News and information are more readily available to our students today than ever before. Radio and television news can be accessed with the click of a button. Print news sources, such as newspapers and magazines, are usually easy to find at shops and newsstands.
Perhaps even more noteworthy is how the internet has made it very easy for people, including our students, to access news and information at any time from nearly anywhere. Moreover, research shows a steadily growing number of people use social media and even messaging apps as a news source.1
The increasing popularity of finding news and information on the internet and through social media has placed new emphasis on the need to teach students about media literacy. Because the internet and social media have also made it possible for anyone to create content or share information, it is important that students understand how to evaluate the quality and accuracy of different news sources.
This month in the Teacher’s Corner, we will present a series of activities that help to develop students’ critical thinking and media literacy skills. The activities will familiarize students with characteristics of both credible and questionable news sources while requiring students to observe, reflect, and share ideas with classmates.
This week’s Teacher’s Corner will focus on starting a discussion in your classroom about the importance of thinking critically about the news. Students will reflect on where they get most of their news and consider the characteristics of high-quality and trustworthy news sources.
Activities To get students thinking critically
Time: 10-15 minutes to brainstorm news sources. 45 minutes to read the article “Schools, Universities Teach Students the Truth About Fake News” from Voice of America and discuss the concepts presented. 20 minutes for personal reflections and sharing.
- to encourage students to think critically about news
- to listen, speak, read, and write in English in order to gather information from a news article
- to create lists of characteristics of quality news
- to write questions for analyzing news sources
- Chalk or whiteboard markers
- Pencils, paper or student notebooks
- Timer or another device for keeping time
- Printed copies of the news story “Schools, Universities Teach Students the Truth About Fake News” from Voice of America. (Alternatively, you can project the article onto a screen, read it aloud, or play the audio version.)
- Decide how you will share the news story from Voice of America with your students. Prepare photocopies or prepare how you will project the piece or play the audio for students.
- Read or listen to the article yourself and decide on the key points you would like to discuss.
- Suggestions include playing the embedded video “Spreading the News” and discussing how news travels quickly. Another idea is to talk about the key questions presented by Howard Schneider in the article. You may also want to talk about the importance of getting news from various sources.
Activity One: Brainstorming News Sources
- Begin by having students gather in small groups of 3-5. On the board, create a thinking map by writing the question Where do we get news? inside a circle. Draw one line coming out from the circle and write the name of a news source, such as newspapers, at the end of the line.
- Explain to students that they will have about five minutes to create a thinking map in their groups. They should copy what you have written on the board, and then they should draw more lines and add all of the sources of news that they can think of. Provide each group with one piece of paper and a pencil, or have students create maps in their notebooks. Time the groups for five minutes.
- Once time is up, ask each group to share one of the sources they listed. Record students’ responses by adding them to the thinking map on the board. Continue until all the different sources that each group thought of have been listed on the map.
- Next, ask students which sources they think are most commonly used in your community. Students can discuss this in groups, or the whole class can discuss it together. Once everyone more or less agrees on the common news sources, circle those sources on the map, or create a separate list on the board. Select between five and eight popular sources and keep this list to use for next week’s activity.
Activity two: Learning about fake news
- Begin by asking students if they have ever heard of fake news and what it is. If this concept is not familiar to your students, you can play the video “Spreading the News,” which is embedded in the Voice of America article.
- Have students brainstorm a list of possible ways one might know that news is fake or exaggerated. Record these on chart paper.
- Share the article “Schools, Universities Teach Students the Truth About Fake News” from Voice of America with students. Allow students to read or listen to the whole article once without stopping.
- Next, have students listen or read again, this time looking or listening for key information. You can write the following questions on the board for students to consider:
- What is fake news? What are some signs that a news story could be fake?
- What questions should readers and other consumers of news ask to determine if a news story may be fake? (What does Howard Schneider suggest?)
