Knowing the difference between fact and opinion is an important skill for media literacy. Here’s how you can teach your kids the difference.
Key Points at a Glance:
- Facts are statements that contain verifiable or indisputable information. Opinions are statements that share beliefs, interpretations, or judgments over a subject.
- To teach children the difference between facts and opinions, parents can show how statements are structured. They can also help their kids analyze how news articles and columns are written.
- There are several things that parents and kids can do to spot fake news on the web.
The vastness of media channels today has paved the way for “citizen journalism.” With people playing an active role in sharing information, news travels fast and wide. However, with such dynamic resources, it becomes harder to distinguish the truth.
Today, it’s clear why children need to learn how to spot facts from opinions. Gadgets are now portals to an overwhelming mass of information. They’re more vulnerable to believing anything they see on the internet.
How can you teach your kids to see the differences between facts and opinions? First, you need to be able to tell the difference yourself.
Fact vs. Opinion
Facts and opinions influence the way children (and adults) perceive information. It also shapes the way people think about media and news distribution.
- Facts – Facts are statements, usually news, that contain verifiable information. These also relay indisputable data based on research or universal truth.
- Opinions – Opinions are personal beliefs, interpretations, or judgments over a certain issue. These vary from person to person, making verification impossible.
Teaching the Differences Between Facts and Opinions
Note that while it may sound like facts are the better forms of statements, that’s not entirely true. Even opinions can use facts to support a statement. For example, a columnist may state an opinion then list facts that influenced this point of view.
Kids need to spot these differences because some opinions tend to mislead. Some may also contain harmful information often disguised as an advertisement. Here are some ways to discern which statements are factual and which ones simply reflect what a person thinks about the subject.
Study the Framing of Statements
It’s easier to spot facts and opinions if there are textual clues. Most fact-based statements often include credible sources. These may include phrases such as “According to…” or “The research finds that…”
For opinions, it often starts with phrases that express a personal take (“I think,” “For me,” “In my opinion,” “I believe,” and so on).
Note that some opinions may not explicitly state these textual clues. It’s better to dive deeper into analysis to find out.
Analyze Columns and News Articles
Gather news articles from credible publications and do the same with columns. For news articles, tell your child to list the facts they see. Then allow them to do future research to verify each fact.
For columns, study the structure and see how columnists share their opinions. Some publications are clear in stating that a certain column is an opinion column. While there is nothing wrong with columns like these (it can help readers see an issue from a different perspective), readers need to be aware of the nature of these written pieces.
Writers differ in how they present information, so it’s a good practice to analyze how they support their statements.
Research Speeches from Prominent Figures
Find some speeches and determine if their statements are fact-based. The best examples are the speeches made by politicians and other powerful figures.
Use their speeches to gather claims and determine if they are factual. You can also help your child find corroborating sources to verify the claims. This will teach them to think critically and not believe everything they read or hear. Plus, it also hones their research skills, something they’ll need as they continue their studies.
Fake News: Spotting Common Signs
It’s important to know facts vs. opinions because of the prevalence of fake news. These are more common on online platforms like social media. Look for these signs to spot fake news:
- Untrusted or unknown web address
- Old date
- No corroboration in sources
- A headline with an obvious bias
- Headlines that sensationalize a story
Some statements aim to present another perspective, while others aim to cause harm. Teaching kids the difference between what’s fact and what’s not is vital not only for media literacy, but also for raising responsible digital citizens. We hope this guide helps you teach your child how to become more aware of how information is presented, and how they can sift through what’s factual and what’s simply a matter of opinion.
Gallagher, K., & Magid, L. (2021, July 27). Parent & educator guide to media literacy & fake news. Connect Safely. https://www.connectsafely.org/fakenews/
Wojcicki, E. (2020, October 8). Teaching Fact vs. Opinion: Tips, Activities, and Resources. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. https://www.hmhco.com/blog/teaching-fact-versus-opinion