In a recent conversation with seventh graders, I asked the students how many of them in the past few days had read a news article on one of their social media sites. Almost every hand went up. As a high school librarian, who also teaches a seventh-grade computer literacy class, I have a unique perspective through which to observe the ways teens and pre-teens retrieve and process information. Although almost all of them have heard the term “fake news” and are aware that misinformation circulates online, few of them actively engage in critically analyzing the continual bits of information they receive throughout each day.
Information literacy has taken on a vital role in 21st-century education. While initially its value was in making sure students were able to gather information responsibly and cite sources correctly, today the crucial element is students’ ability to recognize false information and its implications within the wider realm of their globally connected social and academic networks. With this in mind, it is imperative for us, as librarians, to impart our expertise in locating, evaluating, and synthesizing information.
The following abbreviated lesson ideas can be incorporated into middle school and high school library collaborations, and can be customized as part of units in any subject area:
Responsible Information Gathering Using Search Engines
- Use the search engines Google, Google Books, and Sweet Search to foster critical thinking about the origin, credibility, and usefulness of sources.
- Have students get into groups and search a given topic, using one of the provided search engines. (Questions such as, “What are some buildings in New York City displaying Gothic architecture?” may be used to focus students’ searches.)
- Provide students with a digital graphic organizer to fill in information about the source, author’s purpose, credibility, and whether or not their findings would be acceptable for research.
- Have each group share its findings and discuss the process of their research.
Understanding the Concept of Format in Information Creation
- Use databases, Google, and social media sites to help students understand the role of format in information acquisition.
- Give an overview to students about the ways people create, produce, and distribute information.
- Have students get into groups to analyze a specific piece of information found in a newspaper story, tweet, opinion editorial, or database article.
- Instruct students to determine the author, the author’s purpose in distributing this information, and how this information would look different in an alternative form (print, digital, social media).
Identifying the Idea of Fake News as a Tool Through Which People Can Deceive Others
- Pair reputable and false resources as a point of reference for students.
- In groups, have students analyze two digital resources, one of which is false, to determine their validity.
- Once the “fake news” source is identified, have students speculate about the reasons for the creation of the false information.
- Provide students with the following questions to facilitate their discussion:
- What are the possible motives for creating this digital document?
- What clues lead the information seeker to be wary of the information in this document/website?
- How does the information affect the user’s experience?
- Have students create ideas for fake news stories/websites/social media posts that have the power to affect millions of users. Teachers can use this as part of a final class project.
There is a wealth of information available about information literacy. Here are a few helpful resources:
- Data Skeptic Podcast–this informative and enjoyable podcast has a series of episodes devoted to fake news:
- The AMICAL Consortium Webinar titled “Threshold Concepts and Information Literacy” by Lori Townsend and Silvia Lu
- The TedEd titled “How to Choose Your News” by Damon Brown
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.