- Once everyone has had sufficient time to answer the questions, ask students to share their responses to the questions in Part A (Step 4) with the whole class. To the list on chart paper, add any new possible ways a consumer might know that news is fake or exaggerated.
- To contrast the list of characteristics of fake news, ask students how a high-quality news story would be different. Ask, “How would a news story that is trustworthy or high quality be different from the list we’ve created about fake news? What things would you see in a reliable news story?” Ideas might include names of sources, recognizable journalists or news outlets, verifiable facts, etc. Record this list on chart paper as well.
Activity three: Asking Questions About the News
- Tell students, “Today we learned about some of the characteristics of questionable news as well as characteristics of quality news. Now we need to decide how to think critically and examine the news we see.”
- Have students open their notebooks again and read the responses they wrote down in their small groups for Part B in Activity Two, Step 4.
- Once students have reviewed what they wrote down, say, “Now you will write a list of at least five to help you to decide if news is trustworthy or could contain parts that are fake. You have ten minutes to write your list.”
- Set the timer and move around the room. Monitor students and provide assistance as needed.
- When the timer goes off, ask students to gather in groups of three to share their lists. Set the timer for five minutes.
- Once students have shared in small groups, have volunteers tell the class their ideas about how they can determine the quality of news. Using chart paper, record student responses. Keep this list on display in the classroom. You can continue to add any additional ideas that students have or learn about during the rest of the series of media literacy activities.
This week’s Teacher’s Corner activities ask students to start thinking about commonly used news sources and characteristics of high-quality news. In future activities, students will have a chance to apply this reasoning to examine news from different sources and to reflect on what they observe.
It is important that our students be able to recognize bias and instances where the news media may present a limited perspective of certain issues. This skill takes time to develop, but we can begin by asking students to carefully observe and reflect on different media sources.
This week’s activity will provide students with a set of observation questions to collect information about a specific news source. Students will make observations outside of class once you’ve modeled how to use the questions in class. Students will keep a log of observations that will be used in next week’s jigsaw activity, discussion, and presentation.
Observation modeling and practice
Time: 45 minutes to explain and model how to answer the news media observation questions. One week outside of class for students to observe their assigned media outlets.
Note: To conduct observations, students will need to have access to the news source which they are assigned. Alternatively, you can collect news clippings to use in class ahead of time and students can spend an additional class period examining the news you have collected. If you plan to use sources you have collected, it is suggested that you find sources—including newspapers, radio news clips, television clips, news magazines, social media posts, and any others—from the same 1-2 week time period. Another option is to provide students time at school to conduct observations.
Goals: To provide students with guiding questions to consider when consuming news. To help students begin to recognize common trends in how events, issues, and people are portrayed in different media outlets. To read, write, speak, and listen in English while participating in group discussions and making observations.
- Student access to different news sources or media
- One sample news story or clip for demonstration purposes (If using a printed news story, you will need multiple copies or a way to display or share the story.)
- Media observation questions from the appendix (You will need to choose how you will share these with students, whether by displaying them, writing them on the board, or providing students a copy.)
- Chalk or whiteboard markers
- Device for keeping time
- Select one news story from any type of media to use as a model for how to answer the news media observation questions. Ideally, all students should be able to see the story, whether it is projected, accessed on mobile phones, or photocopied. If using a television or radio clip, be sure you have a means of playing it clearly for all students.
- Using the news media observation questions, examine the news story or clip you have chosen and write notes and your answers to each of the questions.
- Revisit your list of popular news sources from the activity in Week 1. Your class should have created a list of 5-8 news sources they believe are most popular in your community.
- Tell students that they will spend the next week (or next class period if you are using sources you’ve already gathered) conducting observations of one of the news sources on the list. Explain that today you will share a set of questions for students to think about as they conduct their observations, and that you will demonstrate using an example.
- Display or share the news media observation questions. Discuss each one of the questions with your students and be sure they understand what is being asked. Brainstorm and discuss possible responses to each question with students.
