Head's Up Headlines Lesson Plan

Grades: 6-8; 9-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies (Current Events), Journalism

By taking a close look at how headlines are used students will gain a better understanding of how they can be used to evoke a response in the reader.

Students Will:

  1. Utilize critical thinking skill to predict the content of a news article based on the headline that introduces it.
  2. Examine how headlines can distort perception
  3. Weigh the importance of the information presented in headline; is it misleading to only take your news from the headlines?
  4. Identify manifestations of bias within news headlines using what they have learned from the University of Michigan News Bias site.
  5. Develop a historical context for the misleading use of headlines beginning with the election of 1948.
  6. Write an informed analysis of why some of the headlines they explored might be misleading.


  • Computers with internet access
  • notebook; pens/pencils
  • information about the election of 1948; additional headlines/news sources as seen fit

This is a great activity to introduce a current events or critical reading unit. To begin, introduce students to the University of Michigan News Bias web-site and allow them to explore it for themselves. The more time they have to research the site, the better prepared they will be to successfully complete the activity. Once students have familiarized themselves with the content of the News Bias site it may be helpful to initiate a discussion about what they noticed within the site and particularly what the learned that they were possibly not aware of before.

Next, have students go to the Heads-Up Headline activity home page and read the quote from LBJ and ask students about their experiences with misleading information. After establishing an understanding of occurrences of misleading information, call student’s attention to the image of the headline from the 1948 election. Use the example of the “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline to spur a discussion of relating to how newspaper headlines can sometimes be misleading and explain the historical context of this particular headline.

Now you are ready to let them proceed with the activity on-line. Depending on availability of computers students can work individually or in groups. As they go through each headline have them record their responses to the discussion questions letting them know that they will need this information for the assignment.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you expect this article to be about? (What is the issue being addressed? Identify the setting-Who is involved? What is the story?)
  2. What words in the headline helped you most with your prediction?
  3. What words in the headline presented you with the most difficulty? (Which words were ambiguous or counter-intuitive?)
  4. Based on the headline do you expect this article to be slanted in one way or another? (Politically? Sensationalist vs. Objective?)

Pick at least one of the headlines you responded to and using what you have learned from the News Bias site as well as the discussions in class and answer the following questions in a brief narrative:

  1. Summarize the significance of the headline you chose to comment on identifying the aspects of the headline you interpret to be misleading.
  2. Using information from the News Bias website make connections between what you have identified in the headline and aspects of bias identified within the website.
  3. What is your opinion of the significance of news bias? Does it affect you? Why might someone want to identify bias?

Students will be assessed based on the content of their written response as well as their participation in the activity. The teacher should develop a rubric stating what student’s should include in the written response as well as a way to indicate what will be assessed as far as participation is concerned.

Extension Activities:

  1. Headline Collage
    Encourage students to bring in a variety of samples of news sources and create collages of headlines clipped from the different sources demonstrating visually how different sources chose different headlines to introduce stories
  2. Creative Writing Activity; Write your own headlines
    Challenge students to take existing headlines and rewrite them from different viewpoints keeping in mind what they have learned from the News Bias website.


Michigan Language Arts Content Standards:

Content Standard 3: All students will focus on meaning and communication as they listen, speak, view, read, and write in personal, social, occupational, and civic contexts.

  1. Integrate listening, viewing, speaking, reading, and writing skills for multiple purposes and in varied contexts. An example is using all the language arts to prepare and present a unit project on career exploration.
  2. Begin to implement strategies to regulate effects of variables of the communication process. An example is selecting a format for the message to influence the receiver's response.
  3. Read and write fluently, speak confidently, listen and interact appropriately, view critically, and represent creatively. Examples include reporting formally to an audience, debating issues, and interviewing members of the public.

Content Standard 7: All students will demonstrate, analyze, and reflect upon the skills and processes used to communicate through listening, speaking, viewing, reading, and writing.

  1. Use a combination of strategies when encountering unfamiliar texts while constructing meaning. Examples include generating questions, studying vocabulary, analyzing mood and tone, recognizing how creators of text use and represent information and matching form to content.

Content Standard 8: All students will explore and use the characteristics of different types of texts, aesthetic elements, and mechanics -- including text structure, figurative and descriptive language, spelling, punctuation, and grammar -- to construct and convey meaning.

  1. Describe and use characteristics of various informational genre (e.g., biographies, newspapers, brochures, and persuasive arguments and essays) and elements of expository text structure (e.g., multiple patterns of organization, relational links, and central purposes) to convey ideas.
  2. Explain how the characteristics of various oral, visual, and written texts (e.g., videos, hypertext, glossaries, textbooks, and speeches) and the textual ads they employ (e.g., subheadings/titles, charts, and indexes) are used to convey meaning.

This is a great opportunity to practice writing skills along with critical thinking skills which will hopefully encourage students to view writing as a powerful way to voice their interpretations. This activity could fit well around a unit covering American history in which students could attempt to interpret events by analyzing different historical headlines. This would give students the opportunity to assess how different events were viewed by different groups of people throughout our history.