A sampling of in-class and homework activities, adapted from Journalism + Design syllabi



Journalism or Not?

Ask students to bring in one example of journalism and one example of something that isn’t journalism. Don’t elaborate. The point is for students to think about what makes something journalism and to uncover, as a class, assumptions and ideas about this. Tell students they’re going to have to share their examples in a two-minute presentation, giving at least three factors as to why something is or isn’t journalism. 

Have a few volunteer students present their examples. As they talk, write the factors on sticky notes and stick them to either a board or big piece of paper taped to wall. Themes should start to emerge. Lead conversation about what makes something journalism, and be open about how sometimes it can be hard to tell. Try to draw out any connections between this conversation and the preceding conversation as to whether people’s sense of what is journalism is influenced by the mode of delivery.

Things to discuss: Was there enough evidence? Diversity of sources, quotes, relevance, timely? Assumptions baked in? From whom’s perspective? Who’s missing? What are the biases (obvious or subtle)? Does it feel trustworthy? Why? What makes you trust a news outlet?

Class together creates its own statement of what makes something news and what makes a news outlet trustworthy; agrees to adhere to this for the semester. 



Where Do You Get Your News

Give students three minutes to write down on sticky notes where they get their news — both news outlets and modes of delivery. (For example: Facebook, the New York Times, my phone, my friend tells me, Jezebel, etc.) Tell them to write clearly because other people are going to need to be able to read them. 

When they’re done, have them come and post on either the board or a big piece of paper taped to the wall. They should say aloud what they’ve written as they post them. They can also say their names  to continue getting to know one another. It’s okay if the same things comes up more than once, just have the students put them next to each other on the board. 

Once they’re all up, ask one or two people to come up and help you cluster the sticky notes into categories. The first cluster should be modes of delivery: print, digital publication, social media, verbal; and within that subcategories like computer, phone, Facebook, Snapchat, magazine, newsletter, newspaper, etc. 

This facilitates conversation about all the different ways people get their news today and what a change this is to the past. It also opens up conversation about different experiences of consuming the news. You can ask them to compare their habits to their parents or their friends. This exercise also often opens up conversation about the different ways different outlets cover events, or different styles; and if the news hits differently based on how it was consumed.



Active Listening and Empathy

Split students up into pairs. Ask them to think of a story of a disappointment in their lives. In each pair, have one student tell their story of disappointment. The other student should make eye contact, give the first student their full attention, and summarize and paraphrase what the first student said and the emotions they expressed. Then the students switch. 

After this, each student writes down something they assumed about this student beforehand that was shown otherwise by the story they told. 



Make a Map, Talk to Strangers

Send students out somewhere for 40 minutes (varied depending on how far they’re going). At the New School, we use Union Square a lot, because it’s nearby and there’s always a lot going on. If you’re not on a city campus, you could send students to the cafeteria, or any other space where things are likely to be happening (people coming and going, etc.).

Have students draw a map of what they see. They also have to talk to two people they don’t know, returning with that person’s full name (spelled properly), contact information and having discussed and taken notes on how that person came to be in that location (in college, getting a book out of the library, selling fruit at Union Square,etc). 

The purpose of the map is to get students observing and realizing how the act of observation reveals previously unseen layers. The purpose of the interviews is to introduce students to the concept of speaking with strangers, something we’ve noticed has become much harder since the advent of social media. 

This can also be an opportunity for the professor to talk about the benefits of in-person conversations. It also introduces students to the basic points of collecting contact information and taking notes. The professor should acknowledge how hard these things can be and lead a discussion about why, having students talk about how they felt doing it and what tricks they used to overcome their fears. 



Fairy Tale Ledes

Hand out three fairy tales: short versions of Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, and Goldilocks. Give students eight minutes to write a news lede based upon one of them. Tell them they have no evidence other than the what is in the story. Have students read their ledes aloud. Evaluate based on accurate representation: whether it hit the who, what, where, whether it was possible to have a why based on the evidence.

Things that will likely emerge: details that were not in the fairy tale. From whose perspective was it told (the wolf community or the pig community)? How it’s sometimes hard to determine what information is most important — and how everyone sees that differently. (Likely, different students will have emphasized different things.)



Chain Restaurant Data Collection

For homework, send students to a Chipotle Mexican Grill. Tell them to write down the orders of five customers dining alone. Then send students to the Chipotle Nutrition Calculator and have them figure out how many calories were in each of the meals they recorded. (If there is no Chipotle nearby, other chain restaurants and coffee chains have nutrition calculators too.)

Have students enter their findings in a shared Google Sheet or via a Google Form. Ask them to figure out the most caloric meal and average calories per meal, both for the meals they recorded and for everyone in the class. 

In class, use this exercise as an opportunity to review how to use spreadsheets and also basic math as well as the human messiness of gathering data. Student errors are opportunities to discuss the need for consistent methodology when collaborating.

You might also have them read At Chipotle, How Many Calories Do People Really Eat? and talk about how some of the things they learned from collecting and calculating make them ask questions about the assumptions behind this story.



Capture and Cluster, Chaos Mapping

Have the students list a couple of topics that emerged from Make A Map. (If you didn’t do that exercise, ask your students to generate a couple of issues they care about, like migration, the environment, the food prices in the cafeteria, why freshman feel lonely, etc.). Write that problem in the middle of the board. Then ask the students to think of the forces that might cause that problem, be affected by that problem, or have some impact on the size or severity of the problem. Give them sticky notes and sharpies, and tell them to write down as many forces as they can think of, one per sticky note, in five or ten minutes.

Invite students to come and put their sticky notes on the board or large piece of paper on the wall, one at a time, saying out loud their force as they do so. 

Ask one or two students to come to the board and help you cluster the sticky notes by theme. Encourage all students to participate by shouting out their suggestions for categorizing. You should think out loud about what you’re doing so that everyone feels included in the process. 

Invite two other students to come up and help you draw lines between forces that seem connected. These forces can be far apart on the board or together. The idea is to begin to see how even disparate forces can be part of the same problem space. 

Do check-ins throughout to make sure students are following. 

You can repeat this exercise with different topics, until students feel confident. 

At the end, if the topics that came from their Make a Map exercise, and you’re planning on that area being the focus of the class (the cafeteria, a nearby park, etc.), you can encourage students to pick a connection they’ve uncovered to begin exploring for their semester-long work.