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Understanding selective exposure


This week’s lessons are all about bias and credibility in the news. Students are introduced to the concept of “selective exposure,” a body of research that shows that we tend to seek out information that will confirm our already-held beliefs and perspectives. After discussing this concept and understanding the phenomenon, students consider how this unintentional practice might harm their ability to be balanced, well-informed news consumers.


  • Students will understand the concept of “selective exposure.”
  • Students will identify trends in research related to selective exposure.
  • Students will apply outcomes of selective exposure to their own consumption habits.
  • Students will judge their own level of selective exposure in their media habits.
  • Students will revise their own daily media habits to better counteract selective exposure.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text’s explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


50 minutes


Slideshow: Selective exposure

Computer access: 1:1 ratio for research (1:2 would work if individual computers aren’t available)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Experimental Activity — 20 minutes

To begin this lesson, you’ll have students engage in a bit of an experimental study to frame the information you’ll present next. Students should be at a computer with search engine access and should be ready to search for news media coverage.

Instruct the students to think for a moment about an issue or topic they feel very strongly about and have a specific opinion on. This could be religious or political in nature, or it could be less serious (for instance, which local restaurant is the best or worst, or their favorite place to travel or a favorite sports team/athlete). It doesn’t matter the topic; the most important thing is that they have a strong belief about it.

Once they’ve picked a topic, ask them to search for five news media articles about the topic. Read through the articles, and write a one-two sentence summary of what the article says about that topic. Explain that you’ll use this information later in class.

2. Exploring selective exposure — 15 minutes

Once the students have finished searching for their articles, ask for feedback about the topic students searched for, what they found, and whether the articles they read supported their beliefs on the topic.

You could do a quick survey of the class, or you can ask students one by one. In most cases with this exercise, you’ll find at least 3-4 students who say that the articles they read supported or confirmed their beliefs in the topic. You’ll use their experience as a segue into the lesson topic. If no students found this to be true, you can chalk it up to them being some savvy news consumers!

Once students have shared their results, explain that they just practiced an exercise in selective exposure. To introduce the concept of selective exposure, talk through the slideshow provided. Explain to students that in this lesson, they are going to learn how their own habits, some of which they might not even realize they practice, can contribute to their own feelings of bias about the news.

When you get to the second-to-last slide in the presentation (about negative effects), write down student responses to this question on the whiteboard to reference later. Do not continue to the last slide until after part three below.

3. Balancing the search — 10 minutes

Now, ask students to go back to their computers and search again. This time, they’re looking for articles that present ideas that are opposite or contradictory to their own ideas about the topic. Ask them to find only two articles this time that give information that contradicts their beliefs about the topic. They should read through the articles and write 1-2 sentence summaries for each one.

4. Class reflection and follow-up journal — 5 minutes

Once they are finished with their final search, come back together as a class to reflect on what they read and how it made them feel about the topic. Ask questions like:

  • How did it make you feel to read things that were directly against your beliefs on the topic?
  • Do you feel informed? Do you feel like you’ve expanded your perspective on this?
  • Or, do you feel like reading the opposite side has only make your beliefs stronger?

Finally, go back to one of the original concepts of news literacy (last slide in slideshow). Remind them of this basic news literacy tenet:

“It’s important to be aware of one’s own biases and assumptions and seek reliable information that challenges one’s own views.”

Then, challenge students to pick another topic on which they have strong beliefs, and to read three contradictory news reports on this topic throughout the week. In their journal, write a 2-3 paragraph reflection responding to the same questions listed above.