Beacon Lesson Plan Library

Mass Manipulation

Heather Burnett


This lesson encourages students to discover, become aware of, think about, and record methods the media (news journalists and programs they produce) used to persuade the audience to think the way they want them to think.


The student understands specific ways that mass media can potentially enhance or manipulate information.


- TV and video cassette player/recorder
- Video of news events in history (I used Headline Stories of the Century: America in the News by Hearst Entertainment and Questar Video, Inc.)
- Graphic Organizer (see attached file)
- Pencil


1. Students should be familiar with terms such as manipulation, fallacies, persuasion, and methods of persuasion, as well as the basic understanding of the meanings behind the terms. A possible preparation is to give them the words in a vocabulary lesson and have the students relate the words to their own methods of getting what they want at home.
2. Obtain a television with a VCR connected.
3. Obtain a video of either present news programs with examples of media persuasion techniques or of past news clips (this may be found in your media center focusing on the history classes)
4. Duplicate Graphic Organizer (attached) one per student.
5. Familiarize yourself with methods of media persuasion and popular historical examples as seen in steps 1-4. Some ideas of where to start researching are history teachers, topics on the Internet, grammar books dealing with persuasion techniques in speeches and writings, journalism books and websites, journalism teachers, etc.
6. Caution yourself and be prepared for diverging class discussions; keep everyone focused.


Note: Please see Teacher Preparation box before beginning this lesson.

1. Gain attention
Say: How much of what you know is true, and how much is manipulated? Think back to people in history. What do you know of Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe? What about Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy? (Hold a brief discussion on what the students remember about the previous people. If your students do not recognize these names, you can use other celebrity names that they are familiar with. This may require you to -fish- for people they know. Please keep an open mind on your famous people so you can both engage the students and fit the people into the lesson.) My students talked of Elvis only seen from the waist up and kids idolizing him, Marilyn's death of drugs and her sex appeal, Nixon as a bad president and the Watergate scandal, and Kennedy's assassination and his handsomeness.

2. Present objectives,
Learn about the media's(t.v. shows, 6 o'clock news and entertainment shows, newspaper, movies, etc) effect on the public's knowledge base. While watching and listening to a video tape of past news events covered by the media, the students learn to make a chart of the media's manipulation techniques and examples of them.

3. Relate to present knowledge
Refer back to the class discussion in #1. Inform the students of the media's shock of Elvis' dancing turning him into a -bad boy.- Tell them of Marilyn being a simple, shy farm girl that the media fell in love with because she looked great on camera and how she was seen with many influential people. Tell them of how Kennedy had all the requirements for the perfect president and he looked great on film. He wasn't afraid of the camera and he even had the -good sense- to be shot on camera. Inform them that Nixon hated the camera and refused to wear makeup to be filmed, making him look sinister on television.

4. Engage students in learning:
Ask the students why the media (a plural entity) would express the views that they ( media) do. My students referred to things such as making money by people watching the programs every time these people were on the shows. They also remarked upon the fact that the media could hold their own grudges for and against these people and put them in any light they wanted to. Then discuss with students some of the lesser known facts surrounding these famous people such as Kennedy's near catostrophic mistake we call the -Cold War- and the -Bay of Pigs- blunder. Also tell them how more troops were sent into the controversial Vietnam Conflict than during any other president's reign, and how Nixon ended our involvement by pulling U.S. troops out and created many positive bills in his reign that have been subdued. Ask them how they feel that this information has been withheld from them. Have the students come up with techniques they use to get what they want at home or school. Here are a few examples, but please remember there are many, many more:
- Purposely hiding some facts that put them at fault
- Exploiting the facts that put them in the positive light
- Showing evidence that is completely one-sided
- Putting certain emotion into their word choices
Then ask them to think of other ways the media can persuade them as viewers. Some of these might include: (again, there are many other techniques)
- Putting certain music into the video clips to evoke emotions
- Skewing the charts and graphs for their purposes
- Only interviewing witnesses that exemplify the media's ideas
- Using strong headlines to attack or glorify to gain the audience's attention

5. Provide for practice
Hand out the Graphic Organizer (see associated file) to the students for their recording of the media's persuasion practices found in the video of news clips. Explain to them that they should fill out the chart based on the examples they see in the video. The technique box is where they write the actual technique used by the media (for example skewing charts, particular word choice, music accompanying the presentation evoking strong emotions, etc.). The example box is where the students should write the actual event occurring in the video (For example saying that Pres. Roosevelt was the greatest president that ever lived, showing all of the graves of the soldiers that died in WWII while talking of the American casualties during the war, etc.). The persuasion box is where the students should write what the media wants the audience to feel throughout the presentation (For example seeing all of the graves from WWII makes the audience reflect on all the people lost and think what a waste of human lives, telling all of the positive things about Pres. Roosevelt makes people think of all the wonderful accomplishments he made and that he truly was the best president, using words like -catastrophic- and -infamous- make the audience have negative feelings about the subject).

Turn on the video and let the students watch and record their findings on the graphic organizer during the showing. You will need to formatively assess the students' progress by walking around and make sure the students are on track. Please be aware that this is totally new for many of the students who have never thought to question what they see on television. Remember that they have been raised watching TV and have a hard time seeing any other ideas than what is presented to them by the media. Please have patience with them and redirect them as soon as possible. You are asking them to question all they have ever known so of course this is extremely difficult for them.

6.Provide feedback
After the video, ask the students what they found and recorded on their charts. Hold a discussion about their findings and ask how this new information will help them in the future. If your students are extremely focused, you can ask them how this might flow into other areas (history books, literature chosen in English, etc.).


Assessment is based on the completion of the graphic organizer which includes discovering 3 forms of media manipulation practices, an example of each, and the thought processes involved for the audience's interpretation of the information. Each method should be different and the examples and thought processes should be a direct result for each technique used. This is meant as a formative assessment which can be assigned a grade, but is not an isolated lesson. This is a complex concept which may take the students more work to comprehend. Students who do not seem to understand the concept may need additional feedback and more opportunities to complete the chart.
If you choose to assign a grade, it may come from the graphic orgnanizer attached. Mastery is shown by the student correctly recording 3 different methods of persuasion (strong word choice, emotional music, etc) that existed in the media form you chose, along with 3 examples directly from the media form showing that method, and the audiences thought processes(or what the media wants the audience to think) directly related to the method.


This lesson can be extended by using a newspaper in addition to or in lieu of the video. Also students may use their history books and outside research material to extend their knowledge base outside of the basic known forms of media.

Attached Files

Graphic Organizer for student response to video/newspaper/etc.     File Extension: pdf

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