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Lesson Plans

What is the difference between mis- and disinformation?

November 16, 2020

A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. Capitalizing on spying tools believed to have been developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, hackers staged a cyber assault with a self-spreading malware that has infected tens of thousands of computers in nearly 100 countries. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration

Full Lesson


For a Google doc of this lesson, click here. Note: You will need to make a copy of the google doc to use it.

What’s the difference between misinformation and disinformation? asks Dr. Sam Wineburg, head of the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). “It’s big.” If you come across a tweet that purposely used a fake headline (disinformation) and you sent it to a friend, you would be responsible for spreading incorrect or made up information (misinformation) and your friend would be misinformed. See the example Dr. Wineburg uses here.


Social Studies, English Language Arts, Journalism 

Estimated time

One 50-to-60 minute class period 

Grade level


Objectives: Students will be able to:

  • Define and distinguish misinformation and disinformation.
  • Create connections between their own lives and how misinformation spreads.
  • Evaluate sources of information for the main message and how that message is supported.
  • Collaborate and exchange ideas, elaborating on positions and claims.

Essential questions:  

  • What is misinformation? Why are so many people talking about it?
  • How are individuals impacted on a day to day basis by misinformation? 
  • How can individuals correct and solve the problem of widespread misinformation? 

Warm up activities:

  1.  Warm up (5-10 mins): Get your students thinking about misinformation by reflecting on what they think they already know about misinformation, and what they want to learn. 
  2. Warm up questions:
    • What’s something you know for sure about misinformation?
    • Is misinformation a problem in day to day life? Why or why not?
    • Where does misinformation come from?
    • What causes a false story or piece of misinformation to go “viral”? Why?

 Core activities:

  1. Define (5-10 mins): Ask students to define misinformation and disinformation using this informative article from For each term, clearly define it, and ask students to sketch or draw a quick icon for each. How can they remember the difference between disinformation and misinformation?
    • Optional extension: Use the full article, or parts of the article, for students to study and examine how language changes over time, or how misinformation and disinformation have shown up in contemporary issues, and why. 
  2. Watch: “Why are we so susceptible to misinformation” from PBS NewsHour (10-15 mins)
  3. Track and react: As your students watch the piece, ask them to write down what they notice, what they wonder and what questions they have. What’s the main idea of the story? What sources does the reporter seek out? What did they have to say that surprised you, or that you can question? What connections can you make to what they are hearing? How does this connect to their own social media or online realms? 
  4. Discuss using Parlay (15-20 mins): Open and sign into the Parlay app and make a copy of the Roundtable activity. Parlay is an easy-to-use app for developing critical thinking skills. Learn more at Common Sense here
    • You can make a copy of this discussion for your use. Parlay is free up to a certain number roundtables, and you can edit questions after copying into your account.
  5. Share the link with your students to participate. Have students respond in complete thoughts, making connections to their lives, what they learned and the PBS NewsHour story. After students post a main thread, ask students to respond to several classmates to build the conversation, ask follow up questions and continue to examine misinformation. 
  6. Debrief the discussion including any common misconceptions or highlight any ideas. 

Optional: Ticket out the door (5 mins)

  1. Then, students can return to their initial notebook, Padlet or FlipGrid and follow up on what they learned. 
  2. Have students fill in and finish this thought: I used to think…but now I know…

Optional extensions:

  • Have students create their own public service announcements about misinformation and disinformation after doing research and discussing with classmates on how to identify and confirm information online, especially when something goes viral or is trending. Students can create hand-made drawings or posters, or use online tools to create infographics or other media.
  • Send students on a scavenger hunt to collect and analyze trending misinformation or disinformation. Teach triangulation and what it means to verify facts and sources. 
  • Share nonpartisan and reliable fact checking websites like Snopes and Politifact

Kate Stevens, M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction, is a hybrid educator with more than a decade of experience in online, hybrid, and blended learning. In 2015, Kate was honored with Colorado Department of Education’s Online & Blended Teacher of the Year. An instructional coach, global professional development leader, and former photojournalist, she proudly teaches 9-12 language arts at Poudre School District Virtual in Fort Collins, Colorado. Connect with Kate on Twitter @KateTeaching.