How to Talk to Your Students About Fake News

Our students are growing up in a time where even traditional media sources can publish stories without definitively verifying the information. And once something is online, viewed and shared, it’s hard to rescind.

The sharing of fabricated or murky stories is amplified by everyone with a social media account and the ability to publish. Many people are willing to publish outlandish news and images in an attempt to try to go viral. This happens frequently during natural disasters; for example the same shark has been spotted swimming down the freeway of every recent flood. So by this point, we should agree that fake news is a problem, and that students need to be diligent when reading the news.

Explore Flocabulary's "Fake News" Unit

Flocabulary has part of the solution with the Fake News unit. This unit addresses the issue, highlights pitfalls, and teaches vocabulary. Words and phrases like confirmation bias, clickbait, point of view, and fabrication can guide discussions in class. Like all units, there’s an engaging video, but there’s much more:

Vocab Cards

Vocab cards highlight some of the important terminology that is used when talking about Fake News, like confirmation bias and clickbait.

Read and Respond

Read & Respond provides pre-created text-based-questions that can help to reinforce vocabulary and encourage in-depth conversations in the classroom.

Teacher Resources

Under the Teacher Resources section, there is an activity where students can further their learning by creating their own partially fabricated news story–what a unique way to understand all sides of the story!

How to Extend the Lesson

Just as you can’t rely solely on a headline to understand the full story, you shouldn’t stick with just one lyric. Students need to get in the habit of searching for relevant articles and reading them. Many adults suffer from confirmation bias; they are blinded by their preconceived notions and do not dig deeper. It is critical to teach young students how to question what they see and read online while they’re still naturally questioning everything.

So, how can you extend the Fake News unit into a larger lesson? Try Week in Rap. Flocab’s weekly recap of what’s happening in the news offers the opportunity to make the lesson more interesting and applicable.There are many ways of extending a Flocabulary unit, but here is one particular example of how I’ve found success.

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Have students work in a small group using the lyrics or the reading passage.

They should identify each of the stories for that week and develop the best search terms to find relevant sources. This might require pre-teaching search strategies like identifying keywords, using quotation marks to search an exact phrase, and to connect two ideas with a capitalized ‘AND.’

Once they have their search terms, they should search Google.

If the top three results directly relate to the story, they earn a point. If any of the top three results are not about the same story, it means their search could have been stronger.

Assign one of the stories from the Week in Rap to each group for them to learn more.

They should fully read at least two of the articles and be prepared to share details with the class. They should pay attention to anything that is different between the stories and be wary of any sources they do not think are reliable. This gives them practice applying the information they would have gained during the Fake News lesson.

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Extra Resources

Fake news is not something easily taught in a single lesson. Students need to see adults reading and discussing news stories critically. There are many additional resources that can support conversations with students or help them develop their digital news literacy skills:

  • For additional practice, Factitious is a game to determine if students can determine real news from fake news.
  • The University of Michigan has a Library Guide for analyzing news sites. As a teacher, I found it interesting, and there were links to many resources to explore.
  • All Sides shows the slant of different published stories. They also have side-by-side comparisons of news sources on the left, right, and center.
  • Students cannot understand stories that are written above their comprehension level. There are many different leveled news sites, two great options are Newsela and Tween Tribune.   
  • Common Sense Media surveyed almost 900 tweens and teens to discover their news consumption and perceptions, the findings are published on the Common Sense website. They also have some self-reflective questions for students to ask themselves while reading an article online to determine the authenticity.

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Lisa Whiston

Lisa Whiston is a Flocabulary MC Educator and a Social Studies teacher at Hershey Middle School. She teaches 6th-grade geography in a 1:1 iPad environment, and she uses this technology to repeatedly bring the world into the classroom. Her goal is to prepare students to be future global citizens who are digitally literate. She is the co-founder of Edcamp Hershey and has been involved in planning numerous professional development opportunities for other educators, both in her school district and beyond.