Exercise on Framing

Here’s a quick and easy exercise you can use to help students understand how framing works in the media.  They always want to think that framing refers to pinning a crime on someone, rather than essentially cropping an image to focus on certain things.

Go to foxnews.com and msnbc or cnn (or two ideologically competing news sources for your local area) and find articles that cover the same subject. I did this yesterday, using reports on the Attorney General’s direction that state AGs should not enforce bans on same-sex marriage.  It was actually somewhat difficult to find overlapping subjects (a good example of agenda setting, by the way–print out or project the front pages of different news sources and ask them to look for overlaps), but this one was golden–the foxnews piece was highly critical and focused on states rights, while the cnn one used the announcement as a springboard to discuss Holder’s legacy for civil rights and social justice. I would recommend using something very current, and looking for a subject that is somewhat controversial in order to promote discussion.

Distribute each article to only half the students, ask them to read it, and then have a discussion of the issue, prompting the students to give their perspective on the issue.  Let this go on for 5-10 minutes, and then straw poll to see where the students stand.  Then see if those perspectives correlate with which article they received–I find the correlation to be fairly strong.  You can then give students the other article so they can see the other perspective.  Oh, and its best to not tell students about framing until after the exercise is over–it helps illustrate the lesson better when they see that they were victims of it first.

I once did this exercise with four or five different articles on the capture of Bin Laden–each giving credit to a different entity (Obama, Bush, SEAL team 6, and in one case, the Pope)–and seeing how that played out in the discussion.

2 Replies to “Exercise on Framing”

  1. Good idea! I actually came up with a similar exercise for the class I am teaching this summer (I am a 2nd year graduate student at Florida State), using the issue framing example of a KKK march as either being a public order or free speech issue. I like your idea to make it more contemporary. I will be adjusting my own exercise in light of your advice.

  2. Thanks, J.I.M! I’ve used that KKK example before too, but I’ve found that giving students some articles and having them ‘discover’ the ways in which framing manipulates them makes them internalize the point a lot better. Let me know how it goes and if you find any good articles to use!

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