Fake News Invasion: Teaching Media Literacy Skills to Teens

Like most everyone else in education circles, I read the report from Stanford University a few months ago and was horrified by the results. Like everyone else, I fretted and I rang my hands for a couple of weeks, then I racked my brain for a month more, and then on Tuesday I gave a presentation to seventeen teenagers on the topic of fake news and media literacy, and I am relieved to say that it actually went quite well!

So, in the spirit of giving, of resistance, and in fighting ignorance at every turn, I also decided to transfer the bulk of my presentation’s content into a post so everyone can review it, rework it, and make their own!

Please bear in mind, this is one of my first-ever educational presentations, so it’s by no means perfect, either in content or in structure. It’s as un-biased as I could make it but it’s not totally neutral when it approaches certain areas of discussion. That’s actually one of the nuggets that I was hoping to share with the teens – that everyone and everything has a point of view, but that the more facts you omit and truths you sugar coat, the further away from a normal point of view you move and the closer to a dangerous agenda you get. So this is me, acknowledging my bias. I don’t like virtually anything 45 has said or done (except that term limits for congress would be rad) leading up to or post election, and that probably comes across in some of my information. However, I did try to present as many facts about the situations surrounding him and as little interpretation as possible.

Anyway, I digress. If you’re interested in learning about fake news or teaching others, what follows is a series of suggested areas to focus on, a slew of discussion questions for each area, and a few pointed facts for your consideration. The questions are mostly open-ended and unanswered here because, as stated, they’re intended to start a discussion and allow kids to participate and take partial ownership of the lesson, but if you’re planning to teach the topic, just have your own answers and definitions on hand if there’s no response or there’s a super wrong answer thrown out.

Also, definitely don’t just take my word for it (who am I to you, anyway? Possibly just a rando librarian in Rhode Island who very occasionally blogs – personally, I think you should trust me as a credible source of information, but  you shouldn’t always believe everything you read!) and definitely do a little of your own research. I found these sites tremendously helpful:

  1. PBS Lesson plan: How to teach your students about fake news (which was amazing, and I literally couldn’t have gotten started without it)
  2. Stanford’s own Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning (which provides some examples/exercises you can print out)
  3. Common Sense Media: Identifying High-Quality Sites
  4. How to Teach High-School Students to Spot Fake News from Slate
  5. The Library’s Role in a “Post-truth,” “Fake News” Era from Proquest
  6. Project Look Sharp
  7. School Libraries Fight Fake News
  8. Gustavus Adolphus College’s LibGuide
  9. Indiana University East’s LibGuide
  10. Central Washington University’s LibGuide

We started with the simplest ice breaker of all, an inverse of Two Truths and a Lie. I taped up three news stories and asked them to identify which one of the three is the real one by sticking post-it notes to it. Once that was over, we jumped right in to the…

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2016, Rest in Pieces

So it’s pretty safe to say that 2016 was not a great year for most people, at least in terms of celebrity deaths and political/world events. I’m not particularly hopeful about the likelihood of 2017 bringing us anything except more of the same, given that Trump will officially be our president for realsies and celebrities are only getting older and we’re only creating more and more of them as our standards for fame sink lower and social media creates a false sense of closeness and a constant buzz about anyone who’s ever been considered “someone” for more than 15 seconds, let alone 15 minutes, and all of time is a man-made construct, but who knows. I’ve been wrong before. I’d be very happy to be wrong now.

Anyway, I figured rather than continuing to wallow in the muck and mire that this year brought in, I’d review it all through my various social media posts and see what stood out as actually good (or bad, but with silver linings).

