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Read All About It: Spotting Fake News

Subject: Social Studies

Grade: 9 (and above)

Lesson Objective: Enable students to discern fake news.

Common Core Standard: CCSS. ELA-LITERACY. RH. 9-10.1

Materials: Individual laptops with internet access.

Note to Teachers: Fake news can be contentious, and you or your students might have strong opinions about it. It is best to avoid areas that might upset some of your students, such as politics or religion.

Starter

  1. Ask, "What stories are in the news currently." Give them a few moments to answer, and you may even want to create a list of their answers on the board.
  2. Ask: "Have you read about or listened to anything concerning these news stories." Allow students to respond.
  3. Ask: "Where did the stories author get their information?" Let students respond, and you may even ask the follow-up question, "Did you even look for the author's sources?"
  4. Ask: "How do you know if the story is true?" Allow for responses.
  5. Tell your class you will teach them how to spot fake news in today's lesson. Fake news can also include sources that lack credibility, like Wikipedia.

Main

Read your students the following passage: 

"New York City attracts millions of tourists from all over the world."

Ask, "Is there anything wrong with this passage?" Allow for responses, but don't comment whether they are correct or not.

Ask, "By a show of hands, how many think the passage is fake news?" 

Read your students the second half of the text:

"But a researcher from a well-known university has said that these visitors are not from our planet. In fact, most of them are from Mars. The researcher went on to say that we know little about Mars and that tourists from there could have evil intentions. He called for a total ban on Martian tourism."

Ask, "By a show of hands, how many think the passage is fake news, now?" Now that you have read the entire text, you may wish to display the text for all students to see and refer back to. 

Ask, "Why is the passage fake news?" Allow for your students to respond. Answers may include: Aliens have not visited Earth, the researcher's name was not given, sources were not cited, etc.

Ask, "Can you see the difference between the two passages? While the first passage may appear accurate, the second discounts the entire piece of work."

Ask, "What is the definition of fake news to you?" Write your student's responses on the board. Take this time to discuss their ideas and summarize the definition of fake news. The end goal is to come up with a class definition such as "Fake news is false information that is presented as if it were true."

Possible discussion ideas may include:

  • Fake news often presents opinions as facts.
  • Photos and videos can be out of context or fake.
  • Fake news might not provide sources or be vague about them.
  • Misinformation can be due to a mistake, while fake news is deliberately misleading.

Group Activity

Split your class into groups of four to six students.

Each group is to use their phones or laptops to look for news stories that might be fake news. Tell them they can use news websites, Instagram, or other (appropriate) outlets.

After a set amount of time, say 20 minutes, tell your class that they will assess and determine the validity of the stories the various groups found. Their only two options are:

  1. Real
  2. Fake

Allow time for an open discussion about whether students think that an item is fake news or not. Students may ask to see the news site, sources, posting date, etc. 

Students will then provide their final determination. You may use a digital polling system like Google Classroom to submit answers. 

Once answers are submitted, you can show your class's answers and discuss why they gave the ranking they did.

Feedback

Once the group assignment is complete, ask, "What should you look for when reading or watching a news article?"

Ask, "Why is it important to learn how to spot fake news?" Allow for class discussion.

Wrapping Up

Stress that your students treat the news with healthy skepticism and fact check before forming an opinion. You may assign additional assignments based on your class's grasp of the concept. The extra practice may be necessary for more difficult fake news pieces. Or add a spin to the assignment and provide historical fake news to tie into your current unit of study. 

Written by Stephen Tomkinson
Education World Contributor
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