This is not so much a single lesson plan, as a template for preparing lessons based on news stories that highlight civic issues. It is not intended that you repeat this lesson with all three topics, but that you select the topic most fitting for your setting or adapt the template to a topic of your own. The following lessons provide specific examples of the template in action.
- Students will examine biases in a pair of current events stories.
- Students will be able to explain how the telling of stories can humanize or dehumanize another person.
- Students will assess news stories and their own reading process in light of a focus on hospitality.
Hospitality requires learning to see others not as automatic threats or rivals but as human beings made in the image of God, with stories as complex as our own. Teaching students to see the humanity in others is one of the most important skills we can teach. When reading the news, it’s easy to see others as just words on a page or issues requiring resolution so that we can return to our sense of normality. How can we help news stories to come alive in a way that helps students to be hospitable to the people in the stories? By taking a step back and disrupting common thinking patterns about the news, we can lead students in an exercise in seeing people in the news stories through a hospitable lens, extending empathy to their stories and practicing what it means to extend hospitality to another. In this way we can connect previous lessons on hospitality and on the image of God with skills for interpreting news stories.
As you approach this series of lessons, think about how content relates to pedagogy. Attempting to listen well to the stories of distant others through media rings hollow if we are unable to attend well to those who are in our immediate presence. These lessons include opportunities for collaboration. Give some consideration to the best furniture layout for collaborating with and listening to others, and to ways in which you can reinforce a collaborative ethos and establish norms of attending well to one another. Establish explicit ground rules for charitable listening. Give thought to which topics might be sensitive for some students in your class. Consider whether any of the texts should be adapted for any students for readability. Consider how different students can he encouraged or assisted to contribute, and whether some students might be helped by recording a video in lieu of written contribution. When processing a story, consider providing students with audio of the text (to help them all finish reading the text at the same time) or asking that they take turns reading the story aloud to their group. Consider also whether your students have enough preparation to talk about bias, or whether you need to work on that concept before introducing this activity. Remind students at relevant junctures that the goal here is not to decide which article is right, but to think about how public discussions across fundamental differences could play out.
Preparing the Activities
For this lesson you will need:
- Two news stories from varying perspectives of the same event. A good source of multiple versions of the same story for national news is the All Sides website.
- The provided presentation slides.
- The homework handout: Reading Reflections.
- The concept of bias plays a role in this lesson. Your students will only need a basic understanding of bias in order to participate. There will be opportunity to offer your students a definition of bias during the “Reflect” section, but you might also consider preparing your students before using this activity if this is not a topic that has been covered.
- This activity requires work in an even number of groups of 2 to 3 students—it will save instructional time if you prepare a suitable classroom layout before the beginning of class.
Teaching the Activities
Introduction (5 minutes)
At the beginning of the sequence, take a few minutes to activate prior knowledge about the topic(s) involved in the story that students will study. You could use a KWL chart (Know, Want-to-know, and Learned) as a graphic organizer (see this example for a model) or other graphic organizer.
Then take the first step toward humanizing the story by displaying an image connected with the story. Choose an image that includes people’s faces. Images that contain ambiguous hints at the story’s topic are ideal. Ask students to make predictions about who the person or people in the picture are and what their story might be. This is a small first step toward exercising empathy.
First phase: Read (15 minutes)
Divide the class into an even number of groups of 2 to 3 students and mentally assign half the groups as Group A and the other half as Group B. For example, divide a class of 24 students into 8 groups, four of them designated as Group A and four as Group B. Do not indicate yet to the students which groups are A or B. Bear in mind that the next step will involve combining groups—consider what layout will help this to happen with minimum disruption.
Prepare two versions of the same news story with different biases or viewpoints. Choose a story focused on a civic or political issue in which differing issues and perspectives come to the fore. The aim here is not to create a caricature in the form of an extremely prejudiced version of a story. We are not aiming to enact polarization, but to promote reflection on how we read and listen. The goal is to reflect what already happens in mainstream reporting, where different versions of the story may include different details or images and so reflect a different slant that may be rooted in ideological bias. Each should include some information missing from the other. You may choose to curate a collection of photos, articles, short videos, and so on that embody one bias. (We provide examples in the next lesson plans.) The two versions of the story should look similar when in handout form in terms of e.g., the number of sheets of paper. The idea here is to delay the moment at which students realize that they do not all have the same version.
