Lesson Plan

Reality Check: An Information Literacy Challenge

This lesson will help students develop informational literacy skills by critically reading and writing news articles..
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My Grades 6, 7, 8, 9
My Subjects English Language Arts, Social Studies
EdTech Mentor
Objectives

Students will be able to...

  • identify key features of a credible news story
  • critically analyze an informational text
  • thoughtfully create an informational text 

 

Subjects
English Language Arts
Social Studies
English Language Learning
Grades 6 - 9
All Notes
Teacher Notes
Student Notes

1 Reality Check

Ask students to read the BBC news story linked above. This can be done in pairs, in small groups, or independently. It would probably work best if you create a PDF of the story and hand it out to students so that they can mark it up.

Pose the question (after students read once) about whether they believe the story to be true.  If they don't believe it's true, why not? If they do, why? Encourage students to use evidence to back up their opinions.

Lead a class discussion to hear what different students have to say and to list the evidence they cite to support their ideas.

Additional Resources you can use all or parts of to support this part of the lesson:

  1. An article from the New York Times debunking the BBC article.
  2. Some tips from Poynter about how to tell if a news story is credible.
  3. The Stanford study that shows how students struggle with information literacy, particularly in reading news stories.
  4. Common Sense, Digital Bytes: News Literacy (video) and Internet Hoaxes from the Interpretation category.

You can use any or all of these resources to continue the discussion with students or to lead into the next step.

This lesson can take 1 - 4 class periods, depending on how deeply you want to dive into the issue. Each step can be take one class period if you want to make full use of all of the resources. If you don't have time, you can do the whole lesson in one class period.

Students should finish this step with some clear ideas about how to assess the credibility of a news story.

2 What's in a Story?

This step focuses on the key elements of writing a news article.

Tell your students they are going to write two articles. They can do this with a partner or independently. One of the news stories is going to be accurate and credible. One is not. 

The goal for the made up story is to fool others into believing it. In order to do this they need to know the key features of a credible news story (previous step).  

Students should not tell anyone (except their partners) which story is 'real' and which story is 'fake'.

If you don't have a lot of time, the stories can just consist of a headline, an image (optional) and a paragraph or two. 

Make sure that you talk with students about ways that they might make the real story seem unreal. What can they do to fool people? (i.e. biased language, lack of sources, etc.). 

NOTE: Think about the language you want to use to describe the credibility of the stories students write. Do you want to use the words 'real' and 'fake' or would you rather stay away from those words because of their current politicization?

Explanation of Resources

PDFs from Read, Write, Think about how to write a news story. If you don't have your own resources, these graphic organizers can help students with their writing (one uses the inverted pyramid model and the other consists of a list of tips for writing).

One link to the Journalism Guide from Purdue OWL covers the inverted pyramid style of writing but also points out that it is more of a writing tool for older media. They recommend giving students the freedom to write their story in a different way as long as the essential elements of a story are there.

A second link to the Journalism guide focuses on Media Ethics for writers and not just readers of news.

 

 

3 The Challenge

Create a google site (or any other site) to create your class online newsite where students will post both of their stories.

Potential audience/judges can include:

  • parents
  • another class
  • another school

Have readers take a look at the stories to determine which are real and which are fake and establish a way for them to communicate that to you.

One way is to attach a google form to the site. 

You want to make sure that every story is read.  There are different ways to do this. You can:

  • assign specific stories to specific classes
  • number each story and have audience members choose a number
  • other ideas?

Count the votes and announce the winners. There should be at least two winners:

  1. Which 'fake' news story fooled the most people?
  2. Which of your students accurately assessed the credibility of more stories?
  3. (Optional) Which real news story fooled the most people? (Note: If this one is not part of your contest, let students know in Step 2).

 

4 Follow Up and Reflection - So What?

Activity: Conversing

Lead a class discussion or Socratic Seminar about reading and writing the news articles. Some questions to consider include:

  • What made the winning pieces so credible? Ask for evidence.
  • Which pieces were more challenging to write? Why?

NOTE: Students will find it easy to determine if a news story is fake if the language is overly loaded and/or if there are no sources cited. The more challenging articles for students to read critically with be informational texts that are more subtle.

This lesson can give students the mindset and the practice they need to critically read challenging informational texts that seem credible.  It will also open up a space in your classroom to talk about these issues as students read increasingly complex primary and secondary sources for research.