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Lesson 2.3: Facts vs. Opinions
Developed by Lisa Greeves
Students will learn the difference between substantiated news facts and informed opinions, the difference between news items and editorial content, and where examples of each type typically can be found in today’s information outlets.
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:
· Understand the difference between facts and opinions;
· Identify when a new item is supported by facts
· Understand opinion should use research to help inform it
· Identify news items and opinion items as they appear in today’s information sources.
Make copies of worksheets A and B for students.
Ask: What’s the difference between “fact” and “opinion”?
You may receive several different types of answers. List student answers on the board, and point out when similar answers begin to resurface. Facts can be substantiated by reliable sources with direct knowledge of a situation. Facts can involve numbers, figures, and percentages. Facts can usually be documented in official reports or accounts about the situation. Opinions often rely on a personal reaction to a situation. Opinions are usually informed with some facts, but then move beyond facts into how a particular group is impacted by a situation. Because opinion relies on emotion, the language of opinion may not be as tightly controlled as the language associated with facts.
Ask: How are the opinion sections of a publication or resource related to the news section?
The important thing for students to understand is that true news segments, whether written, televised, or interactive, will rely on facts and sourcing in order to provide information to the reader or viewer. An opinion piece, particularly about a newsworthy issue, will be informed by facts, but will allow one particular stance or viewpoint shine through in order to persuade the reader to agree with the opinion.
Ask: What is a news “blog”?
As the number of news blogs continues to grow every day, students need to understand exactly what one is and what its function is. A news blog is a type of website that features individual commentary about newsworthy issues and that sometimes allows readers to participate in the commentary. Bloggers can be professional writers affiliated with the blog’s parent organization or individuals across the country who create a website to espouse their opinions. The important thing to realize is that blogs often contain compelling opinions about newsworthy items, but they are often user-generated opinions.
Explore and Analyze: Locating and Distinguishing Facts and Opinion
Pass out copies of Worksheet A and B. In this activity, students will procure examples of news article and opinion pieces on the same issue. Students will examine either a newspaper or online news source (ex: The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Richmond Times Dispatch, etc.) and find one example of a news article and one example of an opinion article on the same issue.
Next, students will examine popular online news blogs (ex: Fox News Blog, The Huffington Post, The Daily Nightly, etc.) or another online opinion resource. Select one opinion piece from one of these sources, and then conduct online research to locate another news article in another news source about that particular topic. Print all articles so that you can read and mark them as you work independently on Worksheets A and B.
Discuss Study Findings:
Encourage students to discuss their findings of how fact coverage in news articles differs from the presentation of an informed opinion, and how presentation of a point of view in a news blog differs from a straight news article. Where do they see emotion shining through? What kind of language or vocabulary differences do they see? How much coverage of sides is there in each type? List students’ observations on the board.
Discuss three ways to distinguish fact from opinion in written, video, or interactive sources:
· News items that present the facts will carefully avoid appealing to emotion. Opinion pieces are trying to appeal to the emotion of the reader or viewer. Opinion pieces will try to evoke some kind of reaction (agreement, disagreement, move to action, etc.).
· An opinion piece often uses language that is much more demonstrative, flamboyant, and sometimes inflammatory; that is how it often hooks the emotion of the reader. News items that cover only the facts do not use this kind of language.
· Opinion pieces will often present only one side of an issue, with a small acknowledgement somewhere in the piece of the presence of another side of the issue. A news item that covers the facts will strive to present all of the facts as they are known.
Students will use these three strategies that they’ve developed to help them create their own versions of factual and opinion articles
Divide students into groups of two. Have each group pick one topic from the list below. The pair will conduct research together about the topic. Then the pair will write one in-depth news article (covering 5 W’s and H and So What as well as additional facts), using appropriate attribution and sources and one in-depth informed opinion piece about the same topic. Each article should be about 400 words. Groups need to be cognizant of the three key strategies for identifying fact versus opinion in writing and presentation as they are writing. They should ensure that their piece matches the criteria for fact or opinion. When finished, each pair can read their news and opinion pieces to the class for discussion of how facts versus opinion were handled in each.
· Cuts to your school system’s budget for the current (or next) academic year.
· Rising costs of college tuition in your state.
· Recent decisions about players on one of your region’s sports teams.
· The economy
· A current political debate
Have students draw conclusions about why opinion tends to be a more interesting genre than straight facts. Ask students why it is often easier to fall victim to a well-written or well-produced opinion piece. What must the reader or viewer remember when perusing sources like this?