Fake News – Analyzing Online Information

Letters spelling out fake news on scrabble tiles.

Identifying Fake News and Online Hoaxes

Are your students able to identify fake news or online hoaxes when they see them online? 

The internet is filled with altered images, hoax sites and fake news articles.  This makes it hard for all of us – students and teachers alike – to know if what we are reading is true. Researching information is an important skill for students for college and career. 

You can help your students think like professional “fact checkers” by teaching them to think critically about what they find on the internet.

Students need to know how to tell credible information from what is purely made up. Social media often contains false, biased or altered pictures and information that students accept as true information.

Learning how to tell the difference between reliable and unreliable information is an essential skill.

One way to help students check the reliability of what they find online is by reading laterally. To read laterally, students read other articles about the source before deciding whether the source can be trusted or not.

How to Read Laterally

To read laterally, first open multiple browsers and check what others are saying about the same topic. 

If students find discrepancies during lateral reading, then students should investigate further to avoid falling for fake news or organizations with narrow agendas.

A great resource you might consider is the website Stanford History Education Group. This site  has lots of information on how to help students improve their media literacy skills.

Another excellent website that contains a vast amount of information on media literacy is the News Literacy Project.

Check out the New Literacy Project’s Checkology lesson to help students understand how and why conspiracy theories develop and why they are compelling for people.

You can use the information found on these sites to teach your students the skills they need to ask questions and protect themselves against “fake news” and unreliable information.

Reliability of Sources

Students should look carefully at who is providing the information.  Is this a reliable and trustworthy source? Is the organization reputable and well known in the content area? If not, they may be looking at fake news.

What is the website url?  Having an unusual website address that includes “.com” with additional letters after can often provide a clue that the website is may be biased or contain misinformation. . 

Even using this suggestion cannot identify sites that are less than reputable. Sources that have “org” or “edu” or “gov”  in their url may be more credible but even this is not always a fool-proof way to determine ithe reliability of the information posted there.

Asking the Right Questions

There is a better way to fact check the credibility of information found online. If only one site provides a specific piece of information, then students must research further to determine whether the information is factual.

Is the author an expert in his or her field? How do you know? What is his or her background? What kind of an organization do they work for?

Does the author have expertise in this topic? Students should check the “about us” page to learn about the company or the author’s background and credentials. Who created the website? What are their possible biases?

Students should do more research about the organization and the author to see if the information gives any more clues on their reliability as an expert on the topic.

Can the author be contacted if the reader has questions about the information in the article? In fake news stories, there is often no way to contact the author or organization to ask questions or verify facts.

Is the information on an anonymous social media post from someone claiming to be an authority? Is there any evidence provided that can be verified with other sources?

When students understand how to verify information, they are less likely to fall victim to fake news, conspiracy theories or misinformation.

Validity of Claims and Arguments

Does the writer make bold claims but fail to cite sources or provide documentation to back up any claims?

By searching multiple sources students will be able to spot problems with the information being provided. When was the article written? Has the article been updated? Are there charts, pictures, videos or other forms of data to back up the key points the author is making?  Is the information merely the author’s opinions? Does the article list references that can be searched to support the facts?

Are there several other websites that provide conflicting information when compared to the information found on this website? When a student searches for the author of the website, are there negative reviews that come up?If so, verify the information with other sites.

Fact Checking Tools

Suggest that students check fact check websites such as:  www.Snopes.com, https://firstdraftnews.org,  or www.factcheck.org to see if the information has been verified or debunked by one of these fact checking websites.

Google provides it’s own tool called Fact Check Explorer. Students can use this tool to fact check information from the web about a topic or a person. You can access this tool at: https://toolbox.google.com/factcheck/explorer

Students can even read about recent fact checking reports by clicking on the “Recent Fact Checks” tab on the page.

To see if images may have been altered, students can conduct a reverse image search on Google. Another option is to use a website such as https://tineye.com  to find similar images online. 

Your students can also download a Fake Image Detector for Chrome or Firefox browsers.

2 newspapers on a table with a cup of coffee
Misinformation, Conspiracy Theories and “Fake” News is a Growing Problem on the Internet

Conclusion for Fake News

It is vital that students understand how to do effective research when they are online.

Students need to know how to determine whether what they are reading is true and verifiable. At some of the websites that provide resources for teachers, such as the  News Literacy project, you can learn even more about how fake news, misinformation and disinformation is eroding truth and reliability in our society.

Another helpful website for excellent information on fake news is https://www.kqed.org. This organization provides classes for teachers on identifying fake news. This organization maintains an excellent YouTube channel with student-friendly videos. You can use these tools t to help students understand misinformation and fake news.

While online media may flag some sources of misinformation or disinformation, it does not catch everything.

Fake news, online hoaxes, conspiracy theories and the deliberate distribution of misinformation abounds.

Unfortunately, unreliable information and “fake news” are not going away anytime soon. For this reason, it is important to help students develop a critical eye when reading online.

We must train our students to think like fact checkers so that they do not fall victim to misinformation, lies, conspiracy theories and downright false information when they surf the web.

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Helping Students Become Better Writers

Helping students become better writers and thinkers is an important goal of every ELA teacher.

