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How to spot fake news


by Michael Johnson


How to spot fake news

There has been a lot of talk lately about “fake news” because it has been particularly prevalent during the recent 2016 Presidential election campaign. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media sites and 44 percent get their news specifically from Facebook. Nearly 90 percent of millennials regularly get news from Facebook. In addition, a recent study from Stanford University revealed that many teens have difficulty analyzing the news; 82 percent of middle school students surveyed couldn’t tell the difference between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a legitimate news story.  

This lesson provides an opportunity for students to learn what fake news is, differentiate it from other types of news (including satirical, misleading and tabloid news), develop strategies for spotting fake news and consider what can be done about the proliferation of fake news.


  • Students will reflect on their own experiences with and preferences of their news sources.
  • Students will show they understand what “fake news” is and identify strategies for differentiating real and fake news.
  • Students will explore what can be done to be better consumers of news and what else they can do for their school, community and society about fake news.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.6 Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.11-12.5 Analyze and evaluate the effectiveness of the structure an author uses in his or her exposition or argument, including whether the structure makes points clear, convincing, and engaging.


100 minutes

Materials / resources

Blackboard or whiteboard

Teacher laptop and digital projector

Internet access

Panetta homework


Information to share with students

How to spot fake news

Lesson step-by-step Day 1

Step 1 — Warm-up: Activity I: What is the News and How Do We Get it? (15 minutes)

  1. Ask students: What is news? Elicit a definition of news as a printed, broadcast or digital (i.e.  technological) report of factual information about important events in the world, country or local area.” You can print this on the board/smart board if you think it would be helpful.
  2. Ask students: Where do you get your news? Explain that we get our news from a variety of sources and show students that some of those sources are written on pieces of paper around the classroom. Read aloud the six signs as follows: (1) Social Media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, YouTube), (2) Online News Website, (3) Television News, (4) Radio/Podcasts, (5) Newspaper/Magazines and (6) Friends and Family. Answer any questions students may have about the categories. Then have students think for a minute about the news source where they get the most news or one that they like the best. Ask them to move to the part of the room with the sign designating their preferred news source. Give a few minutes for students to situate themselves.
  3. When students are in their chosen parts of the room, have them talk with each other about (1) why they like using that news source and (2) what are some of the limitations/negatives of that news source. Have them designate one person as the recorder to report back to the rest of the class what they discussed in their groups.  
  4. Have each group report back to the class what they discussed in their groups, focusing on why they like their chosen news source and identifying its limitations/negatives.

Step 2 — Activity II: Turn and Talk: Real News or Fake News? (35 minutes)

  1. Engage in a brief discussion by asking: What did you notice about the different news sources, what we liked and the limitations of each? After hearing about the other news sources, did it make you feel differently about the news source you picked (please explain)?
  2. Explain to students there has been a lot of talk lately about “fake news,” especially around the 2016 Presidential Election. Ask students: What is fake news? What is a fake news site? Elicit and explain that fake news websites publish untrue or fake information to drive web traffic to the site. The goal is to mislead readers to believe the stories and to make money through advertising. Social media sites are used to spread the fake news. Also, explain that there are some fake news sites that contain factual news stories that are used to camouflage the fact that other news stories are untrue and fake.
  3. Share examples of fake news and real news by having students access three examples of news stories.

After accessing each example, have students jot down the title of the news story, whether they think it’s fake or real, and at least three reasons for why. As you share the websites, make sure to scroll around the website and highlight the web address, logo, contact information, story author, etc. to give students a sense of everything on the website in order to best assess it.  

  1. After going through each of the examples, have students turn and talk to a person sitting next to them and together, come up with a general list of how they know a news story is real and why they might suspect a news story is fake. They can create a chart for recording their answers as follows:
How You Know It’s Real Why You Suspect/Know It’s Fake


  1. Engage students in a discussion by asking the following question:
  • Was it easy or difficult to determine whether the news was fake or real? Explain.
  • What were some clues that the news was not true?
  • How did you feel when you found a news story was fake if you originally thought it was real?

Lesson step-by-step Day 2

Step 1: Reading (20 minutes)

  1. Link to the article How to Spot Fake News and give students 10–15 minutes to read it silently (do not assign for homework the night before).
  2. After students have read the article, engage them in a class discussion by asking the following questions:
  3. What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
  • Have you ever used any of the strategies discussed in the article? Please explain.
  • Why do you think fake news is created?
  • What are the dangers of fake news?
  • How might you think differently about news after reading the article?

