Day 1 Journalism Ethics lesson

Prepared by: Jami Williams, Mexico High School, Mexico, Missouri

Students will understand the difference between “law” and “ethics” and be able to recognize a true ethical dilemma.


  1. PowerPoint presentation with built in activity
  2. Individual work assignment: turning an ethical code into a law


  1. Level 1 (Basic) understanding of a true ethical dilemma
  2. Level 1 (Basic) understanding of the difference between the definition of the law and the definition of ethics


  1. PowerPoint labeled Journalism Ethics Day 1
  2. Copies of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Code (this is a link to a downloadable PDF) (enough for one for each student)

Steps to check for student understanding

  1. Teacher will do frequent comprehension checks in the form of Classroom Assessment Techniques (thumbs up, thumbs down; exit slip in the form of post-it note summary); for more CAT’s go here:
  2. Formative assessment will be in the form of an exit slip CAT.


  1. Suggested bell ringer: Explain how a person can understand that something is right if they do not know what is wrong?
  2. Open the floor to anyone who would like to share their answer. Keep mind of the time – there is much material to be covered.
  3. PowerPoint presentation. Leave the room open to questions and spontaneous discussions. There will be many teachable and “aha!” moments during these activities.
  4. As the last slide is the explanation about reflection this will lead to an individual learning activity that may be sent home with the student as homework or worked on in class if the teacher wishes to add a day to the unit.
  5. The teacher will distribute the copies of the SPJ code of ethics and instruct students that they must take these ethical standards and rewrite them as laws. They should be prepared to share them the next day in class.


  1. This activity is designed to introduce the student to a higher level of critical thinking as they will be moving beyond the lower level learning processes in the next few lesson plans.
  2. Explain that in society, most of the time, laws are developed on a baseline moral conduct. Ethics are expected to rise above laws.
  3. So basically, students are being asked to take a higher level of moral fortitude and break it into a baseline level of acceptable behavior.
  4. Discuss the importance of it being more than just a rewording; it has to be a rethinking and examination of what is at the BASE or the fiber of the ethic that makes it a law.
  5. They will need to have the laws written before proceeding to the next lesson. Again, there is some flexibility with scheduling.


  1. Exit slip: (Formative assessment at a basic level (recall/definition). Define a TRUE ethical dilemma and in no more than six words, explain the difference between LAW and ETHICS.