21st Century Fox: Media Literacy Lesson

Let’s get straight to the point: I have no patience for rhubarb.

The 4 Cs of 21st Century skills are rhubarb, because although all of these competences are useful, none of them are anything new – these have been life skills since the 1st Century and classroom skills since the 1970s (so I’ve heard – I wasn’t there). Wrap them in a snappy soundbite (the 4 Cs *#dab #dab*); and have a few ‘TEFLebrities’ peddle them on their publishing house-sponsored tours (I saw one such presentation at an OUP event in Riga last year and the presenter had the decency to admit he was selling smoke and “sexing up old skills” during a chat over coffee at the break). BINGO: age-old competencies fresh and sexxxy.

Aren’t we modern, ELT? *Pats itself on the back*

NO. The 4Cs are NOT NEW skills suitable for arming our students for 21st Century life.

21st Century Fox 4 Cs

There’s no point whinging without offering an alternative. So what is truly new in the 21st Century? The explosion in Internet use worldwide…

21st Century Fox world Internet users

…and most children (and adults!) lack the skills to distinguish between accurate information and nonsense online, as studies below will show.

Evaluating information is a very important 21st Century skill because the Internet throws an avalanche of facts at us daily, and media literacy (getting as close to the truth as possible) is a valuable weapon against, for example, lies and exaggerations spread by Brexiteers in summer 2016 (meow!). Winston Churchill knew this long before the Internet:

“True genius resides in the capacity for evaluation of uncertain, hazardous, and conflicting information.”

How much more uncertain, hazardous and conflicting has information flow become since the birth of the Internet?!

This Test-Teach-Test lesson won’t solve the whole problem alone, but we can only start where we are with what we have. And this is what I’ll do with my students here in Rome next week; feel free to borrow!

1) Lead-in/Test #1

(Storytelling) “Before I moved to Italy, I knew very little about the production of spaghetti, and it’s been fascinating to find out.”

Let’s test your knowledge. Does spaghetti grow:

a. underground?

b. on trees?

c. on bushes?

Does your partner agree (pair work then group feedback)? Watch the short documentary to find out:

The correct answer, according to the video? b. on trees.

(NB Not so easy to convince my Italian students that spaghetti grows on trees: “My nonna makes it at home!!”)

2) Test #2

(Storytelling) “While in Italy, I’ve also learned a lot about the dangers of nuclear power plants thanks to teaching science CLIL at a local secondary school.”

Does this image provide strong evidence about the conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant? Explain your reasoning.

21st Century Fox image flowers

Pair work, group feedback.

NB: It’s important not to frame this as a lesson on recognising fake news until later on. The real world doesn’t give flashing warning signs, so neither should we.

3) Teach the foundations

Something else I’ve been learning about while living in Rome is how to select and evaluate the validity of a piece of news, thanks to teaching 21st Century life skills CLIL at a local secondary school.


Part A: Pre-teach vocabulary, by having students match the words and definitions (on worksheet above).

1. media gatekeeper A. Someone who is interviewed but doesn’t want their name to appear publicly.
2. breaking news B. To make sure that something is true.
3. media outlet C. Those responsible for selecting and filtering the information we see.
4. anonymous source D. A publication or programme that provides information.
5. to verify E. Newly received information about a event happening right now.

Answers: 1C…2E…3D…4A…5B

Part B: How to Choose your News, TED.

Watch the video and answer the multiple choice questions on the worksheet above.

Answers: 1C…2C…3A…4C…5D

4) Teach more. The penny drops (hopefully!)

Part A: The Inquisition.

(To students) How could the information in the video help you to evaluate the validity of the spaghetti tree? How about the Fukushima flower?

(To students) How about if you apply the 1 H, 5 Ws (below)? You could split the class into two – one analysing the spaghetti tree info, the other analysing the nuclear flower photo, before they swap what they’ve found.

  • How was this made?
  • Who made this?
  • Why was this made?
  • When was this made?
  • What is this missing?
  • Where do I go from here (further research)?