Step 2: Discussion (10 minutes)

Ask students: What can we do about fake news? What can we do individually and what might we do with others in our school or larger community? Create a brainstormed list which may include some of the following and divide the ideas into two categories — “What I can do to spot fake news?” and “What I can do to educate my school, community and society about fake news?”  

  • Triple check news sources
  • Look for clues
  • Teach others how to spot fake news
  • Use only certain news sources
  • Google the news story and see if it is included on other news sources that I know
  • Don’t get news only from social media
  • Write letters to social media sites to get them to crack down on fake news
  • Use fact-checking websites such as,, The Washington Post Fact Checker and

Step 3: Writing (20 minutes)

Have students write a short synopsis about what they learned about fake news, their best strategies for spotting fake news and/or what we can do as individuals or as a community/society about fake news. They should write their piece as either a Facebook post (that they are sharing with their followers, to inform them) or as a short blog post (which then you could publish later on a class blog). Have students complete their writing as a homework assignment. Have students share their writing with the class and if not completed, share the first few sentences.


Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Revisit
Student understands what fake news is and can identify it.
Student can tell the difference between real news vs. fake news
Student short synopsis about what they learned about fake news.


Information to share with students

  • There is a difference between (1) fake news, which is explained above, (2) misleading news, which often contains some truth including a fact, event or quote that has been taken out of context; these can be difficult to debunk, (3) satirical news, which will often cover current events and then satirize the tone and content of traditional news, using humor, sarcasm and falsities; a good example of satire news is The Onion. Satirical news does not intend to mislead and profit from readers believing the stories as true, and (4) tabloid news, which is a style of news that emphasizes sensational crime stories, gossip columns about celebrities.
  • According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media and 44 percent get their news from Facebook specifically. Of those who get news on at least one of the social media sites, the majority (64 percent) get their news on just one platform, most commonly Facebook. In addition, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram news users are more likely to get their news online mostly “by chance,” while they are online doing other things. Nearly 90 percent of millennials regularly get news from Facebook.
  • A recent study called Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online revealed that teenagers may have some difficulty analyzing the news. Eighty-two percent of middle school students surveyed couldn’t tell the difference between an ad labeled “sponsored content” and a legitimate news story.
  • Fake news has been particularly prevalent during the recent 2016 Presidential election campaign. The top Google news link for “final election results” was from a fake-news site called “70 News,” which “reported” that Donald Trump had won both the electoral and popular vote. The Washington Post pointed out that it isn’t true. New web sites designed to trick and mislead people pop up every day.
  • Fake news creators make money in very similar ways from how traditional news companies make money, from advertisements. They have display advertising for which they receive a small portion (i.e. a few cents) for every person who visits that page. Their goal is to get the news to go viral so a lot of people will visit; more social shares mean more page views which result in more money. Among a growing group of Macedonian teenagers, the most successful of those creating fake news sites can earn up to $5,000 a month.
  • Because a lot of the fake news appears and is shared through Google and Facebook, they have taken steps to do something about it. Google announced that it will prohibit “misrepresentative content” from appearing on its advertising network. Facebook says it will not place ads from fake news publishers on third party apps or websites, because the content falls under the broader category of “illegal, misleading or deceptive” content.

Works Cited

American News. (2017, May 29). ALERT: Bananas Being Injected With HIV Blood … Here’s How You Can Tell. Retrieved from American News:

Anti-Defamation League. (2017, May 21). What is Fake News? Retrieved from Anti-Defamation League: (2017, May 21). Name-calling. Retrieved May 21, 2017, from

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

NC Civic Education Consortium. (2017, May 21). Propaganda and Spin. Retrieved from StudyLib:—database-of-k

Panetta, L. E. (2001, September 9). The Price of ‘Spin’ versus the ‘Truth’. Retrieved from The Monterrey County Herald:

Robertson, E. K. (2016, november 18). How to Spot Fake News. Retrieved from

Rustling, J. (2016, November 11). Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The National Anthem At All Sporting Events Nationwide. Retrieved from ABC News:

The Associated Press. (2016, November 28). Dylann Roof, Charleston Church Shooting Suspect, Can Act as His Own Attorney. Retrieved from

Weiss, L. (2001, September 10). American Political Spin Cycle Is Out of Control. Retrieved from The Utah Daily Chronicle Archive:

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