- Next, use the sample news story or clip you prepared prior to class to further explain how to use the observation questions.
- If using a printed news story, it would be helpful if students had their own copies, but you could also read the story aloud. A news story from an online source that could easily be displayed or accessed by students individually would also be a good option. If using a news clip from television, the internet, or radio, all students should be able to watch or listen.
- Using your sample news story and the media observation questions, guide students in reading/watching/listening the news story and answering the first two questions in their notebooks. Record answers on the board so students can see an example.
- For questions 3-5, have students discuss their answers in small groups as you move around the room and listen. Clarify any concepts that students do not understand or answer any questions they have.
- Bring the class back together and have groups share their responses to questions 3-5. If needed, guide students in finding the correct information and clarify any misunderstandings by referring directly to the news story. Record answers on the board.
- Repeat steps 7 and 8 for questions 6-7. Allow time for students to discuss each question, and then have them share responses or ideas with the class. If necessary, discuss possible perspectives and opinions not addressed by your sample news story, or questions it might raise.
- Clarify any questions students have about using the media observation questions on their own. Explain that students will be assigned one type of media (such as television, social media, newspapers, etc.) to observe for one week. Students should complete at least one observation on a news story from that type of media per day.
- Provide students with a list of the media observation questions, or have them copy questions into their notebooks. Tell students that for each observation that they make, they should write down the date and answer all questions.
- Using the list of popular news sources your class created (see step 1), assign students to observe each type of media (no more than 5-6 in each group). Each type of media should have the same number of student observers (or as equal as possible). Name the groups according to the type of media, such as “Newspaper” or “Television.” If you have a very large class, it is acceptable to assign the same type of media to more than one group.
- Then assign each student in a media group a number 1-6. Each student will then have both a media type and a number, such as Newspaper 2, Television 2, etc. Create a list like the one below for each group because you will need this information for a future activity.
1. Student Name
2. Student Name
3. Student Name
4. Student Name
5. Student Name
6. Student Name
13. If you plan to use news sources you have gathered prior to class, tell students that they will work in groups to examine news stories and answer the questions from the observation log during the next class period. In the following class, distribute the news sources you have collected to each group and allow students to discuss and answer the questions.
For next week’s Teacher’s Corner activity, students will participate in a jigsaw activity to share their media observations (whether done at home or in class). Students will analyze the information to look for commonalities in how news is reported across different media outlets.
APPendix: Media Observation questions
1. What issues, events, or topics are discussed in the news story?
2. Is the story written by a recognizable journalist or produced by a known media outlet?
3. What facts or figures are presented?
4. Can you check the facts and figures? Where could you check the information for accuracy? If you cannot verify the information, why not?
5. If quotes or ideas from other people are included, is the source named?
6. Are there any people involved in the news story? Who? How does the news story portray the people involved? Do you think this is a fair and accurate representation?
7. Does the news story address multiple opinions or perspectives on the topic? What opinions are included? What might be missing?
8. Did this news story leave you with any unanswered questions about the topic, event, or issue? What are the questions? Was there anything that you believe was left out of the news story?
Last week in Teacher’s Corner, we shared a set of media observation questions for students to use to reflect on content presented by different news media outlets. This week’s jigsaw activity will allow students to analyze what they observed and share ideas with classmates.
Jigsaw sharing Activity
Time: About 60 minutes to give instructions, transition, and complete the jigsaw
Goals: To read, write, speak and listen in English while reflecting and discussing with classmates.
- Students’ news media observations
- Student notebooks
- Device for keeping time
- Be sure that students come to class prepared with their completed observations by reminding them several days in advance.
- Review the list of groups from the previous activity. Each student should have observed a specific type of media (the group name) and have an assigned number.
- Begin by asking students to take out their observations. Tell students that they will read all of their observations and note any common themes or issues by circling key phrases or questions. If necessary, give students examples such as “I noticed that when immigration was reported on, the focus was always on crime,” or “Stories about weather often mentioned climate change.” Give students about ten minutes to complete this task.
