Lesson Plans

Investigating Police Budgets

Teacher example of an article annotation assignment from the unit "Investigating Police Budgets" by Vincent Pham. United States, 2020.

Teacher example of an article annotation assignment from the unit "Investigating Police Budgets" by Vincent Pham. United States, 2020.

This unit was created by Vincent Pham, a teacher at International High School at Prospect Heights in Brooklyn, NY, as part of the fall 2020 Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellowship program on Arts, Journalism, and Justice. It is designed for facilitation across approximately five 60-minute class periods.

For more units created by Pulitzer Center Teacher Fellows in this cohort, click here.


Content objectives: Students will be able to...

  • Demonstrate the ability to comprehend, analyze, and critique a variety of complex print and multimedia informational texts.
  • Integrate multimedia or visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • Create a visual informative document that critiques how police departments allocate their budgets.

Language objectives: Students will be able to...

  • Integrate information, distinguish between relevant and irrelevant information (e.g., fact/opinion), and (visually, orally, in writing) present what was learned.
  • Compare how different texts present topics or ideas (e.g., comparing words, visuals).
  • Analyze textual evidence and contextualize the information for educational purposes.

Unit Overview:

For the past few years, policing in the United States has been one of the most documented issues in journalism. The conversations have been mostly centered on unjust killings of unarmed Black individuals by the police. What makes this particular unit an “underreported” topic is that we will be examining how the police allocate their funds. Government spending on police is not just about statistics, but rather a reflection of a policy and ideology, which oftentimes has roots in structural racism. Understanding how governments finance the police further contextualizes debates around policing in U.S. society.

In this unit, students will analyze text stories and images about police allocating funds to surveillance technology and militarization. They will explore the policing budget for New York City, or their own community, and will create a digital zine summarizing their knowledge of and opinions on policing budgets.

Zines commonly appears in the form of a publication with modified texts and images in order to share political declarations and educate. This mixture of image and words will push students to best imagine how to synthesize all the elements of their work. The project aims at stimulating students’ interest in alternative and creative forms of writing, especially when utilized for activism purposes. Historically, zines have democratized publishing. As more journalism has shifted behind paywalls, zine journalism allows individuals to disseminate the news with their perspectives interwoven in. The challenge and skills that will be fostered on in this unit include increased media literacy and the ability to document and synthesize the sources that are circulating about a topic. Zines have also functioned as a way for marginalized voices to take more ownership in educating others and recording their stories. Through this unit, students can critically engage and dialogue about social justice not only for their academic growth, but also to foster their civic participation and belonging within United States/community identity.

Resources for Facilitating this Unit:

Click here for a PDF outlining lesson plans for this unit, including warm-ups, resources, discussion questions, activities, and a culminating performance task for the unit.

Click here for example slides that illustrate unit facilitation.

During this unit, students will be asked to read, annotate, and respond to two articles, one on police surveillance and one on police militarizationClick here for a worksheet with key quotes, prompts, and an example for students to follow.

    Performance Task:

    This unit culminates in digital zines that demonstrate student learning and opinions on police budgets, and use language and visual art skills to communicate that learning to a public audience. Download the complete unit plan for instructions, a rubric, and other resources. View examples of zines created by students at International High School at Prospect Heights as part of this unit below:

    Educator Notes: 

    Common Core Standards:

    Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.

    Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

    Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

    Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

    Lesson Builder Survey