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Learning to be fair, balanced and accurate


Students will use role playing to work through difficult ethical situations. Students will learn a basic understanding of their responsibility to provide fair, balanced and accurate content that is complete and coherent. From studying examples of content and role-playing on situations that they may have to address, this lesson prepares students for the kinds of decisions they will make with their own publication.


  • Students will learn about the stakeholders related to a free press.
  • Students will role play scenarios.
  • Students will study the importance of being fair, balanced and accurate in reporting.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1a Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
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.


150 minutes (three 50-minute classes)


Handout: FAB scenarios – ethics

Slideshow: FAB journalism day 1

Slideshow: FAB journalism day 2

Rubric: FAB journalism

Exchange publications (if applicable)

Lesson step-by-step

1.  Opening journal — 10 minutes

Ask students to complete the journal from Slide 2.

Ask students to read over the situation they journaled about. What was the truth in this scenario? Ask students to share what they’ve written with a neighbor, or if students are comfortable, ask them to debrief in large-class format. What was the scenario and from what other perspective could the story be told?

2. Link to slide content — 5 minutes (Slides 3-7)

Slides 3-7 will take the class through the link from the journal to the content of the day, which is Slide 7.

3. Main lesson component — 5 minutes

Go through the rest of the slideshow. Ask students to keep their original journal in mind.

4. Think-pair-share — 10 minutes

Have students work in pairs. Go through Slides 10-12 prior to pairs beginning work. Do not show Slide 14 until class has debriefed in large group format.

5. Large group debrief — 10 minutes

What points did your groups raise? How did you answer the questions?

6. Twist — 5 minutes

Show Slide 14. Get student reactions. Did some consider this twist while working in pairs or during the large group format? Students should discuss in their pairs.

7. Exit slip — 5 minutes

State what should be done to fix the situation if the news had been reported.

Day 2


Handout: FAB scenarios – Ethics

Slideshow: FAB Journalism Day 1

Lesson step-by-step

1. Review — 5 minutes

Go through Slides 3-5 as review from the last class meeting.

2. Grouping — 2 minutes

Students should get into groups of five and number off (Slide 6).

3. Explain today’s goal and assignment — 3 minutes

Teacher should go through Slides 8-10 to outline the expectations for the group work and presentations.

4. Small group discussion/application of content — 10 minutes

When you get to Slide 9, students need to get into a group of five people. Each student should assume the role of a writer, source, adviser, administrator and parent for each of the scenarios. Pass out one scenario to each group. They will work through the scenario from the perspective of the role assigned.

5. Student presentations — 25 minutes

Student groups should discuss each scenario. After small group discussion, each person should talk about the story from their perspective in large group format.

After each presentation, the teacher should ask whether the students agree with how they approached the topic.

6. Exit slip — 5 minutes

Did role playing the situation from another perspective change how you would normally approach the story? Why or why not? Please include your assigned role in the description.

Day 3

Lesson step-by-step

1. Review of the previous day’s material — 5 minutes

Review the engagement questions with the students. (You could either post them using the same slideshow as yesterday or ask students to write them on the board.)

2. Application — 20 minutes

Students will review past issues of your school’s publications, other schools’ publications or local media to determine if any stories could have been covered in a more fair, balanced and accurate manner.

Again, students should use the critical engagement questions as a reference. Keep these posted on the board/overhead.

3. Debrief — 15 minutes

Students should share what they found with the rest of the class as the teacher facilitates discussion.

4. Assessment — 10 minutes

In pairs, students should create an action plan concerning treating fairly and responsibly all sources and people involved in a story.

Post these plans in the room as a reminder of the activity. These reminders will be referenced in the culminating staff manual project at the end of the unit.


Media Ethics, by Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins and Journalism Ethics by John C. Merrill (out of print but available online).