See other articles in this series:
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (1): understanding the fundamentals of media
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (2): the elements of a news story
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 1)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (3): learning to write news copy (part 2)
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (4): learning to research and identify sources of information
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (5): learning to critique the media and spot ‘fake news’
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (6): tips and resources for fact checking
- Teaching kids how to start a newspaper (7): covering magazines and feature stories
In our previous articles on teaching kids how to start a newspaper, we covered a lot about the need to source information, do proper research, and identify fake news.
But in this article, we thought it useful to teach tips and resources for fact checking. Fact checking is something all journalists need to do. While working on fact checking their own articles (as opposed to just critiquing others’), kids can learn what effort goes into producing quality news stories. By learning how to fact check, kids can learn to spot high-standard journalism when they see it.
Aside from learning how to start a newspaper, this lesson is useful in other ways. Fact checking will be a part of writing research papers in virtually any other subject at school or university. Knowing great tips and resources to find information can help students in other classes.
These resources also relate to our article on teaching kids how to debate. We recommend checking out that article too.
Teaching kids tips on fact checking their news articles
Where do we find facts? How do we know that what someone tells us is true? In our article on learning to research and identify sources as journalists, we learned there are multiple ways to gather evidence for a news story. There is primary, secondary and tertiary research.
But let’s say you are interviewing someone for a news story at school, and they give you a ‘fact.’ How do you know it’s true? In our last articles, we mentioned having a curious mind, and consistently asking questions to cover both sides of a story.
Well, the questions need to come up with an answer. Based partly on this article by PolitiFact, here are some tips for teaching kids about verifying sources:
Find more than one source for your news article
Don’t rely on one person to tell you the whole truth. It’s true that journalists can be strapped for time and editorial space in newspapers. Sometimes that means there’s only room for one interview. But in the ideal journalistic world, that’s not the case.
In addition to getting opposing views on a topic, find more than one view of the same side. You’d be surprised what you can learn.
Ask your experts where they got their facts
This is important: asking ‘how do you know?’ Sometimes experts speak out of expertise. But their expertise had to come from some other primary or secondary source. Verify what they’re saying by trying to find that original data.
Teach kids to do an independent fact check with these Canadian fact-checking resources
This is where investigative journalism gets a little bit fun: finding information on your own. Teach kids to use Google’s advanced search functions, per PolitiFact’s advice. There is also Google’s search function to find scholarly articles. While that may be heavy reading for elementary-school kids, it’s good for older students to know about it.
But aside from Google, kids should learn to use their school or local library to find deeper information. It may be interesting to look through old archives of news or records. Perhaps the Who’s Who will help you find a notable expert without an online presence!
A librarian can also give a lesson to your class on how to use library resources to do research. Sometimes, this involves reading books to fact check – imagine that!
And of course, there are sites like FactCheck.org and Snopes.com. However, for a Canadian classroom, those may be a bit limiting. For Canadian sources, teach kids to fact check using:
Statistics Canada – a plethora of data on all things Canada can be found on this site. In fact, it can be a source for more journalistic story ideas! See if your classroom can come up with their own news stories as a separate assignment to fact-checking using this site.
Poynter.org – you’ll need to do some digging, but this is a site for International facts. Here is a search on their site for “Canada.”
FactsCan – the Canadian version of FactCheck.org, mostly focused on politics.
Encyclopedias – these come in many forms, such as The Canadian Encyclopedia, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (also available in French), Britannica Kids (may require a subscription), Historica Canada’s learning tools, and more. Sure Wikipedia is out there, and hotly contested as a reliable source, since anyone can update it. However, kids can learn to start with Wikipedia, and then dig further into cited sources to find more in their quest to fact check.
Research institutes – the sites of organizations that do research can often publish findings in press releases or posts on their sites. If they are listed on government resources, that can be a reliable way to know they are credible. For example, here is a list of research institutes on the website for the Canadian Polar Commission. If you do a Google search for “think tank Canada” you’ll also come up with sources like The Fraser Institute and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Teach kids that fact checking doesn’t stop when you’ve found nothing!
Fact checking only stops when the truth is out! That can be hard, especially if the above sources are not helping your student source the type of news articles they’re writing at school. So it’s ok to help them out with ‘easier’ sources, or to go lenient on them.
As an idea for teaching kids how to decipher quality sources from faulty ones, try ‘planting’ a real story and a fake story at your school. See if the kids can work in groups to find out which school news story is true and which one isn’t. Perhaps they’ll have to chase down teachers in other classrooms for interviews, look for unnamed eyewitnesses, or go on a scavenger hunt in the library to find the truth!
But after they’ve written about a story in their neighbourhood, like we suggested in our first article in this series, see if they can pick up a story that would show up in the National Post or Globe and Mail.
While we’ve given you some resources and tips to teach kids how to fact check, there is always more. Kids need to learn to find their own reliable sources, using the methods of determining fake news from real news. Sometimes, the start of research is in the news itself. But that’s not all – understanding what makes a quality website as a source of information is also important. How do you know the Fraser Institute is real and reliable? There should be clear signs that kids can learn about when you teach this lesson. And a librarian can help, as mentioned above.