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SPLC media law presentation: Libel law

An overview of libel law and how it pertains to the student press. Students will learn about the definition of libel law. Included are “red flag words” as well as an emphasis on the importance of taking complete notes and acting reasonably.


  • Students will learn the definition of libel law.
  • Students will examine each aspect of the libel law definition.
  • Students will begin to apply this knowledge to real-life scenarios.

Common Core State Standards

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.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses).


45-60 minutes


Slideshow: Libel law

Slideshow with teacher notes: Libel law

Handout: Libel student worksheet

Answer key: Libel student worksheet

Lesson step-by-step

1. Intro — 5 minutes

After students come in, play the telephone game. Ask the last person to share what they heard. Tell students the original sentence. (Sentence could be anything including “This journalism class is the best class I have throughout the day.”)

Ask students why they think the class played the game. (Accuracy is important.)

Transition from game to slideshow: One reason why accuracy is so important is because of libel law. One way to make sure you don’t find yourself in court is to make sure the information is correct, and you have good notes.

2. Slideshow — 45-50 minutes

Go through the SPLC slideshow. Use the teacher notes as talking points for instruction.

(Distribute student worksheet that students will complete during the slideshow.)

3. Review — 5 minutes

If extra time remains, ask students to put all their notes away. Then ask them to evaluate the following scenario. Would this make a good libel claim?

The following was on the online news website:

A senior girl, who lives on the 400 block of Main Street, recently revealed that she stole the answers to the latest geology test.


The senior class is full of boys who are shoplifters.

The first instance could involve a libel claim (fits the definition), while the second does not (group libel unless you have a very, very small senior class of boys).

4. Extension: Teacher could play Press Rights Minute #20: Don’t be a Fool. Teacher could facilitate a discussion concerning why April Fool’s editions can be dangerous ventures for the student press.