Campaigning for Fair Use: Public Service Announcements on Copyright Awareness

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Estimated Time
Ten 50-minute sessions
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Who owns what you compose? Who controls what happens with the words, images, music, sounds, videos that you create? What rights do you have to use other people's compositions? This unit plan focuses on helping students find answers to these questions. Students explore a range of resources on fair use and copyright then design their own audio public service announcements (PSAs), to be broadcast over the school's public address system. Students begin by completing a survey about fair use. Students discuss their responses to the survey and then research facts about fair use and copyright. Next, students become familiar with PSAs before writing and producing their own announcements, which are shared with other students. Work can also be published as podcasts on the Internet.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In her description of a student-centered program to address issues of copyright in her school, Barbara Giorgio explains, "The key factor in the success of Marple Newtown's Committee for Academic Integrity is ownership of the process by students. They are committed, not preachy or self-righteous, simply committed to helping others make the right decisions. It has worked in Marple Newtown, and it can work wherever there are such dedicated students" (17). This lesson plan provides a similar opportunity for students to take the lead in educating one another about the issues of copyright and intellectual property rights while simultaneously asking them to practice fair use of the resources that they use in their finished work.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Stop watch or timer




  • Gather audio recording equipment—cassette tape recorders and blank cassette tapes, a computer with audio recording software and a microphone, or an MP3 player (e.g., an iPod) with a microphone.

  • The podcasting tutorials in the Websites section can provide useful information on how to set up and manage recordings in the classroom. For Mac users, try GargageBand Support. PC users should try Create Podcasts Using Your PC. The Nuts and Bolts of Creating Podcasts can help with either platform.

  • Be sure to review any music download sites that you will share with students to ensure that they are appropriate for your particular classroom. Some include advertisements. Sites may also include language that is not appropriate for the classroom.

  • Make copies of the Fair Use Survey and Public Service Announcement Rubric. If desired, make copies of the PSA Production Process for students to refer to as they work.

  • If desired, also make an overhead of the Fair Use Survey to tally class responses on. Alternatively, you can tally the results on the board or on chart paper.

  • Test the Persuasion Map and Fair Use Travelogue on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • conduct research on copyright and intellectual property rights.

  • identify key points to communicate to peers about their research.

  • establish criteria for effective audio announcements.

  • compose original audio announcements to share with peers.

Session One

  1. Explain that you are about to begin an exploration of fair use and intellectual property rights and that the first step will be to complete a survey.

  2. Distribute copies of the Fair Use Survey, and ask students to fill out the sheet.

  3. After students have responded to all of the questions, compile the results on the board, chart paper, or an overhead.

  4. Begin class discussion with the statements for which there is the most disagreement. Encourage students to explain the reasoning behind their responses and to debate differing opinions.

  5. Be sure to challenge students’ views of fair use as you discuss the responses to the survey. Many students have an oversimplified view of fair use and intellectual property rights. Urge students to think about the “fairness” of the uses that are described on the survey.

  6. As students discuss the survey results, invite them to share any personal experiences that have shaped their opinions.

  7. Once you have discussed most or all of the questions on the survey, ask students to read begin the process of researching the facts about Fair Use and Copyright.

  8. Working individually or in small groups, have students explore the Web resources included in the Fair Use Travelogue. If time is short or computer resources limited, students can work in groups, with each group exploring only one of the sites listed. Explain that students should be ready to discuss their findings at the beginning of the next class session.

  9. As students work, circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback. Remind students to print out their notes so that they can refer to them in later sessions.

  10. Allow as many additional sessions as necessary for students to complete their research, or ask students to complete their research for homework.

Session Two

  1. Gather the class and ask volunteers to share the findings they noted in their exploration of the Fair Use Travelogue. Urge students to make connections between the facts that they found and the issues raised on the survey they completed during the first session.

  2. Return to the survey responses and ask students to consider whether their answers to any of the questions have changed. Give students an opportunity to compare their original feelings about fair use and copyright and their feelings after they completed their research.

  3. Explain that students will complete 60-second audio public service announcements (PSAs) to tell others at the school what they have learned about fair use and copyright.

