PitchIt! Student essay contests happening in Colorado, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Texas 

Grades: 6-8, 9-12


Student voices are catalysts for positive change in schools and communities. You can empower them to be well-informed and civically engaged when you participate in the News Literacy Project’s PitchIt! contest.  

This is an authentic way to get middle and high school students to learn about and express their thoughts about current events from a news literacy perspective. In addition to exploring an issue important to them, they can help combat misinformation or work to protect freedom of the press.   

To have your students participate in PitchIt! and get the most out of it, use NLP’s free resources and curriculum guides. You choose the top essays from your class to submit for judging and prizes.

Click here for a printable, one-page guide to participating in PitchIt!

It is the ideal time to start using Checkology® and other free resources to prep your students. You can also email your questions to [email protected] for more information.

Not in one of these regions? NLP encourages you to contact your local news literacy ambassador or our staff ([email protected]) and adapt our contest rules to create a contest for your learning community.

 Curious to what participating teachers had to say? 

“PitchIt! utilizes news literacy curriculum to broaden the understanding of how media influences all of us every day. Students then analyze and learn for themselves the power of using information with and without bias. I highly recommend facilitating part or all of the curriculum in classrooms across the board in Social Studies, English, Science, and more. It shows students that language, facts, and biases impact us comprehensively.” 

— Renee A. Cantave, iWrite magnet educator, Arthur and Polly Mays Conservatory of the Arts, Miami, Florida 

“PitchIt! was a great experience for my students. Not only did it raise awareness among them regarding the importance of good writing and of an important current issue in our community, the culminating event gave contest winners a chance to verbally express their positions, while receiving important feedback.”

— Rolando Alvarez, Coral Way K-8 Center, Miami, Florida  

 Tired of feeling like you’re working in a vacuum? Sign up for NewsLitNation and our private NewsLitNation Facebook Group to connect and share with other educators across the country passionate about news and media literacy. As a member of NewsLitNation® you’ll receive special perks and the NewsLitNation Insider, our monthly newsletter that keeps you up to date about all things news literacy! 

This poster features five reasons that people fall for conspiracy theories, which are among the most persistent and dangerous forms of misinformation. Young people are particularly vulnerable to them.  

One reason that people fall for conspiracy theories is compelling stories  conspiracy theories present exciting, fascinating narratives. A second reason is simplified explanations  complex social issues and problems are rarely clear-cut. Conspiracy theories provide people with simplified explanations and someone or something to blame. A third reason is motivated reasoning  believers in conspiracy theories tend to only search for and present information that confirms their theory, and to find far-fetched reasons to dismiss anything that proves them wrong. A fourth reason is a sense of belonging  many conspiracy theory communities provide believers with a sense of connection and purpose that all people need. A fifth reason is cognitive biases  conspiracy theories seem much more credible and compelling than they actually are because they take advantage of common errors in the ways we think. 

The poster also features and explains the terms “proportionality bias” as well as “illusory pattern perception,” or “patternicity.” Proportionality bias is an innate impulse to believe that major problems have major causes. Illusory pattern perception, or patternicity, is a natural tendency to see meaningful patterns and connections in unrelated events and details.  

The poster is based on a new Checkology lesson called “Conspiratorial Thinking, which is available through the News Literacy Project’s free Checkology® virtual classroom. In the lesson, learners have the opportunity to explore why people are drawn to conspiracy theories and how cognitive biases can trick them into believing that they are real. The lesson — which is hosted by Renée DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, who investigates the spread of false narratives across social networks  introduces important concepts relating to conspiracy theories. In addition, several assessment questions challenge learners to apply the concepts and information introduced in the lesson.  

From sporting events to breaking news, many stories compete for journalists’ attention, but limited time and resources prevent newsrooms from covering everything. Moreover, much of what happens in a given day is not news. Journalists must also decide which stories are legitimate to avoid amplifying information that is false or misleading or that fails meet certain standards of credibility. So, how do journalists decide what to cover? Understanding the criteria that standards-based news organizations use to determine what is “newsworthy” is a key news literacy concept. This poster outlines the factors that determine newsworthiness, which impacts what issues and events get covered — and how prominently. These factors include how timely, important, interesting and unique a story is. At the News Literacy Project, we call these “The Big Four. Journalists — who often juggle multiple story ideas at once — use these key criteria to help decide which stories the public most needs to know in a given news cycle. 

 This poster is based on the “What is News?” lesson available through NLP’s free Checkology® virtual classroom. In this foundational lesson, journalist Paul Saltzman of the Chicago Sun-Times guides students through a series of examples that invite them to step into the role of journalist and practice developing their own “news judgment.” Evaluating how timely, important, interesting or unique a story is, students assess the newsworthiness of examples and gain a deeper understanding of how difficult such decisions can be. What happens, for instance, when a story is timely without being particularly important, interesting or unique? Is it still newsworthy? Do some factors weigh more heavily than others, depending on the story?  

