READING BETWEEN THE LINES
In order to become well-informed adults, it is a good idea for students to develop the habit of reading the
news and keeping informed on important topics, such as geography, the environment, and world events.
With the overwhelming amount of information available both in print and online, it is critical that students
learn to read news stories with a critical eye. This lesson will help them evaluate news stories by
determining their sources and recognizing biases or viewpoints.
Connections to the Curriculum:
Geography, language arts, information literacy
Connections to the National Geography Standards:
Standard 18: "How to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future"
Two to four hours
Computer with Internet access
analyze several news stories to determine their source, purpose, and bias;
assess the purposes and viewpoints of National Geographic News stories; and
create checklists to use when reading news articles in the future.
Acquiring Geographic Information
Organizing Geographic Information
Analyzing Geographic Information
Have students define the following words: "bias," "objectivity," "news," and "editorial." Discuss their
definitions as a class, making sure they are accurate. Ask students to provide examples of each word as
it might be applied to a news story or article.
Ask each student to create a chart with six columns. In the first column, write the questions listed below,
each in a new row. [Note: To save time, create the charts before class and hand one out to each student.
To further shorten the overall time required for the lesson, have students work in small groups, with each
group working on one article and then sharing the results with the rest of the class.]
What is the article about?
Who is the publisher? What is its source (if it was written by someone other than the
What is/are the purposes of the article (why did the publisher print it)?
Are there biases or obvious points of view?
Have students look at the following online articles, which are all related to geographic or environmental
topics. Ask them to write answers to the above questions for each article in a separate column in the
Environmental Justice From the Niger Delta to the World Conference Against Racism
Green Groups Urge Trimming the Holiday "Wasteline"
Japan Whaling Officials Begin Campaign to Resume Whaling
Planning Support Systems—A New Title from ESRI Press
[Note: A helpful hint to learn more about a Web site is to look for a button on the Web page that says
"Home" or "About Us." Students can also try reducing the URL to its root (e.g.,
"http://www.nationalgeographic.com" rather than "http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions"). Either
of these methods should lead them to a page that provides background information about the Web site.]
Discuss students' charts as a class. Did they notice any particular biases in these articles? In which
articles was the bias most obvious?
Have students browse through the National Geographic News site to see the range of topics this site
covers. Ask them to discuss the purposes of these articles and the viewpoints they express, if any. Do
these articles attempt to be objective, or are they more editorial in nature? (Students should notice that
these articles aim toward objective journalism rather than editorial content, even though individual authors
will often show subtle signs of their opinions in "objective" articles.)
Discuss the reasons it is important to understand the source and potential bias of a Web site or print
resource offering news information. For example, point out the difference between an "article" published
by the public relations department of a major company (which is actually a press release) and one
published by a well-respected national newspaper.
Explain that just because a Web site or article has a bias doesn't mean it has no value. One of the
traditional purposes of print (and now Web) publications is to express opinions and attempt to convince
readers of their validity. The variety of opinions available on the Web and in print offers students an
opportunity to learn what other people and groups think about an issue. In the process, they can
formulate their own opinions. It is essential, however, that students (and adults) be able to identify the
purpose and bias of any news information they read, whether primarily objective or editorial in nature.
Suggested Student Assessment:
Divide the class into small groups, and have each group create a checklist that they will use in the future
to evaluate news stories they find online or in print, whether from National Geographic News or from
another source. Their checklists should pose questions that they will ask themselves as they read the
articles and should include boxes that they can check off under headings such as "yes," "maybe," or "no."
The questions on the checklists should encourage students to look for an article's source, purpose, and
bias or viewpoint.
Extending the Lesson:
Once a week, have students browse National Geographic News. Have each student (or group of
students) choose one article to add to a personal "geography news portfolio" that they maintain
throughout the year. Have students evaluate their articles with the checklists they have created and place
a checklist into their portfolio along with each week's article.
For homework, have students locate at least two additional sources of information (e.g., newspaper
articles or Web sites) related to the topic of that week's article, and ask them to apply the checklists to
Have students take turns throughout the school year leading class discussions on the issues discussed in
their articles and the different points of view the articles express.