Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Using Media to Inform Public Opinion

The Media and the Abolitionist Movement

Sarah Brewer | Published: May 27th, 2022 by K20 Center

Summary

In this lesson about the use of media to inform public opinion and effect social change, students will begin by viewing two short interviews, then reflecting on their beliefs about the role of journalism in a democratic society. Next, students will analyze 19th-century media by reading excerpts from speeches and newspaper editorials by leading abolitionists—Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison. Working in groups, students will use evidence from their document analysis to complete a chart showing how abolitionists used the media to fight for the end of slavery. This lesson includes optional modifications for distance learning. Resources for use in Google Classroom are included.

Essential Question(s)

Can citizens effect change? How can ordinary citizens use the media to influence public opinion? How did the abolitionist movement use media to fight for the end of slavery?

Snapshot

Engage

Students watch two short interviews with journalists. Using the Magnetic Statements strategy, students reflect on their knowledge and beliefs about the role of journalism in a democratic society.

Explore

Using the Sentence-Phrase-Word strategy, students analyze excerpts from 19th-century media (speeches and newspaper editorials) by leading abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison.

Explain

Working in collaborative groups, students use evidence from their document analysis to complete a chart showing how abolitionists used the media to fight for the end of slavery.

Extend

Students connect the work of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison to the earlier Magnetic Statements made by modern-day journalists.

Evaluate

The Media and Abolitionist Chart and the Magnetic statements writing activity serve as assessments for this lesson.

Materials

  • Magnetic Statement Posters (optional; attached)

  • Lesson Slides (attached)

  • Internet-enabled device for viewing YouTube videos in the Lesson Slides

  • Magnetic Statements (Student Copy) (attached; one per student)

  • Abolitionist Speeches and Newspaper Editorials (attached; one per group of four students)

  • Media Chart (Student Copy) (attached; one per student)

  • Media Chart (Answer Key) (attached)

  • Magnetic Statements (Answer Key) (attached)

Engage

Begin this lesson by showing students two short videos, embedded below and linked on slides 3–4 of the attached Lesson Slides. These videos introduce the roles of an editor and a columnist who work in news publication. As students watch, ask them to think about what each journalist says, and whether their statements are appealing or not.

After viewing the videos, pass out the attached Magnetic Statements (Student Copy) handout. Move to slide 5. Ask students to read the five statements written on the handout, which match the statements hanging around the classroom. These statements are based on ideas discussed in the previous videos. Ask students, using the Magnetic Statements learning strategy, to choose the statement they most agree with and stand next to the sign that displays that statement. After students have gathered by their "magnetic statements," ask the groups to discuss among themselves why they chose that particular statement. Then, after a few minutes of discussion, ask a volunteer from each group to share with the class some reasons their group was attracted to the statement.

Move to slide 6. Ask student groups to discuss the question on the slide: Why is media important to a democratic society? Students should take into consideration what these two journalists have said as well as the discussion during the Magnetic Statement activity.

Display slide 7, and invite students to read the three essential questions: Can citizens effect change? More specifically, how can we use the media to influence public opinion in order to create change? And lastly, how did the abolitionist movement use media to fight for the end of slavery? Ask students to think about these questions as they work through this lesson.

Explore

Explain to students that there was no more passionately debated subject in the United States during the nineteenth century than slavery and its expansion into new U.S. territories. Without mass-media outlets like television, radio, and the Internet, the public’s understanding of critical issues like slavery was shaped through the media of the time—most often speeches and newspapers. Speeches were given in public settings and were often reprinted verbatim in newspapers or released as pamphlets to reach an even larger audience. Newspapers, perhaps the most popular way to distribute information, were established and used to influence public opinion. The abolitionist movement utilized these methods to captivate and persuade the American people to demand an end to the system of slavery and, in some cases, equal rights for black people.

Use slide 8 to share prominent abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison's background with the class. Move to slide 9 to show students the masthead of Garrison's newspaper, "The Liberator," if you so choose. Move to slide 10 to share more information about Frederick Douglass, another prominent abolitionist and escaped slave. Share the masthead of Douglass' newspaper, the North Star, on slide 11 if you choose.

Pass out one copy of the attached Abolitionist Speeches and Newspaper Editorials packet to each group. Invite students to explore these 19th-century speeches and newspaper editorials that were contemporary to the abolitionist movement. They were produced by leading abolitionists William Lloyd Garrison and Frederick Douglass to persuade the public to support the abolition of slavery in the United States. Divide the class into groups of four and move to slide 12. The packet includes four documents. Assign one student in each group to a document. Ask students to review their document—either a newspaper editorial or a transcribed speech by one of the abolitionists listed above—and analyze it using the Sentence-Phrase-Word strategy as detailed on slide 12.

Once all students have completed analyzing their documents, designate four spaces in the room for students to discuss the source they read—a space for source one, a separate space for source two, and so on. Once students who read the same source have formed groups, ask each group to discuss the sentence, phrase, and word they chose. Students may choose to revise their answers based on these group conversations. Allow about 5–10 minutes for discussion. Then, ask for volunteers from each group to share their source's main ideas, the sentence, phrase, and word they chose, and why. The purpose of this discussion is to reinforce major points made by Garrison and Douglass regarding the abolition of slavery. Students can make changes or additions to their notes based on class discussion. Ask students to keep their source and notes as reference for the next activity.

Explain

Ask students to return to their original groups of four. Pass out a copy of the attached Media Chart (Student Copy) to each student. Display slide 13. Ask students to follow the directions on the slide and use evidence from all four documents to complete their charts. Students should identify three arguments that Frederick Douglass used to address the abolition of slavery in his speech and editorial and three arguments that William Lloyd Garrison used to address the abolition of slavery in his speech and editorial. During this activity, students can reference any of the documents in the packet, not just the one that they analyzed. For each point on the chart, students should construct 1–2 sentence statements summarizing in their own words an argument of Douglass or Garrison.

Once students have finished their charts, call on each group at least once to share their findings with the class. This discussion should review the major points Douglass and Garrison made in their speeches and editorials arguing for the abolition of slavery in the United States.

Extend

Move to slide 14. Ask students to return to their Magnetic Statements handouts and review the statements again. Invite students to choose two of the five statements and craft a 2–3 sentence statement for each to explain how the work of Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison relate to journalism today. This portion of the lesson can be done individually or as a group.

Once students have finished writing, consider asking volunteers to share one of the connections they made. Take as much time for this discussion as you deem appropriate.

Evaluate

The Media Chart and the Magnetic Statements handouts serve as assessments for this lesson.

Resources