Personal Revelations from 2016

  • I think this is the first year that I really, truly saw the ugliness that’s around me and which pervades my life more than I realized. Call it “woke,” call it “aware,” call it whatever you like, but holy shit there’s a lot wrong, from wage discrepancies based on gender and ethnicity (even in my field, which I was somehow blissfully ignorant to prior to a few months ago) to everyday bigotry to woefully inept information literacy rates as the result of abhorrently impractical digital literacy methods, apart from policy brutality and health care issues and student debt and the displacement of senior citizens and the abuse and neglect of animals and the deforestation of basically everywhere. There’s a lot to be done, but there’s also a lot of people interested in doing at least some of it, so that gives me a tiny glimmer of hope.
  • In a related field, I realized that deleting friends off Facebook just creates more of an echo chamber for you and while it’s undoubtedly more pleasant to not have to deal with whatever spiteful insanity someone is spouting off, it’s also potentially hazardous
  • Bernie is still bae, and will be forever
  • I enjoy library policy creation and interior design more than I realized
  • Health wise – I can’t drink alcohol or eat any nuts anymore, and migraines are a thing for me
  • I like my body even when it’s Pie Season and I haven’t exercised in months, but I also feel much better when it’s not Pie Season and I have been exercising somewhat regularly

Personal Highlights of 2016

  • Went to the Newport Folk Festival – St. Paul and the Broken Bones stole the show as far as I’m concerned, but seeing Flight of the Conchords perform live was amazing, too (and bonus points for me because attending this was on my list of Resolutions for 2016!)
  • Finally visited Disney World, thanks to my handsome husband! (This was also on the aforementioned list, as was attending a paint night, which I also did! Huzzah!)


  • Spent a week in Hawaii with my love
  • Mostly conquered my fear of babies, but they’re still not my favorite
  • Dyed my hair purple and discovering Overtone Conditioner
  • Figured out how to actually wing my eyeliner
  • My previously indefinable “look” is called Toddler Grandma Style
  • I discovered the glory of adult-sized onesies and now own 3 of them
  • Ran my most successful Haunted House at my library
  • Participated in the Handmade Valentine Exchange Project

handmade valentine exchange.jpg

  • Was featured in Librarian Wardrobe a few times
  • Saw  Bo Burnham perform Make Happy live
  • I re-read and reviewed my old Livejournal posts and came to somewhat better terms with my teenage self
  • Chelsea and I had a featured article published in PLA Magazine and I moderated an author’s panel for SLJ
  • The revival of Lisa Frank everything, everywhere, even the Dollar Tree!



Favorite Shows Binged in 2016, in no particular order

  • Better Off Ted
  • America’s Next Top Model
  • The Office (UK)
  • Seinfeld
  • The Bachelor, the Bachelorette, Bachelor In Paradise, and Ben and Lauren: Happily Ever After?
  • Unreal (but really only the first season and a half – I hope they pull it together for 3)
  • Broad City
  • Nashville
  • Scream Queens
  • Drunk History
  • My So Called Life (if you want to watch or re-watch it, here’s a drinking game to go along with it, similar to the Dawson’s Creek Rewatch Project I’m also currently doing)
  • Stranger Things

Favorite Books Read in 2016, in no particular order but all linked to their Goodreads pages for your convenience

Personal Resolutions for 2017

  • Pay off my car and tackle my student debt
  • Replenish my savings account
  • Find a side hustle to stick with
  • Track my migraines
  • Be better about taking vitamins and supplements and using mouth wash because I guess I’m an adult now
  • Be social…? But probably not. I think Liz Lemon’s “saying yes to staying in more” mantra may have taken hold in me for good.


  • Continue weeding out beauty and personal care items that are not cruelty free and finding suitable alternatives
  • Expand my Spanish for Librarians cheat sheet to include more words and phrases
  • Back up my photos and print some for framing and scrap-booking purposes
  • Keep up with my blog/photo blog projects
  • Learn to play the ukulele
  • Learn to knit
  • Bike? The question mark is because this has been one of my resolutions for literal years, so I’ll be surprised if 2017 is the year it finally happens. But it should still be on here.
  • Get into a few Podcasts
  • Try this 52 Week Gratitude Challenge in my private, paper journal because otherwise I think whoever finds it posthumously will think I’m a suicidal piece of human garbage who spends all her time whining and stressing and crying when in reality, that’s only true like half the time.

