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Discuss How the News Covers Mass Violence with Your Students

Host a classroom discussion and activity that explores how the media responds to tragic events.

Tanner Higgin | August 27, 2019

Mass violence -- including school shootings -- has been happening with disturbing frequency, and with each incident comes around-the-clock news and media coverage. While our students need help coping with the emotional trauma and fear caused by news of these shootings, it can also be helpful to move beyond coping to thinking and acting -- especially about how the media covers these shootings. The following video and discussions help students think more deeply about the role media plays in school shootings, how it might change for the better, and what other factors contribute to these events.

Recommended for:

Grades: 9-12
Subjects: ELA, social studies, newspaper/media, digital citizenship

Prep for teachers

  • Review which mental health and counseling resources your school offers. Share with students.
  • Check out and/or teach Facing History's lessons for exploring identity and having respectful discussions.
  • Optional: Print out copies of the exit ticket.

In the classroom

Hook (five to 10 minutes):

  • Before screening the video, ask students to take notes while they watch. Provide them with an essential question to focus their viewing -- e.g., "What role does news media play in preventing and/or perpetuating school shootings?"
  • Show the Retro Report video "Columbine at 20: Media Attention and Copycat Killers."

Pressing play on the YouTube video below will set third-party cookies controlled by Google if you are logged in to Chrome. See Google's cookie information for details.

Discussion (10 minutes):

  • Back in 1999 when Columbine happened, the internet was still relatively new and social media wasn't a thing. How do you think the internet is making the aftermath of school shootings more complicated today?
  • How has social media affected people's pursuit of -- or interest in -- fame? Is that a factor in the "copycat" behavior of some school shooters?
  • Where should news draw the line between informing the public about these events and their causes and not giving the killers attention?
  • How could news organizations and media outlets alter their coverage?

Activity (complete as a group in-class or as homework):

Preview of the Causes and Fixes worksheet

Possible follow-ups

Editor's note: This resource is part of a monthly series that helps teachers facilitate classroom discussions about trending and timely issues in the news and media. For more, browse our library of News and Media Literacy articles.