Teaching Students How to Detect Fake News

“The sixth graders took their seats in a classroom with a news literacy word wall that featured, in large letters, terms like ‘validity,’ ‘accurate’ and ‘reliable.’ The teacher, Marisol Solano, said that the question for the day boiled down to this: ‘How do we know what’s news or not?’ Then she played a four-minute video of a man jumping from an airplane — without a parachute, the video said.” J. Barron, The New York Times

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post with Answer Key

Marisol Solano’s sixth-grade news literacy class at a Brooklyn middle school include how to tell a real news story from an ad disguised as news. Credit Y.Paskova for The New York Times

Excerpt:  Teaching Students to Parse Fact From Fiction by James Barron, The New York Times

“As the class broke into discussion groups, Ms. Solano told the students to concentrate on other questions, about the video: ‘Would I share this? Would that be responsible of me as a news consumer?’

Fake news worked its way into the public consciousness during the presidential campaign last year and remains a hot topic, especially at Intermediate School 303 in Coney Island, Brooklyn, where teachers like Ms. Solano are on the offensive.

Their lesson plans are aimed at steeping students in news literacy, which involves determining whether an article or a video is real — and if it is real, whether it is, for example, a news story or an advertisement made to look like a news report. The teachers see an urgency to news literacy because, on the internet, misinformation can be mistaken for news. Is a tweet ripped from the headlines, or fabricated?

Can you tell FAKE news from REAL? Image- NPR

‘We started news literacy even before people started talking about fake news,’ said the principal, Carmen Amador. ‘But something we always asked students to do, think critically, now has new importance.’The ideal time is middle school… when students are internet-savvy but not yet immersed in social media. And their worldviews and political orientations are not fixed as firmly as they will be later on.

The video that Ms. Solano played for her class appeared to show a parachutist jumping from a single-engine plane, landing on a trampoline and surviving. The video looked like a news report. It went viral when it was released in 2014.

Man jumps from plane without a parachute and lands on trampoline. Daily Mail Online

News literacy teaches students to ask, among other things, whether a news article or a video is from a legitimate news organization.

Image-Concordia Online Education

That question figured in the way Ms. Solano’s students analyzed the video. A couple of students noticed that the video came not from a major television network but from something identified as Sky Newz, which they realized was not a real news outlet…The video was a clever promotion for a trampoline park in Louisiana. The jump was not real.”

ESL Voices Lesson Plan for this post

NOTE: Lessons can also be used with native English speakers.

Level: Intermediate – Advanced


Language Skills: Reading, writing, and speaking. Vocabulary and grammar activities are included.


Time: Approximately 2 hours.


Materials: Student handout (from this lesson) and access to news article.


Objective: Students will read and discuss the article
with a focus on improving reading comprehension and learning new vocabulary. At the end of the lesson students will express their personal views on the topic through group work and writing.

I. Pre-Reading Activities

Stimulating background knowledge: Brainstorming

Directions: Place students in groups, ask students to think about what they already know about the topic of Fake News.  Next, have students look at the picture(s) in the text and generate ideas or words that may be connected to the article. Debrief as a class and list these ideas on the board. Students can use a brainstorming chart for assistance. Brainstorming Chart By Writing Design

II. While Reading Activities

Word Inference

Directions: Students are to infer the meanings of the words in bold taken from the article. They may use a dictionary, thesaurus, and Word Chart for assistance.

  1. How do we know what’s valid or not?
  2. The video showed a man jumping  out of a plane without a parachute.
  3. Students must determine if an article is fake or real.
  4. Teachers see an urgency to teach news literacy.
  5. Misinformation can be mistaken for news.
  6. Is a tweet ripped from the headlines, or fabricated?
  7. The seventh graders are more practiced at news literacy.
  8. The students were skeptical.
  9. It was a conspiracy theory that had spread online.
  10. Advertising masquerading as news is a problem.

Reading Comprehension

Fill-ins

Directions: Place students in groups and after they have read the entire article, have them complete the following sentences taken from the article. They can use the words and terms from the list provided, or provide their own terms. They are to find the meanings of any new vocabulary.

The___has been doing that since before___ and Twitter reshaped the___ landscape and made it easier than ever to spread fake news. A ___is that ___who have never known anything but a___ as a ___for news need to learn to ______from fact as they work their way around the web.

WORD LIST:  separate, source, smartphone,  fiction concern, media,   teenagers, center, Facebook,

 Grammar Focus: Structure and Usage

Directions: The following groups of sentences are from the article. One of the sentences in each group contains a grammatical  error. Students are to identify the sentence (1, 2, or 3 ) from each group that contains the grammatical error.

I

  1. It’s like those actor who get discovered overnight.
  2. We’ve been fighting fake news since 2007.
  3. But the fight is not just about fake news.

II

  1. There are many half-truths in  advertising.
  2. Ms. Solano told the students to concentrate on other questions.
  3. Their lesson plan are aimed at real news.

III

  1. You have to be selective about what you take in.
  2. Don’t accept somebody else’s truth.
  3. The man fired an assault rifle a couple of times.

III. Post Reading Activities

WH-How Questions

Directions: Have students use the  WH-question format to discuss or to write the main points from the article.

Who or What is the article about?

Where does the action/event take place?

When does the action/event take place?

Why did the action/event occur?

How did the action/event occur?

Questions for Comprehension /Writing

Directions: Place students in groups and have them provide examples for each of  the following statements from the article. Afterwards, have the groups share their thoughts as a class. To reinforce the ideas, students can write an essay on one of the topics mentioned.

  1. “You have to be selective about what you take in and accept as truth.”
  2. “Indeed, this is a confusing time to be teaching the difference between fake news and real news.”
  3. “Social media has contributed to the spread of stories that have no basis in fact, with troubling consequences.”

Extra: Web Search

Directions: In groups/partners have students search for the topic on the web and see what additional information they can find. Students can either have further discussions or write an essay about the subject.

3-2-1-Writing

Directions: Allow students 5 minutes to write down three new ideas they’ve learned about the topic from the reading,  two things they did not understand in the reading, and one thing they would like to know that the article did not mention. Review the responses as a class.

ANSWER KEY

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