one of the long investigative ones from ProPublica), have extra time to read the article and be placed in groups where the articles might be read aloud if comprehension is an issue. The assignment sheet can also be truncated to the following two essential questions:

  1. What is the story about?
  2. How did the data help the writer tell the story?


This formative assessment is meant to provide feedback quickly about how students are making connections between data, journalism and potential story ideas. Use the assessment guide at the end of the lesson to provide this to students before progressing in the data unit. The assessment focuses on completeness of their data story evaluations. Print copies, cut them in half and issue them to each pair as they exit the class after their presentations.