- Students may also want to pay attention to topics that were not covered. For example, “Positive stories about immigrants were hard to find,” or “Many news segments made me wonder why there was little discussion of climate change.”
- After students have analyzed their own observations, remind them of their group assignments from the previous activity. If needed, share the list and remind students of their group name and their individually assigned number.
- Tell students, “Now you will join your classmates who also observed the same type of news media that you did. Select one person to be the recorder and take notes as everyone shares information. Group members should each briefly share the common issues or questions they noted from their own observations. Be sure that the recorder writes down all the ideas. You will have 15 minutes to share and record responses.”
- Have students move to their groups. Designate areas of the classroom if needed and set a timer for 15 minutes. Move around the room and listen to the group discussions. Answer any questions or clarify any information as needed and ensure that all groups are on track with the task.
- When the timer stops, have students turn their attention back to you. Say, “Now you will have ten minutes as a group to review all of the ideas your recorder wrote down. From these ideas, your group should create a list of 5-10 key issues or questions raised by your particular news source. Everyone should write down this list in their notebooks.” Answer any questions students may have.
- Set the timer for ten minutes. Move around the room and listen to the group discussions. Answer any questions or clarify any information as needed and ensure that all groups are on track with the task.
- Once the timer stops, have students turn their attention back to you. Confirm that every individual student has their group’s list of 5-10 key issues or questions written in their personal notebook.
- Explain that students will now meet in number groups so that everyone has a chance to interact with students who observed different news sources. Verify that all students know the number they are assigned. Designate specific areas of the classroom for each number group if needed. Have students move to their number groups and turn their attention to you.
- Say, “Now that you are in a group with students who observed different news sources, everyone will share the key issues and questions they recorded in their notebooks. As everyone shares, if you hear something that is similar to what your first group wrote down, make a note of it in your notebook. Our goal in this conversation is to discover common issues or questions raised by the different types of news sources we observed. You will have ten minutes for everyone in the group to share.”
- Answer any questions students may have. Set the timer for ten minutes. During the activity, move around the room and listen to the group discussions. Answer any questions or clarify any information as needed and ensure that all groups are on track with the task.
- When the timer goes off, explain to students that as they just did before in their first group, they will now create a list of key issues or questions. The difference is that now the list will include issues and questions raised across news sources. Tell students that they will have 10 minutes to complete this task.
- Groups should designate a recorder who will write down the list in his or her notebook. All members should share any common ideas they noted during the round of individual sharing. From these ideas, students should select 5-10 common issues or questions and create a final list that everyone will write in their notebooks.
- When the timer goes off, verify that all ideas have been recorded. Explain to students that the next step will be to create a poster explaining the key issues or questions raised across news sources.
During the next class meeting, students will create a poster in their number groups and present it to the class. The whole class will discuss the issues and questions raised across different news sources.
So far this month in the Teacher’s Corner, students have learned about characteristics of high-quality news, conducted individual observations of different news sources, and shared findings with classmates. Students also looked for common issues and concerns about content across different news sources.
This week, students will use the lists of common issues they created in their number groups to create posters. The posters will communicate the key issues and questions that came up across different news sources in group discussions. Then, students will participate in a gallery walk and class discussion.
Gallery Walk and Reflection
Time: 30 minutes to give instructions and have number groups create posters. 15 minutes for the gallery walk. 10-15 minutes for a follow-up discussion.
Goals: To communicate and write in English while working in groups to create posters. To read in English while participating in the gallery walk. To speak and listen in English during a class discussion. To reflect on positive and negative aspects of reporting by news sources.
- Students’ notebooks containing lists from previous activities.
- Chart paper or poster paper
- Tape or another means of displaying posters
- Chalk or whiteboard markers
- Device for keeping time
- In order to provide students with a model of what is expected during the poster-making activity, create an example poster. The poster should contain common issues noted during the news media observations such as specific topics that are often covered, topics that receive very little news reporting, identification of sources, portrayal of certain groups of people, etc. To add interest, include visuals or illustrations.