  4. Ask students to brainstorm possible topics for these announcements, based on their research. The following goals would be appropriate:

    • Increase awareness of what fair use encompasses.

    • Establish/promote an honor code.

    • Serve as a deterrent against dishonest or illegal practices.

    • Improve understanding of personal ownership of all types of text (e.g., audio, video, print, image).
  5. If students do no naturally do so, encourage them to provide specific, concrete examples for the topics and goals of their PSAs. For instance, topics might include “Legally using images on your Facebook page,” “Downloading music legally,” and “Documenting sources in research papers.”

  6. Begin work on the PSAs by pointing to a specific example announcements on one of the following Websites:

  7. First browse through some of the example PSAs. You might use the Historic Campaigns to get started or choose a specific topic that the class will be familiar with. It's likely that students will recognize examples such as the Crash Test Dummies PSAs, Smoky the Bear PSAs, and McGruff the Crime Dog PSAs.

  8. Choose and play a sample PSA for the class. 

  9. After students have viewed or listened to the example PSA, ask them to brainstorm a list of the qualities that make the PSA successful. Write the list on the board or on chart paper. Focus on the following questions:

    • What makes a PSA grab your attention?

    • What makes people in a PSA strong and interesting?

    • How does a conflict or problem influence whether a PSA is vivid and interesting?

    • What makes a setting appropriate?

    • How is the underlying message of the PSA?

    • What persuasive techniques does the PSA use to communicate that message?
  10. To summarize the discussion, ask students to create a working checklist of the criteria for a good story, based on their responses so far. Record the information on chart paper or an overhead transparency.

  11. Review the items and, with students, phrase the criteria in yes/no questions.

  12. For homework, ask students to view or listen to another PSA of their choice (on one of the Websites or on a radio or television broadcast). After viewing or listening to the PSA, ask students to compare the qualities of the PSA to the criteria on the class checklist.

Session Three

  1. Gather the class, and review the checklist of criteria for an effective PSA from the previous session.

  2. Ask students to share their observations on the PSA that they analyzed for homework.

  3. Make adjustments to the class criteria based on students’ homework observations.

  4. Introduce the characteristics of effective persuasive writing by playing the example PSA used in the previous session again.

  5. Ask students to identify the audience and purpose of the PSA. As students provide responses, record the information on the board or on chart paper.

  6. Next, ask students to explain how they were able to identify the audience and purpose of the piece. The following questions can aid the process:

    • What specific details in the PSA reveal the audience and purpose?

    • Are there specific words or phrases that reveal the audience?

    • Does the organization of the PSA reveal anything about the audience and purpose?
  7. Ask students to suggest why audience and purpose are important in persuasive writing. Why does a writer have to appeal to the reader? Students should be able to point to the evidence that they’ve gathered by viewing or listening to the PSA. Use their responses to emphasize the importance of audience and purpose in persuasive writing. Be sure that students understand that effective persuasive writing focuses on the needs, wants, and desires of the audience.

  8. Once the role of audience and purpose are established, return to the criteria that the class established for effective PSAs, and make any additional changes to emphasize the role of audience and purpose in persuasive messages.

  9. Pass out the Public Service Announcement Rubric, and compare students’ checklist with the requirements for the project. Make any adjustments and discuss the expectations for student work.

  10. With the characteristics of effective PSAs established, students can begin drafting scripts for their own PSAs. Arrange students in small groups, and ask each group to choose a specific topic for their PSAs and to begin brainstorming ideas for their piece.

  11. Allow students to work on their drafts for the remainder of time during this session. As students work, circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback.

Session Four

  1. Present an overview of the process that students will complete over the course of the PSA project:

    • Preproduction

      • Outline the PSA.

      • Identify key scenes and characters.

      • Compose script.

      • Choose any sound effects.

      • Practice the script.

    • Production

      • Set up equipment (including anything needed for sound effects).

      • Record the segment in short segments.

      • If working online, save often!

    • Postproduction

      • Edit the audio as necessary.

      • If working online, add any additional music or sound effects.

      • Review the completed recording.

      • Share the final piece with class.

