Democracy’s Watchdog

Grades: 7-9, 10-12+
Type: Lessons

image of Ida B. WellsIn this lesson, students learn about the vital role the First Amendment protections of free speech and a free press play in American democracy using four case studies of notable investigative (or “watchdog”) reporting. This jigsaw-style lesson has students join an “expert” group to focus on one specific case study, then join their “jigsaw” group to share what they learned with their classmates. Jigsaw group members then document the details of each report and reflect on the role the First Amendment played in each of these historic pieces of journalism.

This lesson makes the following essential questions available:

  • What five freedoms are protected by the First Amendment?
  • How do the five freedoms work together to strengthen American democracy? For example, how do the freedoms of speech and assembly work together?
  • In what ways can a free press act like a watchdog on behalf of the public?
  • If the press sometimes acts like a watchdog, what is it protecting?
  • Who watches the watchdogs?
  • In what ways can investigative journalism bring about social or political change?

This news literacy classroom activity is suggested for grades 7-9 and 10-12+.

Key terms:

  • First Amendment
  • Watchdog role
  • Multiple sources
  • Eyewitness source
  • On-the-record source
  • Anonymous source
  • Context
  • Fairness
  • Free speech

Connections with other NLP resources:

About classroom lessons:

NLP’s lesson plans cover core news literacy subjects that help provide educators with the resources to design their own units. Many of these lessons have a corresponding version on NLP’s e-learning platform, Checkology. You can find activities, quizzes, infographics and posters that complement many lessons in NLP’s resource library.

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