Adjectives in the news
Have students read news stories and editorials and underline adjectives that are not within quotes (e.g. words from statements that have presumably been composed by the article’s author). Then have them circle the adjectives that they think have positive or negative connotations (“green” is generally a neutral adjective, while “troublesome” is negative). Discuss the words’ meanings and the ways they contribute to the articles’ messages.
Have students rewrite some of the stories and editorials using words that have opposite meanings or connotations from the words they’ve circled. Discuss how changing these words changes the articles, and discuss the role of adjectives and “strong” words in the news. Are news stories always objective, or do they contain judgments and opinions? Are positive and negative adjectives more likely seen in “straight” news stories or in editorials?
Present students with a brief quote from today’s newspaper or another publication. Ask them to write a short paragraph explaining what they think this quote means.
Have them read the entire article and write additional paragraphs explaining how their impressions have changed after getting the “big picture.”
Ask students if they’ve ever had a similar experience while listening to a TV or radio program or even to a friend speaking about something. How did the short clip differ from the larger amount of information they heard? Explain that these short statements are called “sound bites” and that they’re used regularly on TV news programs. Can they think of examples of sound bites they’ve heard? Why do they think broadcasters use sound bites? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this practice?
Discuss how the author of a story, novel, or poem introduces readers to the setting. How is the setting described? Can the reader learn everything about the setting by reading this story or poem, or does the author only let the reader know some things about it? Might the authors of news stories and features use similar techniques to present information about places or other background aspects of their stories? How might this affect the story?
Ask students to read a news story or feature article and list the things the writer provides as background information (e.g. the location, the people). Then have them list four or five questions that they have after reading this background information. Ask them to discuss the reasons why the story includes some information and leaves other information out (e.g. space limitations, the author’s point of view, assumed prior knowledge).
Conclude by asking students to write a five-sentence paragraph describing their town (or something or someplace else they’re very familiar with). What information will they choose to include, and what will they leave out, considering their limited space? Why?
Have students research the arguments for and against Channel One, the news-plus-commercials program that middle and high school teachers in many districts are required to show at the beginning of each day.
If your school watches Channel One, discuss the impact students think it’s had on them. Do students think that the advertising affects their attitudes toward products? Do they feel that the news programming does a good job of keeping them up-to-date on current events? How do they feel about the presence of commercial TV in the classroom?
If your school does not subscribe to Channel One, ask students to debate the pros and cons of having this type of programming in their school.
You may want to conclude the debate by having students look at the Channel One Sales Literature at obligation.org and discussing their feelings about these ads. (You may experience a lengthy download time to get these images on your computer)
Evaluating Web Sites for a Report
Ask students to imagine that they’ve been asked to conduct Web research for a paper they’re writing. Discuss the differences between using the Web and using print media such as books and magazines. Pose these questions to the class:
- How difficult is it to publish something in print? On the Web? What difference does this make when you’re trying to determine whether to use a Web site for your report?
- Can you always tell who wrote the text on a Web site? What about in print?
- If anyone can publish anything on the Web, how can you know whether you’re getting fact or opinion? What clues might you look for to tell the difference?