Part B: The tricks of the trade

Think back to the first activity about spaghetti growing on trees, which was an April Fool’s Day prank by the BBC in 1957. Why might you have been convinced that it was true? Suggested answers to elicit:

1. The information came from a trusted source i.e. my teacher, and there were three options, channeling you towards one of them as true.

2. Peer pressure when discussing in pairs and as a group.

3. The upper class Received Pronunciation British English on the video. Would this information be considered less trustworthy had the voice over been a chavvy teen from Essex?

4. Why was it obviously a prank? Prior knowledge. But how can you use prior knowledge when faced with completely new world events with no historical parallel?

Similar questions, but about the photo of the flowers.

NB: According to research carried out in the USA at Stanford University (read summary here), nearly four in 10 high school students believed, based on the headline, that the photo of deformed daisies on a photo-sharing site provided strong evidence of toxic conditions near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.

5) Test. Apply what you’ve learned.

21st Century Fox image3

NB: According to the Wall Street Journal’s Sue Shellenbarger (article here), nearly 70% of middle-schoolers couldn’t see any valid reason to mistrust this post: why would a bank executive argue that young adults need more financial planning help?!

Have students apply the 1 H, 5 Ws to hopefully come to the conclusion that this piece of ‘news’ is as untrustworthy as Bill Clinton’s account of never having smoked weed (“I experimented with marijuana a time or two…I didn’t inhale!!”).

(3 days later – this was a real struggle for my students in Rome. “But he’s a banker! He probably knows what he’s talking about!” was the common consensus.)

6) Other questions to discuss

1. Citizen journalism has exploded as smartphones and other tools make it easier for everyone to report breaking news. What are some pros and cons of citizen journalism?

2. There are billions of media outlets (if you have an Internet connection, you are a media outlet!) Where do you go first if you want more information on breaking news? Why? How can you check the reliability?

3. On a scale of 1 to 10, how much do you trust mainstream news media? Are you more likely to trust an alternative outlet, like a social media post or a satirical news program? Why?

21st Century skills for the 21st Century.

‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,

Nothing is going to get better.

It’s not.’

Dr. Seuss, The Lorax.

**Another useful lesson plan by my IATEFL colleague James Taylor, available here.


Brown, D., 2014. How to Choose Your News. Available at: https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-to-choose-your-news-damon-brown#digdeeperhttps://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-to-choose-your-news-damon-brown#digdeeper (accessed 14/10/2018)

Herron, K., 2012. Teaching Credibility in the Age of the Internet Hoax, or How Not to Be An April Fool. Available at: https://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/teaching-credibility-in-the-age-of-the-internet-hoax-or-how-not-to-be-an-april-fool (accessed 14/10/2018)

Rockface, T., 2012. The BEST April Fool’s Trick in HISTORY (BBC, 1957). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vxf1f6wj1nA&feature=youtu.be (accessed 18/10/2018)

Schulten, K. and Brown, A.C., 2017. Evaluating Sources in a ‘Post-Truth’ World: Ideas for Teaching and Learning About Fake News, New York Times. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/19/learning/lesson-plans/evaluating-sources-in-a-post-truth-world-ideas-for-teaching-and-learning-about-fake-news.html (accessed 13/10/2018)

Shellenbarger, S., 2016. Most Students Don’t Know When News is Fake, Stanford Study Finds. Wall Street Journal. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/most-students-dont-know-when-news-is-fake-stanford-study-finds-1479752576 (accessed 15/10/2018)

University of Maryland, 2015. Evaluating Sources. Available at: http://www.umuc.edu/current-students/learning-resources/writing-center/writing-resources/evaluating-sources.cfm (accessed 12/10/2018)

Walsh, P.J., 2012. The Importance of Source Evaluation and Content Credibility Skills for Today’s Students. Available at: https://www.emergingedtech.com/2012/05/the-importance-of-source-evaluation-and-content-credibility-skills-for-todays-students/ (accessed 12/10/2018)


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