critical thinking

Media Literacy And Critical Thinking Can Defeat Fake News

The term fake news has come to prominence recently, referring to everything from sensationalist internet clickbait stories designed to generate advertising revenue to politically motivated propaganda masquerading as news.

Often, sophisticated satire and parodies are interpreted as serious stories and are shared on social media as if they were factual.

While there is no doubt that news has benefited from the instant access of the information age with such phenomena as citizen journalism and 24-hour reporting, some significant challenges also arise that make it more necessary than ever to inculcate critical thinking skills in our students.

AI has accelerated the spread of fake news by automating content creation, amplifying dissemination through social media algorithms, and creating convincing deepfake videos, undermining trust in information sources.

In this article, we will explore how to use critical thinking skills to boost media literacy in the fight against misinformation and fake news.

What Are Critical Thinking Skills?

Critical thinking generally refers to the ability to think clearly and rationally about something. It is a necessary process for formulating an informed, independent opinion.

Critical thinkers are adept at identifying biases, fallacies, and inconsistencies in arguments. They employ evidence-based reasoning to form well-founded judgments. Moreover, critical thinking involves adapting viewpoints to new evidence or alternative interpretations.

We can commonly acknowledge five elements of Critical Thinking, and these are:

  • Analysis: The ability to examine information or situations carefully and methodically, breaking them down into their component parts to understand their structure, relationships, and underlying assumptions.
  • Evaluation assesses the credibility, validity, and relevance of information or arguments by considering evidence, sources, and reasoning and determining their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Inference is the capacity to draw logical conclusions or make reasoned predictions based on available evidence, recognizing patterns, trends, and implications within the information or data.
  • Interpretation: The aptitude to understand and explain the meaning or significance of information, texts, or phenomena, considering context, perspective, and alternative interpretations.
  • Explanation: The ability to clearly and coherently communicate one’s reasoning, ideas, or conclusions, providing sufficient evidence and logical support to justify claims or recommendations.

Without critical thinking skills, students won’t get beyond memorising and regurgitating facts and figures and will be incapable of independent thought, leaving them vulnerable to manipulation by misinformation and lies.

Critical thinking skills require students to analyze, evaluate, interpret and synthesize information. Practising these complex processes in the classroom enables students to apply their own creativity to problem-solving and conclusion formation.

A Complete Teaching Unit on Fake News

fake news unit

Digital and social media have completely redefined the media landscape, making it difficult for students to identify FACTS AND OPINIONS covering:

  • Fake News
  • Bias
  • Clickbait
  • Rumors
  • Radicalization
  • Social Media, algorithms and technology
  • Research Skills
  • Fact-Checking Beyond Google and Alexa

Teach them to FIGHT FAKE NEWS with this COMPLETE 42 PAGE UNIT. No preparation is required,

Often, during the prewriting of an argumentative essay, we teach our students to weigh up the pros and cons of the various arguments. The Pro / Pro Chart is a twist on this familiar process that encourages flexibility in our students’ thinking.

However, instead of choosing between the two opposing poles, this approach encourages students to identify the positive aspects of the differing viewpoints before merging these positive qualities into a third option containing the positive aspects of both.

Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of an opposing point of view, say, as in a traditional debate, the Pro / Pro approach challenges students to dig down into the opposing viewpoint to find its merits.

This can be undertaken as a whole-class activity. Start by choosing what seems like a bad idea, such as a restaurant without seats or a roof. Have students brainstorm how this could be a positive.

You may be surprised at some of the creative ideas you get back, such as faster turnover of customers, serving those in a hurry, starry views at night, etc.

This activity teaches students the importance of not dismissing ideas out of hand without close examination. The tendency to disregard things that do not fit our expectations is very strong. This activity shows students that on closer examination we can often find merit in even the most ostensibly worthless of ideas.

Activity 2. Playing Devil’s Advocate Lesson

Like the activity above, Playing Devil’s Advocate allows students to see things from other perspectives. It involves students role-playing a point of view they oppose.

To start this activity off list a few controversial statements on the whiteboard suitable for your age group and demographic. Instruct the class to divide according to how they feel about the statement.

Those who are ‘for’ the statement go to one side of the room, and those against go to the other. Then, inform students that they will have 10 minutes to prepare arguments supporting the opposing view to the one they have expressed.

Students can either do this individually or collaborate in groups. This activity can also serve as a valuable preparation for a later formal debate.

Activity 3. The Five Whys Lesson

This straightforward activity is a super way to get students to think deeper and really drill down to the root of a problem. It can be used with a broad range of problems and involves asking “why?” – repeatedly! Think of the annoying younger sibling constantly inquiring, “But, whyyyyyy!!”

The Five Whys is best illustrated by an example initially developed by the Toyota Motor Corporation to identify problems in production systems.

First, think of a simple problem to investigate as a group. The Five Whys will help you drill down to the root cause of the problem and suggest a solution by working back to the cause through a series of effects.

