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How well can your students
recognize sponsored content?


by John Bowen


How well can your students recognize sponsored content?

Description — third in the sequence
Because of the rapid spread of sponsored content, students may have to decide whether to accept sponsored content in their student media. How well can they recognize it and what would they do once they recognize it?


  • Students will critique a piece of sponsored content and specify issues in the article that help identify it as sponsored.
  • Students will demonstrate their knowledge of journalistic standards by suggesting changes in the article that could make it more acceptable.
  • Students will defend their suggestions showing how they apply their ethical guidelines for sponsored content.
  • Students will reexamine their student media advertising guideline.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.



50 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

Evaluating information: The cornerstone of civic online reasoning

Sponsored Content answer form

Sponsored content rubric

Slideshow on Skeptical Knowing


Lesson step-by-step

Step 1 — Warm-up (5 minutes)

Teacher should ask students to define sponsored content and to explain concerns about it.

Step 2 — Large group discussion (45 minutes)

The teacher will introduce the lesson by telling the students they are going to get a chance to identify, and then call for correction of, problematic issues. The teacher could also note the Stanford study that indicates students have a difficult time identifying fake news, sharing findings with students.

The teacher should make links to four sponsored content examples available. Students should then evaluate the articles and identify ways to make the story more acceptable. Students should read the articles, identify points that could be problematic and suggest journalistic corrections that could also be linked.

The articles can be found here:  or  or or

Students should also be able to refer to the Slideshow on Skeptical Knowing (based on information by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel in Blur) to get insights to the type of information they were seeing and questions to ask about that information. We encourage teachers to purchase Blur for more complete context and a look at new approaches in journalism.

Students will be able to share their work with peers in class.

Students should then use this knowledge to revisit and possibly rewrite their advertising guideline.


The teacher will critique each student’s evaluation based on a rubric of the sponsored content answer form.


Instead of completing a written evaluation, students may choose to do the assignment using a podcast or short video report.


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