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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: An experiment in misinformation

April 5, 2022


Students will be introduced to Birds Aren’t Real, a satirical conspiracy theory, then create connections to mis- and disinformation while watching a PBS NewsHour Classroom video lesson.


  • Students will learn to understand and apply concepts of mis- and disinformation in context.
  • Students will construct knowledge around conspiracy theories, mis- and disinformation using a satirical conspiracy theory as an example.
  • Students will evaluate how Birds Aren’t Real operates and create connections between how mis- and disinformation is spread.


Media Literacy, Social studies, Language Arts/English, Journalism

Estimated Time

Up to one 50-minute class period

Full Lesson



  • Satire: Use of humor and imitation to provide commentary or critique. 
  • Conspiracy theory: An unfounded explanation of an event or situation that blames the secretive work or sinister, powerful people (such as a government, company, group or even one person).
  • Misinformation: False information that spreads, regardless of its intent.
  • Disinformation: Information spread to intentionally deceive, misguide or influence public opinion. 
  • Post-truth: When objective facts are less influential than personal beliefs and emotion; relating to a situation where people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts. 

Warm up (10-15 minutes)

  1. Share only the term “post-truth” (without the definition) with your students on the board or projector. 
  2. In partners or small groups, ask students to come up with their best guess on what the term means or describes. Share out from groups and capture ideas. Then, have students reflect on their guesses: 
  • Why or how did they come up with this guess? 
  • What have they seen or noticed that informed this guess? 
  • What experiences do they have that informed this guess? 

Share ideas briefly as a whole group or class. Then, share the full description and definition.

Post-truth: when objective facts are less influential than personal beliefs and emotion (Oxford Dictionary); relating to a situation where people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts (Cambridge Dictionary). 

Discuss the following questions:

  • How close were their guesses to the factual definition? 
  • What situations or experiences can students connect to the term “post-truth”? 
  • How do they notice emotions or beliefs outweighing objective facts today? In the last few years? What are their reactions to those instances? 
  • Use this time to create connections, clarity and build curiosity. Then, move onto the video. 

Main activity

Now that students are ready, watch the Media Literacy NOW Video: “An experiment in misinformation.” (Video at the top of this lesson, or you can use the link here). As students watch, have them keep track of the following:

  1. What is a conspiracy theory? 
  2. How is Birds Aren’t Real a satire? 
  3. What are the key differences between mis- and disinformation? 

Good places to pause and discuss (optional): 

Minute 1:24: What are students’ immediate reactions to Birds Aren’t Real and the work McIndoe is doing? What questions do they have? 

Minute 1:50: Clarify the definition of satire and conspiracy theory, check for connections students may have.

Minute 2:18: What is the key difference between misinformation and disinformation? 

Concluding Questions: 

  1. What’s something new you learned from watching the video? 
  2. Based on what you know and learned in the video, can works of satire like Birds Aren’t Real make a difference in a post-truth culture? How so? Why or why not? What kind of “difference” matters today and where does it matter? 
  3. Social media tends to be where most mis- and disinformation is spread. Are there any recent examples you can think of that they have seen or heard online? 

Follow up activity (20-30 mins):

This activity is suitable for high school students. 

The Bad News Game teaches players how disinformation is designed by “putting players in the position of the people who create it.” 

Birds Aren’t Real follows many of these same sensational and click-bait styles of disinformation.

Players try to design social media posts garnering the most “followers” and “credibility” points. The game highlights impersonation, emotion, polarization, conspiracy, discredit and trolling; the game takes about 30 minutes for an average play through. 

  • Have students play through solo or in partners, guiding them to pay attention to the moves of disinformation, new terms, and connections they’re making. 
  • When finished, have a final class discussion naming the techniques they’ve learned about.

Coming Up

In Lesson 2 of our Media Literacy NOW series, students will dig deeper into trends in misinformation and analyze the tactics and narratives of disinformation. 


  1. In late 2021, The New York Times profiled Peter McIndoe and the origins of Birds Aren’t Real. Share excerpts with middle school students or read the long article together with high school students. 
  2. Looking for a shorter game? Check out this 5-10 minute game called “Go Viral” that highlights more tactics of disinformation like emotion, fake experts and conspiracy thinking.

Author bio

Kate Stevens, M.S. in Curriculum & Instruction, is a high school language arts educator.  An instructional coach, global professional development leader, and former photojournalist, she currently teaches & coaches in Poudre School District (Fort Collins, CO). In 2015, Kate was honored with Colorado Department of Education’s Online & Blended Teacher of the Year. Connect with Kate on Twitter @KateTeaching.