We all know that many of our students struggle with writing. In fact, many students groan at the mere mention of having to put thoughts to paper.

The more we can provide relevance and authentic purpose for writing in our classrooms, the more interest our students will have in becoming better writers.

Teen girl writing on a piece of paper.

Teens Supporting Other Teens to Become Better Writers

I recently learned about an interesting website called www.writetheworld.com.

The resources found at this site would definitely help students between the ages of 13-18 become better writers. The site is a community of writers for students from all over the world.

Write the World encourages students to write more, write well, and write collaboratively with other students. Students can earn special badges along the way as they build their writing portfolios.

Students can join writing groups. They can also participate in other fun activities where they can become better writers thorough feedback and support from their peers. There are also writing guidelines available for student use.

Tools for the Classroom to Help Students Become Better Writers

On Write the World, teachers will find writing prompt ideas, writing guidelines, lesson plans, and competitions to spark student interest in writing.

You will find a range of tools and resources to create a lively writing community in your classroom.

You can create a writing group for your students and use the special writing prompts they provide. These prompts can not only help your student become better writers, they can also improve their thinking skills.

You can integrate the global platform into your regular curriculum and enable your students to qualify for prizes, and special awards.

The site also allows you to connect your students to peer or expert reviewers for feedback.

As an author, I love this site! 

I would have loved sharing my writing with a supportive community like this when I was a student. I am sure your students would be interested in having others read their work as well.

How many budding authors might you have in your classroom?

Be sure to check it out and see if it might help your students become better writers as well.

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How to Enhance Student Reading with Audio Books

Smiling, young boy with headphones.
Listening to Audio books can build comprehension and vocabulary.

Reading is a Participation Sport

Our students don’t always have the best listening skills so helping them strengthen listening skills can not only benefit their listening skills, it can also benefit their reading skills. 

Summer is a good time to encourage students to now only read but to also listen to audible books when they are looking for something to do during those long, hot summer days.

When school is not in session, it is likely that if your students don’t “use it” they will “lose it” – their reading skills – that is. 

Reading is a “participation sport” and like any other sport – basketball, hockey or swimming – the more you practice, the better you become.

One of the first suggestions to give parents to maintain and develop student reading skills over the summer is to encourage their children to keep reading. 

While many students can’t wait to go to the library and select summer reading books, many struggling readers do not share their enthusiasm. 

A fun way to grab their attention is to get children busy with exciting audio books over the summer vacation months. They can provide many hours of entertainment as well as educational development. 

Audio books can be listened to at home or even taken in the car on summer road trips.

With the right audio book selections, the whole family may even be able to listen to the presentation while traveling in the car, hiking or even relaxing at the beach.

Audio Books Strengthen Reading and Listening Skills

Audio books may be the perfect solution for struggling readers who have not yet developed reading proficiency.

We all listen at a higher level than what we may be able to read on our own. As a result, listening to interesting audio books helps students develop a stronger sense of story and it also builds vocabulary by exposing students to a wide variety of words in context.

By listening to audio books on topics that students enjoy, many are astonished to find that books contain interesting information.

By listing to entertaining audio books, students realize that books can be enjoyable, entertaining as well as informative.

When struggling students are learning to read, they often have difficulty with decoding what they are reading. When that happens, they spend most of their cognitive energy simply trying to identify the words.

Spending so much mental energy on decoding may prevent students from being able to process textual meaning. That is why some struggling readers finish reading yet have no idea what they have read.

Audio books allow students to listen to the story without stumbling over decoding.

Listening to audio books allows students to put their mental energy toward making sense of what they are reading. It improves their listening skills and helps them see how stories are constructed.

By listening to a story rather than struggling to read it, students retain more of the information from the text.

Another benefit of listening to audio books is that it expands vocabulary.

This can be a huge plus for struggling readers who may need more work on growing their vocabulary storehouse.

They can also help English language learners strengthen their English skills as well as listening skills.

Student listening to headphones while walking in a forest with yellow leaves on the trees.
Stories are Easy to Use On-the-Go

Where to Find Audio Books to Build Listening Skills

The public library in most cities is a great source of free audio books to enhance listening skills.

Talk to the librarian to see what resources you might be able to find that will interest your child.

There are also many websites that offer audio stories. Some examples are: Storynory.com for younger children or Audio Book Sync for teens.

Spotify offers streaming of some good books for times when students are sticking around the house or want entertainment to take with them.

Amazon’s Audible runs summer specials and offers free books for students so be sure to check with them as well.

Audiobooks are not just for struggling readers. Students who are college-bound can build their background knowledge of classic books like Pride and Prejudice or Othello to prepare themselves for college.

Teachers working with students during summer school can also take advantage of these online audio selections for their students.

If students have access to the book being read aloud, encourage them to follow along with the words printed on the page.

This helps struggling readers link the words on the page to what they are hearing. By connecting the words on the page and the words they are hearing, struggling readers can strengthen their reading skills.

As parents and teachers, we are all aware of those “I don’t know what to do with myself” summer blues.  Encouraging our students to Listen to inviting audio books may just be the answer. 

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