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Applying ethics to scholastic journalism scenarios


Students will work through one sample scenario of how to apply ethics to typical scholastic journalism dilemmas, and then they will role play several others. After each scenario is role played, students will analyze the situation and decision using the handout provided.


  • Students will work through a sample scenario as a class.
  • Students will apply ethical tools to real world situations.
  • Students will examine, explain and defend the arguments for and against their position.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA.W.11-12.1a Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA.W.11-12.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.


100 minutes (2 50-minute classes)


Slideshow: Pitfalls

Handout: Pitfalls

Handout: Ethical scenarios

Answer key: Ethical scenarios

Rubric: Ethical scenarios

Handout: Ethics code

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Objective disclosure — 5 minutes

Explain to students that today they’ll be discussing some real world scholastic journalism ethical scenarios. Remind them to think of these using SPJ’s Code of Ethics as well as the approaches of the TUFF Formula and Red light, Green Light.

2. Sample — 10 minutes

Next, group students into even groups for the number of scenarios on the scenario sheet. While groups are forming, teacher should pass out the handout.

Students should read through and discuss the scenario on the slideshow while using the handout as a guide. Tell them they need to explicitly back their answer by citing TUFF, Red Green Light and SPJ’s Code of Ethics.

Have each group write on a sheet of paper what they would do. Teacher should collect the answer sheets.

3. Group debrief — 15 minutes

The teacher should randomly select an answer and read it. Then, ask the students involved to discuss how they came to this reasoning. Teacher should continue through all the answers until all groups have finished. Make sure to highlight items not already covered on each group’s answer.

3. Group starter — 20 minutes

Teacher should pass out the scenarios to each group. The groups should examine the issue and their answer to whether there is a legal or ethical issue. They should again use and cite TUFF, Red Light, Green Light and SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Each group will be responsible for presenting this to the class — and role playing the scenario and solution if possible.

Students should use the handout as a guide as modeled in the opening scenario from the slideshow.

Day 2

Lesson step-by-step

1. Groups review — 3 minutes

Ask students to get into groups and review their plan for their scenario.

2. Group presentations — 45 minutes

Each group should present their scenario through role playing. After each group finishes, the class should spend 3-5 minutes discussing the scenario answer. Teacher should allocate about 5 minutes per group for the scenario presentation, answer and debriefing.

3. Exit slip — 2 minutes

Ask students to write on the following:

What did you find the most beneficial tool for examining ethics (TUFF, Red Light, Green Light, Code of Ethics)? Why?