So that’s it. That was my year. Not as good as Leo’s, what with him finally winning his Oscar and also presumably still being able to consume alcohol, but strictly speaking, it wasn’t a bad year for me. We’ll see what happens next.



Banned Books Week 2014: Winning the War Against Graphic Novel Haters (the Uncensored Version)

I try to live every week like it’s Banned Books Week, but it’s the third week of September and that means the time has officially come to celebrate your favorite envelope-pushing classics and scintillating guilty pleasures in literature! This year, the American Library Association is drawing (pun not intended – no, just kidding, it totally was) special attention to the plight of the Graphic Novel as being a frequently misunderstood, challenged, and banned form of even more frequently great literature.

This is my first year as a Children’s Librarian, and the overwhelming perception that I have observed among parents is that graphic novels are the “lazy” way out of reading, and if they see their child is interested in either an original work of literature in this format or a graphic adaptation of another work, they will swipe it away and loudly complain that they want their child to read something “real.” I see this on a regular basis, but it is never any less horrifying and offensive to me on a number of levels, and I therefore try to arm myself with some of the following beliefs and statements to combat parents like this and defend their kid’s Freedom to Read.

In the first place, since I am a librarian and therefore fundamentally opposed to censorship, I am a firm believer that you should be able to read whatever the hell you want, of course. However, I also believe just as firmly that you should be able to read however the hell you want, as I am an incredibly reluctant reader myself even to this day, and my heart in particular goes out to anyone else who struggles to find things worth reading in a medium that is best for them. My preference is audiobooks, but everyone is different, and I try to always to be forthcoming with this information when dealing with anti-graphic-novelists.

In the second place, I strongly believe that the library should be a place for children to freely explore their interests. When a parent reacts this way to a graphic novel, it completely tramples upon the kid’s autonomy and establishes a really negative and patronizing environment that pervades the surrounding area, and who wants to stick around a place like that? No one, and especially not a kid who may already feel frustrated and out of place. By sticking up for their choices and preferences and interests, you can help tip the scales back in favor of the library being perceived as the cool, welcoming place you should want it to be.

Thirdly, this attitude disparages all of the time and effort that the illustrator spent on creating the artwork of the novel. Think of any great piece of art throughout history – most will not include words. Art without words is still art, a book without art is still a book, but mix words and art together for anyone over the age of five and suddenly it’s not “real.” While we’re on the subject, and without getting too philosophical for the sake of brevity, what is “real” anyway, and who gets to decide upon it, and why? The Bone series is no less real to their kid than A Wrinkle in Time was when they were growing up (and by the way, there’s a graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time now, too).

Finally, it is incredibly ignorant to belittle the value of visual context clues in terms of more deeply understanding and connecting with a text, particularly when these clues make the practical applications of graphic novels unparalleled. Most of us use visual cues in addition to (or sometimes entirely in place of) textual ones from the moment we get out of bed in the morning. Colorful, dynamic illustrations can bridge reading level gaps and catapult over language barriers for easier and fuller understanding of the characters and plot in precisely the same ways that body language, facial expressions, and street signs impact our understanding of the people and world around us. Whether a graphic novel is read alone as an independent piece of literature or as graphic adaptation to supplement the original work, the appeal and the message of the art is generally broad enough to pull even the most reluctant reader in to a story they may otherwise have never attempted and learn valuable facts and lessons that would have been lost on them otherwise. For more information about how graphic novels promote literacy and other benefits of the format, please check out this Guide for Teachers and Librarians by Graphix.

In closing, I just want to encourage you all to keep fighting the good fight on behalf of your patrons, young or old, who struggle with reading and may be struggling even harder to have their mode of reading be accepted. Just as many (arguably, most) great works of literature are challenged and banned by too-narrow views, many potentially great readers and thinkers may be challenged and forbidden to explore their interests in a medium that makes them comfortable or excited by a too-narrow definition of what counts as “real reading.” Fighting for your patrons’ right to read graphic novels is a highly effective way to combat censorship and ignorance on two fronts with one tactical approach.

Once more into the fray, and happy Banned Books Week, comrades!