Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics #3 – Headline vs Critical Thinking Rock


‘We suggest that schools offer media literacy classes that teach students the difference between evidence and opinion, and how to evaluate the legitimacy of sources.’

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt echoed my thoughts exactly in their great book ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ (2018, p.248) – one of my favourites from the lockdown.

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“High schools prepare students to take more advanced mathematics, and they prepare them to write history papers, and so on … [but] how are high schools doing in preparing students to be students in a college of open discourse and free argumentation?”

Robert Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago, speaking in 2018 and quoted in Lukianoff and Haidt’s book.

This is not trivial: our understanding informs our attitudes, our attitudes inform our actions. Why wouldn’t you burn down a 5G phone mast if you believed the conspiracy theory that these phone masts spread coronavirus? Indeed, such an act would be an admirable public service! Yes, it really happened in the UK (and yes, really – The Sun calling out ‘idiots’ is a delicious irony and/or shows the depth of the idiocy at play among the arsonists!)

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Don’t wait for anyone else to start. Critical thinking skills are sorely lacking in mainstream education, and critical thinking skills are sorely needed in today’s climate as online information tornadoes blow fake news through our heads. Do your learners and yourself a huge favour with this lesson, and more from the Media Literacy section (link at the end).

Lesson Idea

Using my friend and ex-colleague Alister’s excellent and informative video from his YouTube channel Al’s Action English, here are a few simple suggestions, although of course you should adapt the tasks to best suit your students.

1. Introduction to the topic

Discussion. What does the term ‘critical thinking’ mean? What’s a conspiracy theory?

Then listen to the video from 2:00 to 4:00 to see if Al agrees with you. What are his ideas?

2. Critical Thinking Rock 2 vs Headline (for Rocks 1 and 3 see link at the end)

Listen to the first two minutes now (00:00-02:00).

a) First time. What is Critical Thinking Rock 2? Which questions are we asking of a piece of information?

b) Second time. What does Al say in his critical analysis of the Independent newspaper headline, using Critical Thinking Rock 2? (Al has kindly included time-markers to help learners here.)

i. Who made this? 0:19

ii. Why was this made? 0:27 

iii. How was this made? 0:57

iv. When was this made? 1:28

v. What is this missing? 1:53 

Closed Training

Using Critical Thinking Rock 2 as outlined by Alister, what do you think of this headline from 20th May 2020?

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Check out the full article by clicking here

*Important* The first reaction to anything Trump says is often “He’s a fool so what he says must be foolish!” Do not fall into this trap! Always analyse the idea, long before getting to who said it – the ‘who’ can be relevant to see motivations and biases.

As ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’ says: ‘Students must also learn to make well-reasoned arguments while avoiding ad hominem arguments, which criticize people rather than ideas’ (p.259).

Actually, Trump’s utterance isn’t that ridiculous as long as he can prove that the USA has tested more people than anywhere else on Earth. After all, if nobody had been tested here in Italy, the official number of cases would be 0, right? You don’t have to take The Donald’s word for it (thankfully) – this testing data is available from several non-White House sources. Check it out yourself!

Live Training

Web quest. Let learners loose on the world wide web! Mission: find a Covid-19-related headline from an English-speaking new website. Analyse it using Critical Thinking Rock 2.

Report back to mission control and classmates compare ideas with each other. Teacher – don’t forget to encourage throughtful, reasoned and respectful critical analysis of each other’s findings!


‘A community in which members hold one another accountable for using evidence to substantiate their assertions is a community that can, collectively, pursue truth in the age of outrage. Emphasize the importance of critical thinking, and then give students the tools to engage in better critical thinking’  (Lukianoff and Haidt, The Coddling of the American Mind, 2018, p.259).

I, for one, would like to live in this community. Start where you are, with yourself, and include those around you when you’re ready – friends, family, colleagues, students. Pay it forward and never, ever wait for everyone else to take the first step if you believe something is worth doing.




Critical Thinking Rock 2? Where are Rocks 1 and 3? See 3 Rocks of Critical Thinking: Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories. Media Literacy III.

Especially on Rock 3, see Critical Thinking Rock 3: Logical Fallacy Bingo ft. Donald Trump

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics #1 – Graph Reading

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics #2 – Behind the Headline

For other Media Literacy and Critical Thinking lesson ideas, see the Media Literacy section of this blog.

For more Zoom-specific lesson ideas, see the Zoom section.

Any questions or comments, please get in touch!

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