Teaching media literacy

News that’s nice to know, news you need to know

This lessonplan is based on a lesson plan from PBS NewHour Extra. if you would prefer the original head over here.


  • Students will be able to evaluate news stories in terms of their contribution to public knowledge and a democratic society.
  • Students will explore the idea of subjectivity (being influenced by personal feelings) and how our own personal bias plays a key role in determining what’s nice to know and what we need to know.

Essential questions:  

  • What is the role of the press/media in a democratic society?
  • How should citizens use the media to help make decisions for their communities?
  • Where do people get their news in our society, and how much “Nice to Know” rather than “Need to Know” news do people consume?

Warm-up activity: Read the following quotes about the relationship among citizens, government and the news/media, then discuss some or all of the following questions:

  1. What do these quotes suggest about the power and importance of the news in a democracy?
  2. What do these quotes suggest about why some governments restrict freedom of the press?
  3. What do these quotes suggest about the role accuracy of the news?

Media and Democracy Quotes:

The media is absolutely essential to the functioning of a democracy. It’s not our job to cozy up to power. We’re supposed to be the check and balance on government. — Amy Goodman, journalist

If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed, if you do read the newspaper you are misinformed. — Mark Twain, writer

 …the most striking feature of our present-day democracy is not partisan divide — it’s a corrupt system that protects incumbents (lawmakers currently holding office) from the consequences that real democracy brings. Letitia James, New York State Attorney General 

Democracy doesn’t work unless the public is informed. — Brad Pitt, actor

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. — Thomas Jefferson, U.S. president

Journalism still, in a democracy, is the essential force to get the public educated and mobilized to take action on behalf of our ancient ideals. — Doris Kearns Goodwin, historian

If you want to rip the heart out of a democracy, you go after the facts. That’s what modern authoritarians do. You lie. All the time. Then, you say it’s your opponents and the journalists who lie. Maria Ressa, Filipino-American journalist

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. — Paul Simon, musician

Lesson plan

Need to Know: These are stories that provide information that citizens can use to perform the role of citizen. Typically these might include information about public issues or elected officials. Check out the Freedom Forum’s Front Pages and click on a few different newspapers. What stories do you think fall under Need to Know end of the spectrum?

Nice/Fun to Know: These are stories that are likely less important to the role of citizenship and democracy. They may be of personal interest or are intriguing or sensational in nature. Check out the Freedom Forum’s Front Pages and click on a few different newspapers. What stories do you think fall under the Nice/Fun to Know end of the spectrum?

Make a table like this one and write in 6 different examples. 

  Need to know Nice to know Your reason for why
1 News about the vaccine, bbc   Because it is important to know
2   How the rich and famous cheated the US university system Because it is interesting and shows examples where the system is failing

Here are some sources for finding information:


Below are some resources for finding stories:


Discussion questions:

  • What kinds of stories did you see more of? Did that vary by news source?
  • Which stories interested you the most? Do you think this is true of most people? Do you think the media provides those kinds of stories on purpose? 
  • What advice would you give to people who will be voting for the first time about where to look for news?
  • What motivates the media to produce Need to Know stories? Do you think 

I would love to hear from you