Focus Question: What is bias and how do you recognize it?
In this lesson, students will be looking at the role of bias in communication. The activities for this lesson will be used as part of the Performance Assessment for the unit.
Say, “I’m going to give each of you a card with a character’s name and description. Some of you will have characters that don’t play an actual role in the scene, but they have definite feelings about what happens. Other students will also be assigned your character.”
- Give a character card to each student (L-7-3-1_Character Cards.doc). Tell students to read over their character description and then listen carefully as you read aloud a scenario. Point out that the scenario itself is written from an objective viewpoint, presenting a strictly factual account with no indication of emotional involvement.
- Display the following scenario on an interactive whiteboard/document camera or copy it on the board for students’ reference:
Ricardo is walking Mrs. Best’s two dogs—a Great Dane named Socrates and a Chihuahua named Hercules. When Mrs. Tate’s cat leaps off a fence and darts in front of the dogs, they break away from Ricardo and chase the cat across several yards, tearing up Mr. Abram’s flower beds and knocking over Julie Ames as she walks around the corner.
- Say, “Now think about your character. What would be his or her reaction to the scene? Imagine that you are that individual and list three possible reactions to what has happened. Write from the first-person point of view.” Give students a few minutes to write their responses, helping any who have difficulty. Then have students work in six groups, all the same characters joining together to compare their reactions. Say, “Read aloud all the reactions for your character and explain the reasons why you think your character would react in this way.” Listen to the groups’ discussions so that you are certain students understand the task.
- Collect the individual reactions and save for the Unit Assessment.
- Ask each group to write a paragraph from the first-person point of view, describing the events of the scenario. Remind students that the individual lists were about this character’s reaction to what happened and that this is a description of the events as though the character is witnessing them. Have each group present its paragraph to the rest of the class. Then read the scenario aloud once more and ask students to comment on the differences among the accounts. Summarize the following understandings on the board/interactive whiteboard:
- We all bring our own beliefs to what we experience and what we read.
- A bias is a tendency or a leaning toward a certain belief or attitude.
- Being strongly biased can keep us from seeing things clearly.
- A person or a decision that is labeled as unbiased is fair or impartial.
Give students a copy of the Bias Meter (L-7-3-1_Bias Meter.doc) and discuss it with them. Then have students decide where on the meter each of the point-of-view pieces they just read would fall and discuss why they have that opinion. [IS.10 - ELL Students]
- Display several statements, such as the following, on the board/interactive whiteboard and have students identify them as objective or biased.
- Forcing us to go to the assembly program is really insulting. (B)
- The bank was robbed of $2 million on July 19, 2010. (O)
- The pitiful members of the defeated basketball team slinked to their bus. (B)
- The mayor has wasted far too much money on a project everyone knows is worthless. (B)
- The thief stole three oil paintings from the local museum. (O)
- Ask students to consider all the factors they can think of that influence an individual’s thinking. Offer them a model, such as the following, which is objective information:
“Donna Florence is a grandmother who lives alone. Her two children live far away. She works in a nearby shop. She spends part of her free time helping at the neighborhood daycare center because she enjoys children. Donna sees a little child who appears to be lost.”
- Ask, “What factors would influence this individual’s actions?” (her age, her family situation, the fact that she has a job, her interest in children)
- “What other factors may influence a person’s thinking and actions?” Give students a few minutes to work alone and then write their ideas on the board. Students should come up with a fairly large range of influences such as an individual’s particular preferences and interests, gender, age, family values, the manner in which an individual or a family earns a living, and the place where the individual lives.
Have students work in groups to examine the sample editorial “Hang Up and Drive.”
Say, “We expect to find bias in editorials because writers use that form to express an opinion about a particular topic. Read the editorial and then do the following:
- identify the writer’s opinion
- make a list of the ways in which the writer uses language to reveal her bias about this topic and to try to convince readers to feel the same way
- decide where you think the editorial would fall on the bias meter.”
Allow about 10 minutes, and then have students share their findings, writing them on the board/interactive whiteboard. Suggested answers include the following:
- Drivers should not use their cell phones.
- The author compares drivers on cell phones to drunk drivers.
- She describes their behavior as “weaving back and forth, speeding up then slowing down, or suddenly stopping.”
- Cell phones are “a dangerous distraction.”
- Even though all drivers using cell phones do not behave in this manner, she writes as though they do, lumping them all together.
- She says that their behavior is “very unpredictable.”
Discuss where students would place this editorial on the bias meter.
Say, “When we are reading news articles, we expect objective reporting. Unfortunately, that is not always what we encounter.” Share with students examples of different news coverage of the same event (for example: Choices: The Choice of Language by Dan Kurland listed in Materials) so that they can see the importance of word choice and differences between objective and biased coverage of an event.
Ask students to find and examine a newspaper article and complete the following activity to be used as part of the Performance Assessment for the unit:
- identify the author’s purpose
- record whether the article is a biased or an objective account
- underline evidence within the article to support choosing objective or biased
If you prefer, you may wish to have all students examine the same article, such as “Teens Build Incredible Car” by Zach Jones found on the Web site Scholastic News Online at http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3754743. The writer’s purpose is to describe the electric car designed and built by high school students. It is an account that reveals the writer’s bias in favor of the car by using words and phrases such as “Incredible Car,” “Amazing Test Drive,” “phenomenal,” “incredible,” and “was so impressed.”
- For students who need additional opportunities for learning, provide another scenario with different characters so that students have additional practice with this type of experience. [IS.11 - ELL Students]
- Keep a file of articles such as “Teens Build Incredible Car” that have been annotated by students for author’s purpose and evidence of bias in word choice. Students who need additional opportunities for learning can review these and then apply what they have learned to a new article.
- Students who are ready to go beyond the standard may look into the matter of bias in historical accounts, such as those listed in Related Resources.