      • Provide a recording to be played over the school’s public address system.
  2. Explain that students began work on preproduction during the last session when they chose a topic and began gathering ideas. Now it’s time to identify the specific background arguments for their PSAs.

  3. Demonstrate how to use the Persuasion Map to begin gathering and organizing underlying ideas for PSAs using the tool. Remind students that while they probably will not use all of the text that they record with the Persuasion Map, it is useful to think through the reasons for the actions that their PSAs recommend.

  4. Allow students the rest of the session to establish the background arguments for their PSAs with the Persuasion Map.

  5. As students work, circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback.

Session Five

  1. Discuss the criteria for the PSAs that apply to background music and sound effects. Ensure that students understand how these aspects should blend with rather than distract from the rest of the message.

  2. Ask students to discuss how fair use and copyright restrictions apply to the possible sound files that they use in their PSAs. The Fair Use Chart is a useful resource at this point.

  3. Emphasize that this issue is especially important if students are sharing their PSAs online as podcasts. The best option is to choose podsafe music. The LearningInHand Website in the Resources section explains that “Podsafe music is the term for music that can be legally used in a podcast and freely distributed online for others to download.” Some possible sources to share with the class are the following:

  4. Answer any questions that students have about sounds for their PSAs.

  5. Ask students to return to the process of composing their scripts.

  6. As students work, circulate through the classroom, providing support and feedback. Encourage students to try out short excerpts from their script for you.

  7. Allow as many additional sessions as necessary for students to complete their scripts and finalize their plans for their PSAs.

  8. Ask students to come to the next session ready to begin production of their PSAs.

Sessions Six to Nine

  1. Explain that students will record their PSAs during the next four sessions.

  2. Remind students of any technical details regarding the equipment that is available for their productions. If no one in a group has a watch with a second hand, provide a stop watch or timer for students to time their scripts as they work.

  3. Encourage students to record in small segments and, if working online, to save often. It’s easier to rerecord a short segment if something goes wrong than it is to have to rerecord the entire production. Working in small pieces allows students to save their work often (so that they avoid losing any data is there is a technical problem).

  4. Discuss any options for editing the recorded audio files (e.g., how to splice smaller segments together, how to add background music if working online).

  5. Answer any questions and allow students to work freely on their PSAs during these periods.

  6. Provide support and feedback during the session. If students run into any challenges that cannot be easily resolved, explain that they can modify the script as necessary.

  7. At the end of the last session, students should have a broadcast that is ready to share with the rest of the class. If students have created online files, ask that all are published on your network or given to you on a CD or floppy disk before the next session.

Session Ten

  1. Set up the technical equipment necessary for students to share their PSAs (e.g., computers, iPod and speakers, computers).

  2. Give groups a few minutes to make any last minute preparations.

  3. Ask individuals or groups to describe their work briefly as an introduction.

  4. Play the related recording. Encourage audience response.

  5. Rotate through the class until all PSAs have been played.

  6. Ask students to return to the class checklist and rubric, and assess the work of other groups—which PSAs were particularly vivid and compelling? why were they vivid and memorable?

  7. As a final activity, ask student to write a reflection in their journals, focusing on one or more of the following questions:

    • How did the process of creating this PSA influence your understanding of the copyright and fair use?

    • What was the most interesting thing about your PSA, and why?

    • Choose the PSA of another group or student, and reflect on what made that presentation particularly vivid.

    • If you were to produce a PSA on another topic, what would you do differently and why? Imagine that you have whatever technical equipment you need to complete your task.


  • While this lesson plan focuses on audio recordings, public service announcement campaigns frequently involve a range of media, including videos, posters, public appearances, and magazine advertisements. As an alternative or an extension, ask students to create a PSA in a different media. Students might make posters that are displayed in the school during the week when their PSAs are broadcast, for instance.

  • To focus students’ attention on a particular issue, try the ReadWriteThink lesson Copyright Infringement or Not? The Debate Over Downloading Music, which invites students to debate the ethics of downloading and sharing music files.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Focus on observation and anecdotal note taking as students work on their projects to provide ongoing assessment of their progress.

  • Use the Public Service Announcement Rubric to assess students’ recordings.

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