Express Lane: Five Ways to Start Today


1. Storytelling

You can use The American Promise as a way of introducing (or reinforcing) the elements of good storytelling. It will help your students learn the importance of evidence and viewpoint -- a critical skill in their studies.

Divide the class into groups of five. View a segment of The American Promise. Ask each group to "retell" the story, by using the elements outlined below in order. Assign each student in the group responsibility for one of the elements.

1. How does the story begin? At this point, what are viewers supposed to know? (SETTING)
2. What is the story? Who are the characters? What is the plot? (STORY)
3. Can you detect the viewpoint? Is there a bias? What are we supposed to learn? (VIEWPOINT)
4. Is the story believable? Why or why not? Students list direct examples from video for evidence. (SUPPORT)
5. What are you supposed to feel? How does presentation (language, image, sound, music) influence viewers' feelings? (EMOTION)


2. Waiting for Democracy

Begin the lesson by discussing the trend in falling voter turnout. We may be tempted to observe that only a small percentage of voters are committed to democratic principles. Ask students: Are we losing our democracy? If democracy isn't at the polling booth, where is it?

Show Act 3 of The American Promise, "Participation."

After viewing the video, ask the class, is this democracy? Besides voting, what are the other duties of a democratic citizen?

(This could be an excellent way to open discussion and introduce a project in service learning.)


3. Information Nation

Use The American Promise, Act 5, "Information," to explore the role of information in our democracy. After viewing the video, ask students to discuss these issues:

Where do we get information about our communities?
What should citizens demand of the news? To put it another
way, what do we need to know to be effective citizens?
What responsibilities do citizens have to become informed?

After students discuss the reliability of information, consider asking them how they rate the information in their textbooks. As an example, have them compare coverage of the Spanish-American War and the War in Vietnam in their history texts. (Many texts still give more coverage to the earlier war.) Ask them:

In American history, which conflict was more important?
How are both wars portrayed in pictures?


4. Remote and Out of Control

Most Americans get their news from television, and pundits say that has changed the way citizens behave in a democracy.

Start by surveying your students about where they get their news. Students should vote for each medium they use. Ask for a show of hands and tally numbers and percentages. (The figures in parentheses are national averages, according to a poll published by a Louis Harris Poll in 1996.)

Television (63%)
Newspapers (18%)
Radio (87%)
All Others (11%)

Compare your students' results with the national averages. To conclude the discussion, watch the Inupiat segment in Act 5 of The American Promise. Ask students to discuss the effects of television on the Inupiat and to speculate on its effects on their own lives.


5. Whose News?

Ask students where they think newspapers and television get their stories. View the Charlotte Observer segment in Act 5, "Information" and ask the students to consider these questions:

Where did the newspaper get its stories?
How did they select the stories to be written?

Conclude by asking students to discuss where students in your school get their stories.

Who decides what stories get told?
What stories aren't told in your school and community?


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