Teaching Kids, and Adults, to Spot Fake News

March 9, 2018

batboyWhen my kids were about 10 years old, I would show them the Weekly World News on the rack at the local Stop-n-Rob – and ask them, “real or fake”?

The point of the question was, that some things in the tabloids are absolutely straight up true, if oddball, news items, even while most ae nonsense. (think BatBoy).

I pointed out that one had to read ‘mainstream” media with an equally critical eye – that comparing and contrasting sources is critical, asking about agendas and motivations.

What would you expect a source with a point of view to report on?
If a “conservative” source like the Wall Street Journal reports on a Republican scandal – does that make the source more credible?

If a source tells you something that confirms what you already thought, does that make it true?

If you can follow similar details of a story across multiple “main stream” news sources – that is a general guide. Most of these organizations have some kind of quality control and journalistic rules.  They are not perfect, far from it – but they are a good start.
Example: Prior to the Iraq War disaster, most of the critical information that I used to build a case against the war in newspaper ads and letters, came from the mainstream press, such as the New York Times.  Famously however, the Times and other sources made an error of emphasis, going with Judith Miller’s hyped up bullshit on page one, and relegating more important pieces, like the actual facts on “aluminum tubes” , “Yellowcake” and other critical minutia, to page 18.
The Knight-Ridder investigative team actually won a Pulitizer for their dead-on accuracy in Pre-and Post invasion reporting – but their reports were appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, and Miami Herald, — outside the beltway, and so beyond the view of DC-centric “capitol” reporters, who get most of the Tube-time and ink.

So, from time to time, I’d point to a media story and say – “real or bullshit?” – challenging them to tell me if it was credible, and why.  Many stories are a mixture of both, and it takes time to ferret out the common threads.
The result is, the kids have grown up with, mostly, a healthy skepticism and motivation to dig a bit before biting on stories.


The need to teach students how to vet information is only more urgent now, in the age of “fake news.” A recent study showed that on social media, fake news, defined as deliberately falsified news articles created to drive clicks, was shared over 35 million times during our most recent election cycle.

I’ve spent 23 years teaching in a Southern California classroom, and we’re seeing a true bubble of false information online. Here’s how I’ve adapted my curriculum and teaching style to make sure my students know which sources to trust — and which to reject.

I was determined to change the way I help my students critically analyze the information they were finding on the internet

To make sure I wouldn’t have any student in the same situation as Andy ever again, I started asking my students to examine seven different elements of a news article. If the information checks out on each of these points, it has a high likelihood of being accurate. Still, passing the test is not a guarantee that it’s fact.

  1. Copyright: I always ask students to check the bottom of the webpage to see if the information has been submitted for ownership.
  2. Verification with multiple sources: Students must double check the information on a few different web pages. Like in a trial, the more corroborating witnesses, the more likely the truth will be discovered.
  3. Credibility of source, such as between History.com versus a random unknown source: I tell them to check if the source has been recently created. Sources that have been around for a while can show reliability over time and be tested by hindsight, whereas recently created sources don’t carry much of a track record.
  4. Date published: I always ask them to check how recently the page was updated to see how current the information is and whether anything has changed.
  5. Author’s expertise and background with the subject: Students should check if the author is someone who has dedicated time and effort to learning this subject. For example, a university professor typically has increased credibility versus a hobbyist.
  6. Does it match your prior knowledge: I ask them if the information matches up with what they have learned before
  7. Does it seem realistic: I tell students to use their common sense. Does something seem authentic or probable?

The only problem was that I hadn’t developed a way for them to put their new knowledge to the test. Sure, I could give a traditional test, but knowing the large amount of testing my class already has to do, I wasn’t willing to add another to their lives.

I had recently started a grassroots effort with a few other educators focused on infusing play back into the lives of children. The program is called Global School Play Day. As a big believer in the concept of “play to learn,” I wanted to put my students in a situation that allowed them to play with the fake news, and even create some themselves to understand how easy it is to share.

I shifted again with the most recent election cycle to a classroom game

I needed my students to understand that “fake news” is news that is being reported as accurate, but lacks reliability and credibility. A good example are the widely shared stories of the pope endorsing one presidential candidate over another. I decided to devise a game, the goal being to tell fake news from real news.

The first place I went to is world renowned for their creation of fake news: the Onion. I knew it would be a simple jumping-off point for finding things my students could research to see if it was fake or true.

We then used a great site for kids called Newsela.com, which takes articles from multiple sources and makes them accessible to a variety of reading abilities. This would serve as the real news website. From there, I explained the rules of the game we would play. Then the game was on!

Imagine a Simon Says style game where I present an article found on the web on a projector. Students research for two to three minutes, then respond by standing or staying seated to signal if they believe the article is true or fake. My students absolutely loved the game. Some refused to go to recess until I gave them another chance to figure out the next article I had queued.

Here, new online tool in beta for spotting fake news. 



20 Responses to “Teaching Kids, and Adults, to Spot Fake News”

  1. Adrian Vance Says:

    You left out experimental evidence that can be confirmed. This is missing from all “man caused global warming” publications, but we have it in “CO2 Is Innocent” and free at https://sciencefrauds.blogspot.com where you can clip-copy the six page illustrated paper, have it confirmed by a trusted physical scientist or teacher thereof and do the demo-experiment for a few Dollars of commonly obtained items to see for yourself that CO2 has no effect on the warming of the atmosphere in the concentrations alarmists say will turn America into Sahara and we do not mean the small town in Illinois of the same name. Adrian Vance

  2. Sir Charles Says:

    Teaching Kids, and Adults, to Spot Fake News is more than needed.

  3. There actually is a formalized tool available, designed to assist students in their online studies and projects and papers

    Known as The CRAAP Test/Technique/analysis

    Just look up CRAAP

    Excellent tool
    I present it to deniers all the time in comments sections hoping that naive readers that seriously are seeking answers will follow it up and apply the principles and techniques

  4. AgentSuzanne Says:

    Reblogged this on Suzanne's Blog and commented:
    Should be required reading for all of us!! Great tips.

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