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Terms You Need to Know


This lesson helps students define legal and ethical vocabulary that they will encounter during their time as a journalist. These words that can easily be misconstrued in ethical conversations and in legal decision-making, so students will reflect on how to use these terms accurately and in context.


• Students will understand the importance of word choice.

• Students will create definitions for everyday words that can quickly become complicated in an ethics conversation.

• Students will compare their definitions to those provided.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative, connotative, and technical meanings; analyze the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (e.g., how the language of a court opinion differs from that of a newspaper).
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).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.2d Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to manage the complexity of the topic and convey a style appropriate to the discipline and context as well as to the expertise of likely readers.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.5 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.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.5b Analyze nuances in the meaning of words with similar denotations.


50 minutes


Box of 64 crayons

Poster paper

Handout: Terms to define

Handout: Term definitions and discussion

Rubric: Terms group work

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction — 2 minutes

Put the box of crayons at the front of the room. Ask a student to go and pick out a green crayon and bring it to you. This may work better if you are using other crayons when you ask for one. (If you need inspiration for this, make a sign for your door.) If the student asks for more context, just say “you know, the green crayon.”

When the student hands you the crayon, ask why the person picked this color to represent green. Ask another student to pick the green crayon. Repeat this a few times.

In the large group, discuss how the crayons picked probably are all green — they are just different shades of green.

Tell students they will be discussing different shades today — but it will center on different meanings of some definitions that are often taken for granted.

2. Grouping — 3 minutes

Prior to showing the terms, ask students to get into small groups. You could number them off to help with diversity in grouping. Five is the optimum number in the grouping. Give one of the term handouts to each group.

3. Student group work — 10 minutes

Ask students to define the assigned terms journalistically.

4. Reflection and revision — 10 minutes

Teacher should disseminate the terms’ definitions and discussion questions between the groups for deeper reflection. The groups should talk through their assigned definitions using the questions. Students should define the word a second time, although this time, think about how it applies to scholastic journalism. If students access outside sources for this, they should include their sources.

5. Compare — 10 minutes

After students have completed the reflection, student groups should make posters of the words they were assigned. These posters’ content should be specific in word choice and meaning.

6. Poster presentations — 15 minutes

If time remains, groups should share their poster and definitions.

7. Extension

Find examples from professional media of one of the words we worked with today. Bring to the next class period. (You could extend lesson to a second day by discussing the application of these terms.)


Students could use Soundcloud to record their definition. See an example on balance and objectivity here.