Provide the Group As with one version of the story and Group Bs with the other version and have them do the following in their small groups (you can display the questions using the provided presentation slides.) :
- Describe who the story is about (i.e. persons or groups involved).
- Summarize what the story is about in 3 to 4 sentences.
- Identify when the story took place. What other local, national, or world events were taking place at that time that may be relevant?
- Identify where the story took place (i.e. neighborhood, city, state/province, country, etc.).
- Describe why the story is significant and important to know.
The goal of this stage is for students to familiarize themselves with the story and think their way into its implicit perspective.
Second phase: Combine (20 minutes)
Next, combine the groups so that each Group A combines with a Group B. There should be about 4-6 people in each new group with roughly half of the students from an original Group A and half from a Group B. A simple way to manage this is to keep your A and B groups on different sides of the room and ask them to combine with groups on the other side. Do not announce yet that different types of groups are combining; wait for students to discover this.
In their new groups, have them debrief the following for about 5 minutes— this could be done orally or in the form of a written summary in response to the questions, which again are in the provided presentation slides:
- What did you gain from working with a story?
- What perspectives can you identify in the way the story was told? Which people’s perspectives were foregrounded or neglected or doubted?
- Did anyone within the group question the version of the story that was given, or did they accept it? Why?
- Share a detail with a quotation from the story that you found particularly interesting or telling.
At the latest by the time they get to the last question, students should have realized that they did not have exactly the same version of the story. There is an opportunity now to reflect not only on the differences in the versions (bias) but also on the listening process.
Do a quick check-in with the students, explicitly telling them about the two versions of the story and briefly explaining why they were given different versions, before having them continue their debrief with the following questions for another 15 minutes:
- What similarities/differences can you identify between the two versions of the story?
- Who were the storytellers?
- If you had to identify the protagonist of your story, who would it be? Is there an antagonist?
- What basic conflict did each story point out? (Person vs person, person vs nature, person vs society, rich vs poor, etc.)
- What solutions, if any, does your version of the story offer?
- How easy is it for you to integrate a conflicting account and let go of the one you had been building based on the initial reading?
- What had you become too attached to from your version of the story?
- What prior knowledge or beliefs factored into your understanding of the story you were given? Did it confirm or challenge any of your own biases?
The latter three questions can also be assigned as an individual reflection if time is an issue.
Third phase: Reflect (15 minutes)
The idea here is to establish consistency across the stories and help students reflect on the process they just went through. Appeal is made here to concepts of hospitality established in other lessons. You may wish to review them briefly to help students make the connection.
Ask the combined groups to return to both versions of the story and discuss the following questions (provided in the presentation slides.):
- Look closely at how each person involved in the story was represented in each version. Which people were made to seem most human? Which people did the story most help you connect with? How did it do this? How representative might these people be of a wider group?
- Should any of the ways in which people are talked about be changed in order to humanize them more? (E.g., is anyone reduced to a stereotype or a statistic? Is anyone’s story told without their own voice being heard?) Are there any laws or policies in here that seem to dehumanize some?
- Think about the issue in the story through the lens of hospitality. Who in the story seems to get to play the role of host (having ownership of the space to which others must adapt) and who seems to be in the role of guest (more vulnerable and needing welcome)?
- Think about the way we just approached these stories in class. How might the way that we read and the questions we asked be related to being hospitable and learning to welcome others well? How is bias connected to hospitality?
- Can you think of a time when you have promoted a perspective in a way that ignored others’ concerns? How does this relate to a Christian stance of hospitality towards others?
Debrief with the class in the last 5 minutes, asking them to share the main things they have learned.
Ask students to produce a reflection on the process of reading news in this format using the following prompts (provided as a PDF):
- What felt different or strange? Why?
- What realizations did you have?
- Did you learn something from another person in your group?
- What questions do you still have about this story?
- Could you retell this story more fairly now?
- How can the way you tell a story honor or dishonor another person?
- What does any of this have to do with being Christian?
Consider using a variety of media to help students express themselves—students could write a journal reflection, make a short video, or interview one another in podcast format. You could process their ideas further in the next class through discussion in small groups or a Spiderweb discussion. Maintain student awareness that we should be practicing hospitality to one another in any discussion. We suggest a final silent, written reflection on what students have learned.
This lesson adapts the story template for stories on immigration. Students consider stories on immigration with different biases and compare their readings, focusing on a stance of hospitality.