In this activity, students will assume the role of a foreign correspondent, reporting on events in Syria for particular target audiences. By the end of the activity, they'll understand the role that target audience plays in how news is reported, and how their policy positions are influenced by that reporting.
Two 30-minute activities, each bracketed by homework (before and after).
By the end of this lesson, students will:
- Become familiar with the current conflict in Syria
- Write news stories for a particular target audience
- Analyze the ways that target audiences influence the content and style of news reports
- Research and read background information on modern-day Syria
Film clips from Return to Homs and equipment on which to show them.
Assign students to familiarize themselves with the current conflict in Syria by finding answers to these questions:
- Who is fighting against the Syrian government?
- What are the main reasons for the rebellion?
- How does the Assad government justify its actions in the conflict?
- What's special about the role of Homs in the conflict?
See the Resources section for potential sources beyond Wikipedia or Google News.
Introducing the Film
As a class, review students' answers to the questions so that everyone has a basic understanding of the Syrian conflict. As time allows, invite students to share which sources provided the best information and why they thought their key sources were credible.
Tell students that they are going to view clips from a documentary—Return to Homs—about one of the rebels leading the fight in Homs. Abdul Basset Saroot was a 19-year-old national soccer star when protests started.
Introducing the Assignment
For viewing, put students into the role of journalists assigned to cover the rebellion. Each will be writing a news story based on what they see and hear in the film clips. However, they will be writing for different target audiences. Assign half the students to write their news stories for a target audience that favors arming the rebels, and the other half to write for a target audience that opposes arming the rebels. Remind students that their stories must be factual. They can choose what to include or exclude and how they describe events or people, but they can't just invent things.
Viewing the Clips and Writing
There are several ways to use the clips. To get a full picture, all students should watch all clips (just under 20 minutes of footage). Advanced students can write stories based on all six segments. Lower level students might be assigned just one of the clips. And you might use the first clip as an in-class demonstration, working together to transform the clip into a news report.
Show the clips. As time allows, you might briefly pause after each clip to check for comprehension and reaction. Please note: This is war footage. Some of it is graphic and disturbing. You might warn students beforehand and/or send a note home to parents.
As homework, assign students to write their news stories and post them on a class wiki (or any means of sharing, either online or in class) so they can read one another's work. Note that clips are available online, so students can view them again as they craft their stories. You can use the posted stories to assess students' knowledge, writing skills and listening skills.
When all have posted their stories, ask students if they notice any patterns. Can they guess the target audience for each story even without knowing which had been assigned? Did certain facts appear frequently in stories for one target audience and not the other? Were events contextualized differently?
Wrap-up the discussion by asking students what they learned about news reporting. Can something be factual and still be biased? Did any of the students find their opinion of the conflict altered by the assignment? How about their view of media reporting?
- Continue the discussion by guiding a class dialogue about whether the United States should arm the Syrian rebels. Invite students to contact their elected representatives to share their conclusions about what U.S. policy on Syria should be.
- Look more deeply at the students' news reports and discuss what words they used to describe Basset and his men. Are they rebels? Insurgents? Freedom fighters? Radicals? Revolutionaries? Talk about the connotations of various labels and the consequences of using particular words.
- Compare Basset's experience with examples from the literature of war (e.g., The Odyssey, The Red Badge of Courage, For Whom the Bell Tolls or Catch-22).
- For several weeks following the lesson, have students track reporting about Syria. Host an informal gathering (e.g., a brown bag lunch) to discuss what they have learned.
- View the full film. Discuss whether the additional context changes the ideas they had after watching the clips. Would they have reported anything differently?
POV: Return to Homs
www.pbs.org/pov/returntohoms/ - The film's site includes a discussion guide with background information and additional activity ideas.
POV: Media Literacy Questions for Analyzing POV Films
http://www.pbs.org/pov/educators/media-literacy.php - This list of questions provides a useful starting point for leading rich discussions that challenge students to think critically about documentaries.
The Guardian: "Arab Spring: An Interactive Timeline of Middle East Protests"
www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2011/mar/22/middle-east-protest-interactive-timeline - The newspaper has compiled a timeline of Arab Spring events and government responses, including events in Syria.
Institute for the Study of War: "The Free Syrian Army"
http://www.understandingwar.org/report/free-syrian-army - In March 2013 this non-partisan public policy research institute focused on the development of U.S. military strategy compiled a report on the history and status of the Free Syrian Army.
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights
http://syriahr.com/en/ - This Britain-based collective of pro-democracy people in and outside Syria aggregates news stories and reports on human rights in Syria.
U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic
http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/IICISyria/Pages/IndependentInternationalCommission.aspx- This site provides reports on the Syrian conflict from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
U.S. Department of State: "U.S. Relations With Syria"
http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/3580.htm - This official U.S. government website offers an overview of U.S.-Syrian relations, including a set of links to additional information on Syria.