By Barbara Theirl
- Introduce the lesson by sharing the definition of bias. Bias means that someone is promoting their information from their point of view. In particular, opposing or supporting a person or thing in an unfair way because of the writer’s personal opinions in order to influence others’ judgment.
- Share with students headlines from at least six different online publications. Get a variety of samples on various topics. It doesn’t hurt the first time around to look for blatant examples of strongly biased headlines. These obvious examples help students to develop their radar for biased information.
- Next create three categories: Neutral, Biased, or Balanced. Have the whole group try categorizing a few together.
For example, a recent headline in an online news source wrote, “Trump in total war with the media, democrats.” Here the words “war” and the adjective “total,” demonstrate what most would say is bias. Is it the writer’s opinion that there is a “war” going on with media and democrats? Is “total” the writers point of view? Define total. Is there an attempt on the part of the writer to influence the reader? What words in the headlines created emotion? What kinds of feelings do you have when you read the headline? What words create fear, call for action, inflate or deflate an idea or person? Which words are manipulating the reader’s judgment? Can certain words be positive or negative?
With a headline like, “United States still committed to NATO, Pence says,” the idea and headline are attributed to Pence, so the headline writer is simply quoting what has been said publicly, making the headline mostly neutral. However, even one word can take a neutral headline and make it not so neutral. In the headline, “Apartment construction shoots to 30-year highs,” the word “shoots” suggests that the rise in construction went up quickly, fast, perhaps explosively, and other descriptions that could be considered subjective.
The difference between neutral and balanced headlines will create great student discussions, since a balanced headline can be hard to find. A headline like, “Is violent crime on the rise or not? Unpacking the data,” is a balanced headline, but it also could predict a balanced pro and con article to come.
- Have students work in groups to divide headlines into each category and discuss and share words or phrases that most influenced their decision.
- Discuss the power of words and how information can influence others. Spend large group time replacing the bias words in the headlines to see if it changes the category or intent.
- Have students do an exit ticket giving one example of how their own bias, personal opinions, and point of views might get in the way of having balanced writing. Who do they want to influence to believe, think, or act as they do?