That’s fake news!

Because sometimes it really is fake news, and our students need to know how to figure that out.

Grade level and duration: We did this with 6th grade ELA classes in a cool 80 minutes.


  • Students will be able to discern “sponsored content”, opinion pieces, and advertising/advertorials on legitimate news websites.
  • Students will able to determine the legitimacy of an unknown news website using a checklist.
  • Students will be able to use online tools to determine the accuracy of a news story or viral image.
Thanks, WNYC, for this great resource.

Introduction activity: Turn and talk (2 minutes)

  • Have you ever found false or misleading information online? What made you think it was fake?
  • Do you think you could spot “fake news” online? What clues would you look for?

What’s true on a real news website: Activity (10 minutes)

  • Explain that even on legitimate news websites, there are often advertisements, opinion pieces, and other things that are n​ ot necessarily ​news. Why are there ads? (Shakespeare’s gotta get paid son)
  • Give some pairs of students copies of the front page of Slate, and some pairs the front page of the New York Times Online. Explain that they are screenshots of these websites.
  • Have students complete the activity in pairs. Then show the Slate home page on the projector and ask students to share out answers; do the same thing with the NYT.
  • Also show example of print advertorial.
  • Things like opinion pieces or blogs are not held to the same standard as news articles.
  • Summary: You need to be careful even on good websites!

OK, so that’s one thing: on reliable websites, we need to be​ able to figure out ​what kind of article we’re looking at, because not everything is news. But what about a news website that you’re ​not familiar with? Or something you see on social media that you’re not sure about?

Viral news stories: Turn and talk (2 minutes)

  • Where do you get your news?
  • List student news sources on the board (could include: parents, newspapers, social media, TV…)

On the Media’s “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook”: Activity (10 minutes)

  • Give each student a printout of On the Media’s tips
  • Give pairs of students screenshots of news articles – some true, some “fake news”, some just sort of overblown
  • In pairs, students evaluate their article
  • Show each article on the board and have students share out what they decided

Discussion: Confirmation bias! (5 minutes)

  • If my mom posts an article on Facebook about how Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback of all time, I’m probably not going to question it. Why not? Three reasons:
  • I trust my mom!
  • My Facebook feed (and my Tumblr feed, and my Instagram feed, and so
    on) is customized. It shows me the kinds of things I want to see, from people that I know and trust. This makes me much more likely to believe things without questioning them, even if I should know better.
  • Most importantly: I agree with the article! I do think Aaron Rodgers is the greatest. So why would I want to disprove the article?
  • On the other hand, if the article said that Tom Brady was the greatest – well, I hate that guy, so I’d work really hard to find out about how the author of the article decided this.
  • We need to apply THE SAME level of skepticism to things we agree with. That’s one of the biggest problems with fake news: people want to believe the things they want to believe!

Viral images & videos (10 minutes)

(This section makes use of images and ideas from this Stanford study.)

Let’s say my friend texts me this picture. (show Fukushima daisies from Stanford studies) Do you guys know what happens to plants and animals in nuclear zones? ​Does this image provide strong evidence of conditions near the Fukushima plant? How do you know either way? (have students turn and talk or discuss in small groups, then report back. Write student answers on board and discuss.

When you are researching controversial topics (…or anything, really), you are gonna come across some stuff that’s not true.

  • Use the checklist
  • Use factchecking websites
  • Apply the same scrutiny to articles you AGREE with as you would to things you disagree with

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