Ideas for teaching the mindset

Dilemma game

2-3 hours

This is an interactive dilemma game called “The most important story”, developed by the Danish organisation “Dilemma Democracy” with the help from Constructive Institute and the Danish Folk Highschools. The students are presented with four journalistic dilemmas in short videos, and can vote by phone. The first round tackles the dilemma of what stories to cover when being a foreign correspondent. The second round tackles the dilemma of what pictures to use when illustrating a dramatic story. The third round dives into the dilemma of how to angle stories on major developments. The fourth and final round dives into the dilemma of whether or not a media should or shouldn’t be activist in order to stay relevant today.

A good way to play the games, is to divide students into groups of five each being a media outlet or small editorial board. After each dilemma the students vote individually, but then have to agree on what they would choose at their “media”. This discussion can last 10-15 minutes for each dilemma. Afterwards hold a discussion in class, where each group present their decision.

The purpose is to make the students reflect on the choices journalists face every day and their own journalistic compass, and to get an understanding of some of the mechanisms constructive journalism is trying to tackle.

Polarisation made visible

30-60 minutes

One teacher stands on a table in one end of the classroom. In the other end is another table and on top of it stands another teacher. They discuss – or rather the yell without listening to each other. One argues that all public institutions should ban meat in their canteens. The other one strongly promotes the idea of individual freedom also when it comes to what you choose to eat. On the floor between them is a group of students. Two of them have the role as journalists. The rest move between the yelling teachers. They start in the middle and move themselves closer to the teacher they agree with and farther away from the one they disagree with. The two journalists are the only ones with the authority to pause the game to ask questions.

It is a roleplay to illustrate polarisation before the students are introduced to the Dutch journalist and philosopher Bart Brandsma’s theory on the matter. In short, he claims that debates are often dominated by pushers – the ones yelling at the tables. They pull the middle group towards them and consequently we may end up with a polarised society. Journalists often see themselves as bridge builders bringing the pushers together to discuss. However, Brandsma claims that the classic debates often give the pushers yet another platform and further polarisation.

This theory will unfold more or less on the floor in the classroom, and it serves as an introduction to the review of the theory and the following discussion of the role of journalists facilitating a democratic conversation.

Reflective debate

3 hours

Do we need more dialogue-based journalism? Yes or no?
This is the question the students are asked to discuss in a debate. First, they are divided into three teams. A yes-team, a no-team and a team of journalists. Each team choose two students to participate in the live debate in front the rest.
One teacher is assigned to each team to help them prepare. The journalists are preparing format, how to moderate and host the debate, the role of the audience (their classmates), the setting and everything that has to do with the conduct of a 20 to 30 minute-long debate. The two other teams prepare their own arguments and how to address potential arguments from the other side and questions from the journalists.

The purpose is:
To sharpen the arguments for and against dialogue-based journalism, and to strengthen the ability to define what it is and is not. Also, to give students experience in working with debate in a fun way.

Reflective essay

We ask the students to write a reflective essay about the current role of journalism and journalists and in the future media landscape.

The essay must have a focus that includes dialogue-based journalism. It can be personal and dive into what the student finds difficult, interesting or thought provoking when working with dialogue-based journalism. Or it can take its starting point in pitfalls, advantages, ethics, dilemmas, target groups and so on.

The target group for the essay are journalists.

The purpose is to make students reflect on the journalist’s role and the challenges and possibilities in contemporary journalism. 

The Rosling

This eye opener for newcomers in Constructive Journalism is based on the quiz that Swedish professor and public speaker Hans Rosling developed and with which he confronted students, politicians, business people, journalists etc  ( To show them they have a skewed and out-dated image of the world. The questions can be put in an online tool like Mentimeter or Kahoot! This allows the participants to see their results in real time. Most groups score lower than 33%, which is chance level with three possible answers. After the test a discussion takes place on the possible explanations for the negative and outdated worldview most people have. After a while the question may arise: To what extent is journalism responsible for our world view? What can journalism do to tackle this problem?

Negativity Bias

Let students (individually or in small groups) choose the website of a news medium, a video or audio news broadcast or a printed newspaper. Provide them with a matrix with news values in rows and put the top five stories in the rows of the matrix. For each news value let the students decide if it is (clearly) in the five news items or not. They can mark this in the cells of the matrix. For example a reduced list of the news values of Harcupp & O’Neil (2001) can be used (Elite, Celebrity, Entertainment, Surprise, Bad news, Good News, Magnitude, Relevance, Follow up). Afterwards let the students share their findings and discuss which news values are most prominent. This can be followed by a discussion on the (presumed) negativity bias in the news.

Citizens in the news?

Students (individually or in small groups) collect a small number of news items, preferably on the same (social) issue. In each news item they categorise the sources quoted as either institutional (politicians, government, business), civic society (societal organisations, experts) and citizens (vox-pop, eye-witness, person concerned, participant or (informal) representative). They count the totals of the sub-categories, share their findings with the group and discuss the amount of citizens used as sources (often low) and the quality of the contribution from the different subgroups of citizens (often passive roles like vox pop/eye witness/person concerned).

