Fake News / Power of the Media

Lesson 1

Pre-class preparation

On the internet, go to the BBC News homepage and change the 'today's news' story on the BBC prior to this (and only tell them it's been changed at the end of the lesson) to make a spurious reference to the anniversary of 1944. To do this, you can right-click the page, click 'inspect' and then change the HTML code directly.
Alternatively, if you're not sure how to do this, you can simply use the fake news generator at ClassTools.net.

Starter Task (10-15m)

Outline that we will be looking at current affairs as our next PSHCE topic. Show them the spurious 'headline' that you have produced and elaborate that today is the "Anniversary of 1944", which was the year during World War Two when the allies started planning in earnest for the overthrow of Nazi Germany.

Proceed to tell the students that they are about to watch a short clip which will show what life was like for ordinary people during World War Two in England. As they watch this, they should try to gather answers to the following questions:

Proceed to show this clip (3m), maintaining a sombre face (it is a spoof clip with ludicrous answers) and then discuss the answers to the questions.


Afterwards, reveal the fact that it is actually a spoof, produced by a satirist called Chris Morris, who is keen to highlight how easily the media can manipulate our perception of politics and history, and that our topic of study will be the power of the media and the dangers of "Fake News".

Discuss: what sorts of 'tricks' were used to make this documentary seem more reliable than it really was. For example:
Portentous logo | Repectable anchorman | Original footage | Interviews with veterans

Discuss: Can you think of any other techniques used by the media to give themselves more authority?

Task: Where do we get our knowledge of current affairs, and how far can we trust them? (10-15m)

Explain that our understanding of topical events and what is happening in the world is dependent on different sources of information.

Task: Brainstorm the sources of information that provide us with our understanding about topical events. Discuss how these could be ranked in terms of the most IMPORTANT, and why.

Next, tell the students that it's important to determine how far we can trust what we are being told by asking interrogative questions such as who wrote it, and why.

Task: With this in mind, discuss each of the sources on the board giving it a rating out of 10 for reliability (students could do this individually, then in a pair, then share in a class discussion).

Discuss: Finally, look at the ranking again: are those we considered most IMPORTANT also the most RELIABLE, or not? Which are the most reliable/unreliable overall and why?

Task: What should be the limits of a free press in a democracy? (10-15m)

Outline to students that good journalism is written to inform, but can also be written to persuade. So news stories are often a mix of fact and opinion, and are often exaggerated for effect in order to increase sales and to influence public opinion, often with sensationalised stories ("If it bleeds, it leads").

Discuss: On this basis, do you think it is a good idea (or even possible) to limit your intake of news to once per week (e.g. with the "World This Week" podcast from the BBC)?

Discuss: How was the following newspaper trying to influence public opinion in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum? Do you agree that in a free country, newspapers should be free to print whatever stories they wish? If you were going to design a 'code of conduct' for the press, what sorts of things would you include in it?

Extension Task (10m)

If there is sufficient time, you can lighten the mood of the discussion by watching the following 10-minute extract from "Nathan for You" which leads us neatly into a discussion of "Fake News".

Lesson 2

Starter - recap (5m)

Remind students how last lesson we were looking at the power of the media, and how it often sensationalises or even misrepresents current affairs (why?)

This makes it very difficult for politicians to give straight answers to straight questions, because if they do so they find these answers can be turned into damaging headlines.

Initial discussion and recap about the power of the news, if it bleeds it leads, editorial bias and how this hamstrings politicians. This is illustrated in this (rather amusing) clip in which the British Home Secretary, Michael Howard, refuses to answer whether he threatened to overrule a prison governor despite having no authority to do so:

Task: How is "Fake News" different from "biased reporting"? (5-10m)

Ask students what they understand by the term "Fake News".

Discuss: How would you define "Fake News"? TIP: consider not just what it will say, but what the purpose of the author might be.

When students have discussed this question, brainstorm the definitions they have come up with until one is produced that the class is happy with, e.g. "A current affairs story which is not true, designed to provoke a strong - and usually negative - reaction somebody or something".

Discuss: Can you think of any examples of "Fake News"?

Task: Newspapers = Fake News or Real News? (15-20m)

The teacher should deliver the following PowerPoint presentation from The Guardian's NewsWise website, which asks students to guess which stories (all of which were actually reported in the media) were genuine news stories, and which ones turned out to be fictitious.

Extension task: The final slide of the presentation invites students to research each of these stories in more depth and to report back to the class.


Task: Photojournalism = Fake News or Real News? (15-20m)

The teacher should deliver the following PowerPoint presentation, which focuses on the particular problems posed by photographic sources.

Interactive Task (computers required) - up to one hour

Students should now be given a number between 1-6, and directed to the appropriate website activity from this list. They should play their allocated resource for at least 10 minutes, then move on to the next one. In the final part of the lesson, a vote should be taken on which one of the activities they thought was the best overall.

  1. IReporter
  2. Bad News
  3. Reality River: Don't Fall for Fake
  4. Factitious
  5. Spot the Troll
  6. Moondisaster.org

Plenaries / Extensions

Students could generate their own false headline about a news event - or half have to create fake, half real, and then we do a class-based quiz: each news story it brought up onto the screen, and the class votes on whether it is "Fake" or "Real".