How I Designed My Fake News Lessons Plans
I recently created a week-long unit designed to teach students about digital literacy in the age of fake news. It’s just the kind of unit that I would have loved to have taught when I was in the classroom, but I never would have had the time to do all of the research that is involved. (See a preview of the entire product by clicking here and then clicking on preview.)
There is a lot of content when it comes to verifying tweets and understanding what to do when you come across fake news on Facebook and how to judge a news website and what a Twitter bot is and why we should care and so much more… I am used to teaching students writing skills or taking them through a close reading of a challenging poem, but this quantity of content is new to me. I wanted to make sure that students would be invested enough that they would put in the work to learn all that the need to know, and I wanted to figure out a way that they could retain all the content so that they could apply it in their day-to-day interactions.
This is how I designed the unit to keep students engaged throughout.
It starts off with a “quiz” to see what students know. In my experience, even if students are confronted with the kind of statistics that were revealed in this Stanford study which showed 80 percent of middle schoolers couldn’t tell the difference between a native ad and editorial content and 93 percent of college students didn’t realize that they were reading information put out by industry PR, they often think that they are part of the educated minority. So I wanted to shake them up a little with the quiz. I also like this kind of magazine-style quiz as a fun way to open a unit and to get student buy-in. You can download a free version of the quiz by clicking here.
The second part involves reading two examples of quality journalism about fake news. By tasking students with completing close reading questions on two legitimate news pieces, I get them to see why all this matters. Another characteristic of today’s teenagers is that they are not easily impressed. Just telling them that fake news is bad and they need to learn how to spot it isn’t enough for them to buy in to the importance of the lessons. But I hope that by reading the two articles, they will learn how fake news has real repercussions. The first article is on a unverified tweet that went viral and the second is on a man who fired an automatic-style rifle in a pizza restaurant because of a fake news story.
The other aspect of the second part of the lesson is that students look at the characteristics of quality journalism. The authors of both pieces conducted extensive interviews, looked at all sides of the story, and did a great deal of research before writing. All of these characteristics of good writing are not found in fake news, and it is important that students look closely at them.
The third part of the lesson is a jigsaw presentation in which students learn about one aspect of digital literacy and then teach that to their classmates. The different categories are advertisements, photographs, tweets, Facebook, news stories, and news websites. Once students have learned what they need to know to verify information that they might come across in those various platforms and they have spent some time poking around online, they create a presentation to teach their classmates the content that they have mastered.
Finally, students are assessed on what they have learned with a quick 20-question quiz based on the information from the presentations. I am not usually a fan of objective quizzes, but with this kind of specific content, I thought that a simple quiz was in order to make sure that students review what they have learned.
By combining critical thinking, digital literacy, and specific suggestions for how to verify news sources, I hope that I have provided tools to create responsible media consumers. Ideally, students will continue to come back to these lessons whenever they are online.