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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: Gun laws and book bans — how to find the missing context

November 13, 2022

 

Social media posts that evoke strong emotions by sharing misinformation about controversial topics taken out of context go viral because they trigger our desire to act. These posts stretch the facts to make viewers feel emotions like fear or anger.

Students will learn the “top five ways to check for context” and understand why understanding the context behind the information in social media posts is important.

Overview

This lesson will equip students with tools to identify and fact-check viral social media posts that create strong emotional reactions by removing important context from the information. Students will be able to explain why understanding context is important, learn how to craft effective search phrases to find accurate context, and learn how to evaluate the credibility of search results. Students will be able to answer the following questions:

• How does a lack of context change the meaning of information?
• Why do posts without context about controversial topics make us more likely to share misinformation?
• How can I write more effective search terms to find accurate context about a post?
• How can I evaluate the credibility of search results to find the most accurate information?

This lesson was developed by PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs in partnership with MediaWise and the Teen Fact-Checking Network, which are part of the Poynter Institute. This partnership has been made possible with support from Google.

Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Explain why online posts about controversial topics without proper context causes us to unknowingly share misinformation.
  • Search effectively for additional context about the issue.
  • Evaluate the credibility of search results.

Subjects

media literacy, social studies, language arts, journalism

Estimated Time

45 – 60 minutes

Full Lesson

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Materials

Activator  (5 Minutes)

Display this tweet or a similar one that shows the importance of context.

Ask students why “my bad” means something different in different contexts. Explain what “context” means in relation to this meme if needed.

Explain that we will look at how viral posts about controversial topics that lack context can result in widely sharing misinformation about serious issues.

Acquisition (10 Minutes)

  • Then display this tweet about gun control and book bans in OK. Ask students to first list the strong emotions it evokes. [Shock, Fear, Anger, etc.]
  • Then ask them to write two questions they might ask in order to verify if the two claims in the tweet are accurate. Best answers are:
    • Are high school seniors in Oklahoma allowed to carry an AR-15 without a permit?
    • Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” banned from Oklahoma high schools? 
  • After discussing the questions, explain that these questions would become good “long-tail” keyword search terms to find out additional information about each claim.
  • Preview the key vocabulary — Explain they will be learning about the “top five ways to check for missing context” and ask them to add the definitions to their handout.
    • 1- Look up the source of the information – read the poster’s bio and identify any organizations with whom they are affiliated.
    • 2- Identify potential bias – Read about the mission of any source’s organizational affiliations. Think about how the source may feel about the topic.
    • 3- Search using specific “long-tail” keywords – a long-tail keyword search is a phrase with 4 or more words specific to the information you are looking for.
    • 4- Practice “click restraint”– “click restraint” means resisting the urge to click the first search result. It may be a paid ad or come from a biased source.
    • 5- Evaluate search results – Use Google’s “About This Result” tool by clicking the three dots to the right of search results to evaluate their credibility.

Application (25 Minutes)

  • Explain that students will watch a video from the MediaWise Teen Fact-Checking Network that looks for the missing context of the two claims in this tweet.
  • Ask students to track how the missing context was found using the five steps by answering the questions in the table as they watch the video.
  • After watching the video, discuss the answers.
  • 1- The source of the tweet is affiliated with what organization?: Moms Demand Action
  • 2- What bias about the topic of “gun violence” might the source have?: MDA is a group that uses donations and volunteers to fight against gun violence in America. The group’s mission is to “pass stronger gun laws” and “close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families.” 
  • 3- Two questions
    • (i) What specific “long-tail search phrase” was used to search for more information about gun laws in OK?: “Can high school seniors in Oklahoma carry AR-15s without permits?”  — Note that the question can be the search term!
    • (ii) What specific “long-tail search phrase” was used to search for more information about the “To Kill a Mockingbird” ban in OK schools?: “to kill a mockingbird banned Oklahoma”
  • 4- How did the teen fact-checker evaluate the search results?: Clicked on the three dots next to search results to see Google’s “About Result” tool.
  • 5- Which two search results were avoided? Why?
    • (1)- Giffords Law Center, which is an “advocacy and research organization focused on promoting gun control.”
    • (2)- National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, which is “committed to preserving” Second Amendment Rights.
    • What search result was selected? Why?: KOCO News, an ABC affiliate in Oklahoma City. It says: “The law allows people to carry a gun without a permit or license, and it applies to those 21 years old or older, or those 18 and in the military.”
  • What answers did the search for context find out about the two questions raised by the tweet?
    • Are high school seniors in Oklahoma allowed to carry an AR-15 without a permit? 
    • Is “To Kill a Mockingbird” banned from Oklahoma high schools?
      • There is ONE school district in Oklahoma out of all 509 districts that has banned “To Kill A Mockingbird” in its libraries and classrooms: the city of Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City. See PEN America’s List of School Book Bans 

Assessment (5 Minutes)

“What’s the Big Idea?” Discussion Questions

  1. How do posts with missing context about controversial topics increase the odds of spreading misinformation? Posts about controversial topics without context exaggerate or misrepresent the issue and cause strong emotions like fear or anger which cloud our logic and trigger our reflex to share the information.
  2. Why is it important to check for missing context in posts that trigger strong emotions? Strong emotions like fear or anger cloud our ability to think logically and trigger a “fight or flight” reflex without thinking about the information first.
  3. Why is it important to evaluate the results of an online search for context? Often the top search results are paid ads by organizations or companies with an agenda and a biased opinion about the topic and will not provide factual information.

Extension and Refining Activity

Search for context about an online post you find or is assigned to you and complete the table below.

TechniqueQuestion and Answer
1- Look up the Source of the informationWith which organizations is the source affiliated?
2- Check for biasWhat bias might the source have?
3- Search using specific “long-tail” keywordsWrite a specific “long-tail search phrase” to search for context.
4- Practice “Click Restraint”
5- Evaluate search resultsWhich search results were avoided? Which search results selected? Why?

Example Post to assign: Link to the article cited in the tweet – “FDA warns chemicals from sunscreen enter your bloodstream after one day”

Original Tweet (and link to the tweet):

Additional Resources


MediaWise is a digital media literacy initiative of the Poynter Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. Now in over 170 middle and high schools, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs (SRL) is a national youth journalism program that trains teenagers across the country to produce stories that highlight the achievements and challenges today’s youth face.

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