Detecting Bias: Quick and Easy Lesson Applications for Practicing this Essential Skill (Part 1)

In the ongoing battle between serious, fact-based interpretation of current events and the onslaught of “fake news” stories being spread throughout social media (and beyond),debate headlines 21st century social studies teachers face a daunting task.  How can we possibly help students develop the necessary skills in order navigate the confusing blizzard of information they encounter on a daily basis?  Even still, who has enough hours in the day to both cover all the required content and engage in current events activities that encompass more than reading an article and answering a few questions?

As a veteran teacher believe me, I feel your pain.  My colleague Joe Zlatnik and I have spent time the past few years talking with teachers throughout the country about how they address bias in their classrooms.  The consensus we have heard is that most teachers don’t address it since they don’t have time to teach “current events.”  With this in mind we developed a set of simple activities that can help kids practice the skill of detecting bias within the framework of US and World history courses.  I will explain one of these activities in this first part of a three part series.

Activity #1: What’s in a Name?

A key part of helping students identify bias in contemporary news stories involves practice in reading and analyzing story headlines.  8th Grade American History class offers a very similar opportunity when studying the Civil War.  After spending time discussing the causes of the war and the varying explanations for why it took place, present the students with this list of regional names for the Civil War.

  • The War of Northern Aggression
  • The Second American Revolution
  • The Southern Rebellion
  • The War for States’ Rights
  • Mr. Lincoln’s War
  • The War for Abolition
  • The War to Suppress Yankee Arrogance
  • The War for the Union

Instruct the students to try and guess what part of the country each name comes from.  After all the students have guessed, challenge the kids to try and connect each name with those causes of the war discussed in class.  This activity is quick, helps kids practice the skill of detecting bias, and reviews the causes of the Civil War.  I hope it helps!

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