As a busy election season always seems to demonstrate, learning how to tell fact vs. opinion is not only a skill that will serve students across the curriculum and on standardized tests, but also throughout their lives. This is especially true in an information-driven world where anyone can disseminate “facts” via tweets, Wikipedia entries or blog posts. With that in mind, here are some of our favorite ways to teach this valuable skill at every grade level.
In Grades K–2:
- Write simple facts and opinions on strips of paper, such as “Ice cream is made of milk and sugar” and “Vanilla ice cream is the best.” Have students sort the strips into two piles, “true for everyone” and “not true for everyone.”
- Invite students to make charts showing facts and opinions from their own lives. For example: “I have three brothers and sisters” or “Beverly Cleary is my favorite author.” Have partners read these statements to one another and decide which are facts and which are opinions.
In Grades 3–5:
- Teach students about opinion “trigger words,” such as believe, think feel, always, never and none. Invite students to search for these words in newspaper editorials and in regular articles. Which kinds of stories have more opinion trigger words?
- Study examples of persuasive writing and show students how writers use facts to support their opinions by highlighting opinions in one color and supporting facts in another.
In Grades 6–8:
- Discuss how nonfiction writers bring their own biases and opinions to what they write. You might read two picture book biographies of the same person to illustrate this point. How do the two writers portray the subject in a different light?
- Watch a clip from a presidential debate and have small groups choose three statements made by each candidate to research further. Are the statements factual? If not, why do students think the candidates chose to include that information?
In Grades 9–12:
- Go on a Twitter scavenger hunt, where students analyze the last several tweets of a politician, writer or other figure and decide which are facts and which are opinions, performing additional research if necessary.
- Challenge students to bring in examples of opinions that are presented as facts from news stories, blog posts or elsewhere online. Discuss how and why the writer made the choice to convey the information the way that he or she did.
Question for you: How do you teach students to tell the difference between fact and opinion?