How To Help Your Students Spot Fake News

How To Help Your Students Spot Fake News

In the era of fake news and ‘alternative facts’ we need to look closely at the words around us, and we rely on our teachers to help us parse meaning from a barrage of text.  Here's a process for helping your students evaluate the quality of claims, sentence by sentence.

1) Strip the sentence down to the agents, actions, and objects.

Consider the sentence, ‘Winston Smith monumentally defeated the oppressive party.’

If we take out everything but the agents, actions, and objects, we get the skeleton of the sentence:

Winston Smith defeated the party.

2) Interrogate the Adjectives and Adverbs

What did we take out?  The adverb monumentally and the adjective oppressive.

Adjectives and adverbs often spice up a sentence, specifying a noun or qualifying an action.  But what tends to remain unclear for most adjectives and adverbs is the degree and perspective embedded in those words. 

For perspective we may well ask, ‘to whom or by what standard is this party oppressive or this defeat monumental?’  

For degree we may ask, ‘to what extent or relative to what else is this party oppressive or this defeat monumental?’

News that is fake or propagandistic tends to use modifiers that are extremely negative or extremely positive, and it is those words that we should scrutinize carefully.

3) Question the sources of information

Where did the writer get this fact?  Are there other news outlets that are also reporting it?  To evaluate this, we can Google either the original or the modifier-free skeleton of the sentence to discover whether other sources corroborate this information.  

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