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Ethical concerns with editorials


In this lesson, students look at how their decisions in writing editorials may affect others. Students will read an editorial about a teacher retweeting a photo involving nudity. The teacher will lead class discussion by asking students whether they would run the editorial and any ethical considerations they may want to share. Then groups will look at their own editorial topics to consider how their stances may affect the community and how they can have the best impact.


  • Students will analyze ethical concerns surrounding editorials.
  • Students will work in groups to assess their own editorial topics and determine what effect they may have.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.5 Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging..
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective, analyzing how style and content contribute to the power, persuasiveness or beauty of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.

Partnership for 21st Century Skills — Student Outcomes


50 minutes


Copies of questionable tweet

Handout: Ethical considerations

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 10 minutes

Ask students about times they made decisions based on their gut reactions, or didn’t think things through — what happened? (You may want to preface this with reminders of what topics are appropriate or inappropriate in your class.) Can decisions we don’t think through have unintended consequences (both good and bad)?

Explain that intuition can sometimes be helpful, but when we don’t question it or consider the possible results of our actions, we may end up causing harm without realizing it.

Distribute the ethical considerations worksheet and preview it with students before they begin. How can they know what may happen? Remind students that while experience can help build judgment, looking at what other people do and talking through problems can save a few lessons in the school of hard knocks.

2. Read editorial — 20 minutes

Distribute copies of the Needle editorial. For background, this is a small school in Western Iowa with an online newspaper. After this column appeared, a columnist in the Des Moines Register blogged about this story on the DMR website, praising the students and linking to their story (giving it a wider audience).

Ask students to read the editorial individually, marking things they agree or disagree with. Ask them what they see as the main idea of this editorial, and discuss their thoughts on the issue before you get to the ethics of the editorial, because students will want to talk about what happens when a teacher makes a questionable tweet to a personal account.

After students have a chance to discuss whether they agree with the main idea, stress that the question is not, “Do you agree with the editorial?” but what ethical considerations it raises. Ask students to consider how the editorial may affect the teacher, administrators and students at the school. Walk through the questions on the worksheet, and have students share and explain their answers. Stress that sometimes stories will have negative impact on some people — any story runs the risk of offending or boring someone. The question is to look at how much impact the story will have on people, and consider that impact when making decisions. Note how the writers talked to administrators and the teacher in question to get their points of view, which allows writers to have more accurate information and makes sure the people involved aren’t surprised when the editorial comes out (which is a good thing — the stakeholders in a story shouldn’t see its existence as a surprise.)

3. Apply to your editorials — 20 minutes

Have students get into their editorial groups (though this may not be a bad time to mix the groups up so students get a different perspective), and discuss the ethical implications of their stories. Remind them that in the world of high school — everything affects someone somehow — even an editorial thanking one group may make another group feel unappreciated. Looking at potential effects and planning can help students make better decisions while writing.

Give the groups time to work. Have one student present the editorial topic and stance, then discuss the issues involved in that editorial. What impact could it have, and how can the writer get the best possible result? The person in charge of that editorial should take notes on the group conversation on the back of the Editorial Considerations worksheet.

4. Wrap up

Invite one or two groups to share the editorial they think is most likely to cause some controversy and ask how they will address it. Then collect their completed worksheets.