- Begin by telling students that they will create a poster with their number groups. Share your example poster, and ask students to name some of the issues they see represented.
- Tell students, “Today you will work in your number groups and use the list you created during the jigsaw activity to make a poster. Your poster should contain the most common issues or questions your group found across different news sources. Be sure to include all of the items on your list. Add illustrations or other visuals to make the poster more interesting. You will have 20 minutes to work together on this task. Make sure that everyone is participating and sharing the work.”
- Set the timer for 20 minutes. Move around the room and monitor each group’s progress. Answer any questions or clarify information as needed, and ensure that all groups are on track with the task.
- When the timer goes off, have students direct their attention back to you. Supply students with tape to hang posters, or display the posters by laying them on tables or desks so that they can easily be seen. Next to each poster, place a blank piece of poster or chart paper for students to write comments.
- Distribute a marker to each student, if you have enough, or tell students to use their pencils. Say, “You will now participate in a gallery walk. During this activity, you will walk around the room, read each poster, and reflect on the ideas you see. Next to each poster is a blank page for you to write any response you may have. You can write down something you agree with or that you also observed during your media observations. You can write something that you disagree with, or even a question that you think of. There is no right or wrong response and you do not have to sign your name. Be sure that you visit each poster in the room and write a comment. You will have fifteen minutes to visit all of the posters.”
- Set a timer for fifteen minutes. During this time, you can participate in the gallery walk yourself by adding comments at each poster. Remind students that since they are reading and reflecting, they should not be talking during the activity.
- When the timer goes off, have students stop where they are in the room. Give instructions by saying, “Now you should take a moment to read the comments on the poster that your group made. Without talking, return to your poster and you will have a few minutes to read the comments and responses left by your classmates. When you have finished, please return to your own desk.”
- Provide students a few minutes to read the comments left on their posters. Set a timer if desired.
- Once everyone has returned to their seats, ask students to open their notebooks. Tell students they will have three minutes to list the top five issues they saw from all of the posters in the room. Set the timer for three minutes.
- When time is up ask, “Who can share one issue or question they noticed from today’s gallery walk?” Allow students time to respond. You can record the list on the board as students share ideas.
- Once everyone has had a chance to contribute and you have a list, ask students to get into pairs or groups of three. Write the questions below on the board. Tell students they will have ten minutes to respond to the questions as a group and write answers in their individual notebooks:
- What do you think are the top three concerns our class observed in different news sources? Compare your ideas and agree on three concerns.
- What questions should a person ask when taking in news from any source? Write three to five questions.
- Do you believe it is important for people to think critically about the news? Why or why not?
- When time is up, confirm that all groups have completed the task. Once everyone is finished, ask students to volunteer to share their responses to each of the questions. Students can respond to each other’s ideas by agreeing, disagreeing, or elaborating.
- Conclude the discussion and remind students that when they are reading, watching, or otherwise consuming the news, they should think about the questions they wrote in step 11.
- Have students write a personal reflection essay on the third question in step 11. They can submit the paper for a grade.
- Plan a class debate about the third question in step 11. Half of the class can take the position that it is not important for people to think critically about the news, while the other half adopts the position that it is important. Have students develop their arguments and participate in a structured debate.
- Students can create a public service announcement about how to think critically about the news media. This can be a skit, a commercial recorded with a mobile device, an infographic, or any other format your students would like to work in or think would be effective. Have students perform or present their products to the class.
Thinking critically about the news we consume is not an easy skill to teach and it takes time to develop. However, the activities presented in this month’s Teacher’s Corner are a good starting point to help students discover why close examination of news reports is important. Once your students become familiar with the concepts addressed in this month’s activities, you can incorporate media literacy throughout the school year. The more students have a chance to apply this type of thinking, the more likely they will be to use it independently in their own lives.