New news criteria

1-2 hours

In this exercise we ask the students to work in groups of three and choose a list of news criteria. Then they choose a journalistic production and examine how the news criteria change the production. The different lists of news criteria are actual lists made by different newsrooms. The purpose of this excersise is to make the students aware that other criteria than conflict and drama are being prioritised in today’s media industry, especially criteria about relevance and dialogue.

Guiding questions:

How does the criteria change the story?  (for instance the angle?)
Who could be sources?

End goal: the students should present a ´developed´ production for the class, seen through the eyes of a new set of criteria.

Set 1: From the free news paper MX (now closed)

Trending (What are people talking about)

Meaning (Tell why this story is important)

Engagement (What can your audience do with your story? Share/comment/explore etc)

Surprise (Surprise your audience with an unexpected angle, new form, new content etc)

Constructive (What could be a solution to the problem)

Set 2:
From the regional TV Station TV2 Østjylland





Set 3:
From the Regional TV Station TV2 Lorry





Set 4:
From the regional TV Station TV2 Fyn





Editing a conventional article to make it more constructive

2-3 hours

This exercise can be used as a first attempt to put the constructive mindset to practice. Working in small teams, students select a conventional article and edit it to make it more constructive. They are encouraged to engage in some additional research to do so, but the task can be accomplished within one or two hours. It’s best to select a short article, and present both versions side-by-side so that the differences are obvious.

When discussing the constructive approaches of each team, it becomes apparent what they find useful from the introductory sessions on constructive journalism. Some teams try to just rephrase the article to make it less dramatic (e.g., replacing “problem” by “challenge”) or just add some tips (e.g., “if you experience problems like these, please call …”). Others, however, write a new lead that indicates a way forward or include a new perspective that was ignored in the original reporting. If there is time, you can ask the other students to guess what the team intended when it edited the article.

Limiting the exercise to short news reports also limits the possibility of employing constructive tools and strategies. The exercise can therefore lead to discussing whether journalists can be constructive in breaking news. The examples chosen by the teams can also serve as a basis for discussing whether all topics are suitable for a constructive approach. Some students select tabloid newspaper reports for this exercise because they expect them to be more dramatic and less constructive – and therefore easily edited. Check whether this assumption is true.

The “House of Commons” debate

2 hours of preparation, 1 hour debate

This format can be used to discuss controversial topics with citizens – and with students in class. No specific number of participants is required: It works with five or fifty people. It is named after the British House of Commons because participants sit facing each other. The moderators ask a question, and participants choose to sit on either the Yes-side or the No-side. Then, they can explain their choice and react to the arguments of others. After 10 or 15 minutes, the next question is asked – and participants get up and choose a new place to sit down. In the course of the debate, questions should move from general assessments (e.g., “is Alexa part of the family?”) to concrete political opinions (e.g., “should AI be allowed to evaluate job applications?”). The final question of the debate can be used to sum up things (e.g., “do we need to control the algorithms?”).

Even though this debate format appears confrontational, it actually leads to constructive discussions. By asking participants to make a clear choice (they have to say Yes or No), they are forced to make up their minds – and in doing so generate a lot of arguments. The moderators are curious to find out about these arguments. It is essential, however, that they make it clear that the debate is not about fixing one’s opinion but rather about exploring ideas, finding points of agreement and points where judgements diverge.

This debate can also be conducted online with a video conferencing tool. Instead of choosing the right or left side of the room to sit down, participants switch the background colour of their screen to red or green.

Comparing confrontational and constructive interviews

If a couple of test subjects are available, students can conduct mock interviews to try out different ways of asking questions. The topic and time limit are set before, otherwise students do not need to know much about the person they interview. The goal of the interview is to discover and understand the interviewee’s opinion on the topic chosen.

In class, students brainstorm confrontational (backward-looking) and constructive (future-oriented) questions to ask. The PERMA strategy of Catherine Gyldensted is a good place to start. The constructive questions are not supposed to make it easy for the interviewees, but to ensure that a good picture emerges. It is instructive to compare both types of questions directly. E.g., students might ask why someone has performed badly at a certain task – or ask instead how he will try to do a better job next time. In the first case, the person interviewed will defend himself, in the latter, he can explain himself.

Afterwards, students (who work in pairs) hand in the three main take-aways from the interview. Together, the results of both types of interviews can be compared in class. Did constructive questioning add to understanding the person interviewed? Did it work in cases in which the interviewee stuck to his talking points?

Students' ideas for exercises

Besides classroom discussions, group discussions and reflective essays the students had other ideas for reflecting on the dilemmas. Let the students:

  • choose dilemmas and arrange debates
  • make teaching materials about dilemmas
  • work with the same subject: One group makes activism another makes journalism (what is activism?)
  • Play a game: You are very concerned about climate change. Pick a card. You are an activist/you are a journalist. Write an article.