In 2018, a study by three MIT scholars found that false news travels faster on social media than real news does. An alarming fact for us educators who work with kids, and very often encourage them to do online research for their homework.
No one can argue that access to information has never been easier, but is all this information credible? It feels like we should be doing more in terms of media and information literacy in our classes.
Spaghetti Trees in Switzerland
In 1957, the BBC current affairs programme Panorama aired a 3-minute hoax report which told the tale of a family in Switzerland harvesting spaghetti from the fictitious spaghetti tree.
It goes without saying that despite it being on April Fool's Day, a lot of people believed they could grow their own spaghetti trees and actually called BBC to ask for more information.
How can we use it in class?
During the warm up stage you can talk with your students about BBC and show the BBC logo to them. Even if they are not aware of it, they have probably already watched a popular BBC show like Sherlock or Shaun the Sheep.
Give them a "while watching" task and play the video without revealing that it is a hoax. After watching, talk about spaghetti trees (Have you ever seen one? Would you like to grow one?) and then spill the beans: It's a hoax!
Watch the video a second time and give them different questions to discuss, such as:
What makes this report seem trustworthy? (it aired on BBC, it was accompanied by video footage, the serious tone of the speaker, etc).
How can we verify the facts presented? (use encyclopedias, research the places and names mentioned, check if other legitimate news sources are reporting the same story, evaluate the evidence, etc).
Do you know any other examples of fake news or hoaxes? Why are they sometimes so easy to believe? (e.g. They are usually based on a grain of truth or a misunderstanding. Some of them are exciting or about controversial topics, etc).
Older students could watch this TedEd video which explains how false news and misinformation travel in today's world.
It would be a good idea to provide your students with a list of websites that "debunk" news stories:
If you'd like a sample of a complete media & information literacy lesson plan, contact email@example.com