What is fact checking and how do you teach it?

This post will help you share this essential skill with your students.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…”

Those opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities seem wildly accurate in describing the our own digital age — especially when it comes to our students.

Students most definitely need help in navigating the wealth (and swamp) of information available on the internet — a good place to start is fact checking.

“It came up first when I googled it.”

A few years ago I was reviewing student work cited sources and came upon an interesting source for a student paper — a website created by a student.

 So…my middle school student was using another student’s website as a resource for information.  Her rationale, “It came up first when I googled it.”

This led to an interesting class discussion.  Who do you trust?  How do you know this is a good source?  Why should you care?  What is at stake?

Hot to get started with Digital Literacy

Improve digital literacy: teach students how to fact check with these easy tools.

Your students may think they are savvy enough to tell fact from fiction.

Step 1: Share this with them to start the discussion:

Have you showed your students the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus website?  

It’s a great way to start a lesson on how easy it is to create a credible-looking website.  

Share with your students the study. A class of seventh graders believed the website was “very credible” and couldn’t find proof that the website was false even after they were told that it was!

Your students will be shocked.  Of course, the study is old, and our today students are wise, right?!

Improve digital literacy: teach students how to fact check with these easy tools.

Step 2: Adults can be fooled too

Even adults get caught not checking facts.  In 2015, Johannes Bohannon released a study that claimed eating chocolate helped people lose weight.  

Bohannon’s “study” was not only intentionally faulty, but it was released in order to see if publishers and news outlets vet information they are going to publish.  

The experiment exposed several news agencies that didn’t check their sources and published the “findings” anyway.  

Because they wanted to be the first on this scoop with its flashy “Chocolate helps you lose weight” headline, publishers disseminated faulty information. This was harmful to the public and the reputation of the publishers.

In spite of our class discussion on fact checking, my students continued to use the “first thing that came up on Google.”  

Give them tools

You’ve probably seen the “CRAAP” acronym for testing a website’s credibility.

It stands for:

  • currency
  • relevance
  • authority
  • accuracy
  • purpose

While you may not want to encourage your students to start using that word in their everyday conversation — they won’t quickly forget it.

Do they know what a fact is?

Make sure you review the difference between fact and opinion.

Sure, we know that by the time students have reached middle school they have had many lessons in this — but opinions can be slippery little devils!

“Buying plastic water bottles helps reduce plastic waste” may sound like a fact.

Give students plenty of time analyzing sentences that are opinions dressed up like facts — allow them to even write their own. Can they fool their classmates?

Keep Working at It!

In spite of our class discussion on fact checking, my students continued to use the “first thing that came up on Google.”  


Fact checking is hard work!  

It’s a rabbit hole of twisty turns and snarly nests!  Have you ever tried to verify a simple quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain?!  You’ll need a machete to cut through the digital jungle of information!

Try this:

Start small.  Ask students to verify information with several sources.  And not just the first thing that pops up in a search.

Make a “Prove It!” poster for your classroom and point to it often!  

Don’t stop challenging students to support their research and challenge their findings.

Ask students to not only research a fact, but research the source. Is the website credible? How do they know?

Build habits. This isn’t just a “teach once and move on” skill. Make this part of your yearlong plan and touch on it often.

Set Digital Learning Goals

What digital skills do you want your students to have gain by being in your class?

A skill as small as “question everything” will go a long way in serving your students as lifelong citizens, consumers, producers, and learners.

If you need support in helping your students gain digital literacy, I have several resources in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.  

Learn more about digital literacy in this related post:  Ways to Strengthen Digital Literacy.

Happiness always,

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