For example,

Problem: Tony is always tired at school.


Reason: Because he doesn’t get enough sleep.


Reason: He goes to bed too late in the evening.


Reason: He doesn’t finish his homework until 11 pm.


Reason: He doesn’t start it until 10 pm.


Reason: He watches TV all evening.


Solution: Tony should do homework before watching television.

This process can be applied to a wide variety of practical or intellectual problems. The number of ‘whys’ is not fixed at 5 either. The question can be repeated and explored as often as needed to get to the root cause of the problem and until a viable solution becomes apparent.

Activity 4. Desert Island Decisions Lesson


Critical Thinking | Firefly create a painting of a group of students on adesert island 97423 | 5 Ways to Teach Critical Thinking in Media Literacy to Fight Fake News |

This group activity engages the students’ critical thinking faculties and problem-solving abilities.

It is based on the survival scenario of being marooned on a desert island after a shipwreck. The group can choose 5 items to salvage from the wreckage to help them survive or secure their rescue. The number of items can be modified depending on time availability and group ability.

Students must discuss the relative merit of the different items suggested and negotiate with each other to reduce the list to the set number of items. Some hard decisions are required, and this can often lead to very engaged and lively debates.

At the end of the activity period, the group can present their list to the class and compare their decisions with the decisions made by the other groups.

This activity lends itself to easy differentiation, too. You can ask groups to list a certain number of items and rank them in terms of importance. You can also change the environment, which will throw up many new problems, for example, a plane crash in a tropical jungle.

Activity 5: Picture the Scene Lesson

Text is not the only means of communicating information, so it is important students develop the ability to apply their critical faculties to interpreting imagery, too.

In this activity, students view a photograph or picture projected on the whiteboard at the front of the room. They are then given a worksheet with the question “What is happening in this image?” written at the top.

After viewing the image closely for a few minutes, students answer this question in a sentence or two, outlining what they believe to be happening.

In the next stage, the students answer, “What led you to your conclusion?” Instruct them to write down the steps that led them to form their opinion. They must list all the evidence from the image that led them to their conclusion.

This activity helps students to think clearly about the steps they follow in forming their opinions. It encourages them to think about their own visceral responses to images by asking them to verbalize those responses.

It also reinforces the importance of basing opinions on evidence. This activity is easy to modify for different age and ability groups by choosing the image judiciously.

Media Literacy, Critical Thinking and Digital Citizenship for Students

Media literacy and critical thinking skills are crucial components of digital citizenship education, as they empower students to navigate the complexities of the digital world responsibly and ethically. In today’s interconnected society, where information flows freely across various online platforms, critically evaluating media content is essential for students to engage as informed and active participants in the digital realm.

Media literacy education equips students with the knowledge and skills to assess the credibility and reliability of online information. By teaching students how to analyze media messages, identify biases, and evaluate sources, media literacy education enables them to distinguish between fact and opinion, truth and misinformation. This skill is particularly important in an era where fake news and online hoaxes abound, as it helps students develop a healthy scepticism towards online content and encourages them to seek out reliable sources of information.

Moreover, critical thinking plays a fundamental role in digital citizenship education by fostering a mindset of inquiry and reflection. Critical thinkers do not passively accept information at face value; instead, they engage in analytical reasoning, questioning assumptions, and evaluating evidence before forming opinions or making decisions. By cultivating critical thinking skills, educators empower students to approach digital media with discernment and intellectual rigour, enabling them to engage with online content more thoughtfully and responsibly.

Furthermore, media literacy and critical thinking skills are essential for promoting digital citizenship values such as respect, empathy, and ethical behaviour online. Media literacy education helps students recognize and challenge stereotypes, misinformation, and hate speech in digital media, fostering a more inclusive and respectful online community. Likewise, critical thinking encourages students to consider the consequences of their online actions and to engage in constructive dialogue with others, promoting positive digital interactions and responsible digital citizenship.

In conclusion, media literacy and critical thinking skills are indispensable tools for preparing students to navigate the digital world with confidence, integrity, and empathy. By equipping students with these essential skills, educators empower them to become active and ethical participants in the digital age, contributing to a more informed, engaged, and responsible society.

How Critical Are Critical Thinking Skills?

The importance of thinking critically is widely recognized in many curricula. It is, for example, given a position of central importance in the Common Core Standards and is represented as the compulsory subject Theory of Knowledge in the IB curriculum. It is also a part of the national curriculums of the English-speaking world.

To move beyond the mere memorization of facts, students must possess the ability to critically assess the information they are exposed to, not only to be adequately prepared for university but also for life beyond academia.

With the rapid pace of change in this technological age, it is essential that students develop skills that allow them to adapt to working environments creatively; the shape of which we can’t predict.

Bringing critical thinking to the classroom helps students achieve all of this. Not to mention it’s a lot of fun besides!