The answers are not always clearcut, and different journalists may approach such decisions differently. It can be easy to criticize coverage decisions or complain about story placements in publications and broadcasts. But working through tough news judgments firsthand in this lesson — from deciding which stories are most important to determining how these stories should be ordered on a news organization’s online homepage — empowers students to engage more thoughtfully in conversations about news coverage.  

Can your students name all five freedoms listed in the First Amendment? Consider this: A recent survey revealed that 29 percent of Americans could not name any of the five freedoms in 2019. This poster helps remind students of those freedoms — including the right to a free and unrestricted press — protected by the First Amendment. Not only does a free press play a vital role in a robust democracy, it also emphasizes the power and importance of information — and that, in turn, affirms the civic and personal value of being news-literate.  

Students can also use this poster to review the full text of the First Amendment, which shapes Americans’ everyday lives. These five freedoms — petition, assembly, speech, religion and press — are foundational to the country’s commitment to individual rights and civic responsibilities.  

This poster is based on the lesson “The First Amendment,” which is available through the News Literacy Project’s free Checkology® virtual classroom. In this foundational lesson, subject matter expert Sam Chaltain helps students explore six landmark First Amendment cases as they reflect on issues such as student speech in school, defamation and libel, flag-burning, and regulation of the internet. In each case study, students are invited to consider the significance of these rulings and discuss whether they agree with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law. As Chaltain explains, it’s important for students to understand that “First Amendment law is not clear-cut like a lot of other laws,” which means that “determining which expression is protected and which isn’t is far from an exact science.” Learning about the First Amendment in all its complexities presents rich opportunities for class discussion and debate. 

By focusing on First Amendment protections in action, this poster and accompanying lesson give students a deeper, more personal understanding of the First Amendment’s value to citizens, of the ways its protections have changed and evolved over time, and of their own First Amendment rights. 

Reasoned arguments based on facts and evidence are an important part of civic discourse. But what happens when missteps in logic undercut a belief or claim? What really counts as “evidence” in the digital age? Social media has made it easier than ever to share opinions, and it can feel overwhelming to sift through the many viewpoints on an issue or debate. Opinions can be well-researched and backed by evidence, but they can also exhibit faulty reasoning.  

 It’s important for students to recognize common red flags when it comes to evaluating arguments and evidence. Logical fallacies — types of faulty reasoning that render an argument questionable or invalid — often appear in opinions that seem to make a point but fall apart under scrutiny. This poster defines five common logical fallacies — ad hominem, slippery slope, false dilemma, straw man and false equivalence — and helps students become better equipped to assess diverse opinions as they develop their own well-reasoned positions on issues.  

This poster is based on the lesson “Arguments & Evidence,” which is available through the News Literacy Project’s free Checkology® virtual classroomKimberley Strassel, who writes opinion pieces for The Wall Street Journal, guides students through this scenario-driven lesson. Students are invited to watch a debate unfold on social media over standardized testing and cell phone usage in schools. The engaging scenario challenges students to examine a flurry of opinions on a developing story as they work to recognize common logical fallacies in action. This lesson also encourages students to reflect on the role of social media in everyday life. 

 An essential component of a healthy democracy is discussing and debating the issues that affect both individuals and entire communities. Knowing how to spot faulty logic in civic discourse — on social media or elsewhere — can help empower students to better evaluate the many opinions they encounter each day. 

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.

News Goggles: The New York Times editor’s note

News Goggles annotations and activities offer news literacy takeaways on timely topics. These resources feature examples of actual news coverage, including full news reports, headlines, breaking news alerts or excerpts. 

This News Goggles resource originally appeared in a previous issue of The Sift newsletter for educators, which explores timely examples of misinformation, addresses journalism and press freedom topics and examines social media trends and issues. Read archives of the newsletter and subscribe here.  

News reports sometimes convey additional information to readers in the form of editor’s notes. Such notes may briefly explain how a news report has been updated or corrected. Some describe how a particular aspect of a story was handled and why. Others are longer and typically published alongside major articles or investigations to provide further context, clarity and background on a news organization’s coverage. In this edition of News Goggles, we’re going to examine an editor’s note published online on Sept. 27, 2020, that accompanied a New York Times investigation into President Donald Trump’s taxes and finances.

The note — written by Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times — offers a chance to see various news literacy concepts in action, including watchdog reporting, protecting sources and the First Amendment. Grab your news goggles and let’s consider the purpose of this note.  

 Featured News Goggles resources: Download our full annotations in Microsoft Word or as a PDF. Also, these classroom-ready slides run through important takeaways for a discussion. 

Discuss: Do you agree with the Times’ decision to publish the “president’s personal tax information”? Was it ethical for the Times to do so? Why does Baquet refer to the First Amendment in his editor’s note? What other rights are protected under the First Amendment? 

Resources: “Democracy’s Watchdog” and  “The First Amendment” (NLP’s Checkology® virtual classroom). 

Have feedback about this resource? Or an idea for a future News Goggles? Please share it with us at [email protected]. You can also use this guide for a full list of News Goggles from the 2020-21 school year for easy reference.