Search for fake news

The News Is Fake, Totally Fake by John Dabell

False, bogus, phony,  sham, hoax, artificial, mock, pseudo, spurious….take your pick but the one word that has upended all of these synonyms is ‘fake’ and it’s a word we hear a lot about in relation to the news.

‘Fake news’ has become big news itself these days as more and more people remind us that there is  a lot of it about.

Spurious news stories have always been around but the weaponised buzzword ‘fake news’ rocketed and went viral after Donald Trump used it to describe some news reporting in the run-up to the US Presidential election and beyond. He has described himself as a victim of ‘fake news’ although it has been alleged that fake news might have been pivotal in his election success.

Donald Trump is probably the most prolific user of the sticky phrase ‘fake news’ and milks media moment to voice his disapproval of dishonest reporting.

In July this year during a joint press conference with the Polish President Andrzej Duda, Mr Trump took the opportunity to say,

“What we want to see in the United States is honest – beautiful, free – but honest press,” Mr Trump said. “We want to see fair press. I think it’s a very important thing. We don’t want fake news. By the way, not everybody is fake news, but we don’t want fake news. Bad thing. Very bad for our country.”

The media ecosystem is full of ‘fake news’ and we are all vulnerable to being tricked, deceived and misled with children especially susceptible.

According to the NASUWT in a survey of over 1500 teachers, more than 1/3 said their pupils have quoted fake news as fact in lessons and written work (see here).

Digital Safeguarding and ‘fake news’

Fake news is of growing importance and Mr Trump is right – fake news is ‘very bad’ and not just for the US but the whole world and as teachers we share the responsibility of helping children sort the wheat from the chaff.

Talking about the science of fake news is now a key part of our news literacy and digital safeguarding efforts. Develop critical thinking and helping children to analyse and judge the truth and accuracy of stories or information online is a core skill.

According to the National Literacy Trust’s 2017 August report, ‘Fake news and critical literacy’;   “children and young people in England do not have the critical literacy skills they need to identify fake news.” (see here). This must-read report is packed with insights and includes practical guidance for teachers.

Following on from this report, on 13 September 2017, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Literacy launched the Commission on Fake News and the Teaching of Critical Literacy Skills in Schools. To inform the commission, the National Literacy Trust has launched three surveys for primary and secondary school pupils, to discover what children know about fake news and to measure their ability to identify phoney news.

The surveys are open from 13 September to 22 October 2017 and after completing them you can get access to free teaching resources to use with your pupils. Access the surveys here.

But what exactly is ‘fake news’? 

To kick-start any discussion about fake news and develop children’s news literacy we need to talk about the concept itself, join forces and come to an understanding of what it is.

A quick trawl of the internet shows that there are lots of definitions ‘out there’ with plenty of cross-overs but no real consensus. For example, compare the following:

We define “fake news”’ to be news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false, and could mislead readers.

(Source: Hunt Allcott and Matthew Gentzkow,  ‘Social Media and Fake News in the 2016 Election’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Volume 31, Number 2, Spring 2017, Pages 211–236)

A type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation published under the guise of being authentic news to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.


Fake news means fictions deliberately fabricated and presented as non-fiction with the intent to mislead recipients into treating fiction as fact or into doubting verifiable fact.

(Source: Paul Chadwick)

Fake news is made-up stuff, masterfully manipulated to look like credible journalistic reports that are easily spread online to large audiences willing to believe the fictions and spread the word. 

Which definition do children think offers the best description? Can they write their own?

In January 2017 the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee (now called Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) launched an inquiry into fake news. Damian Collins argues we need to fight for a clear definition of the term fake news. He says,

Fake news is when people knowingly spread lies, but dress it up to look like real news. The intention of people spreading fake news is to confuse and mislead people, and to undermine confidence in the media and public institutions in general…

(for more information about the inquiry click here).

Fake news has lots of cousins and it is important to differentiate between them.  For example, fake news could be confused with flawed journalism and intentional reporting mistakes, rumours, conspiracy theories, propaganda, satire, innocuous entertainment, partially true reports and biased reports. There are mischief makers who mean no harm and then there are extremists and tyrants who mean plenty of harm.

Barriers to entry in the media industry have dropped precipitously and this democratisation of media allows anyone now the opportunity to be a “journalist”. Coupled with that, it is now easy to set up websites and sharing via social media means news can travel fast and often generates significant advertising revenue.

A 2017 report from Harvard University about combatting fake news talks about the power of social media (see here)

“Social media platforms provide a megaphone to anyone who can attract followers. This new power structure enables small numbers of individuals, armed with technical, social or political know-how, to distribute large volumes of disinformation, or “fake news.” Misinformation on social media is particularly potent and dangerous for two reasons: an abundance of sources and the creation of echo chambers.”

Under new plans agreed by the German government, social networks that fail to remove defamatory “fake news”, hate speech and other illegal content will be fined up to €50m (£43m).

A slice of fake       

The proliferation of phoney news online has been enormous and dubious news features appear on several types of websites. Some of these are set up wholly to print deliberately untrue and misleading stories. The names of these websites are often carefully selected to resemble those of legitimate news organizations.

Other sites that parody the news contain features that might be interpreted as factual when seen out of context. There are then sites that mix factual articles with some false articles.

The entertainment website has been set up to show how easy it is to create a fake news story.

How to spot a fake

Andreas Schleicher, the education lead of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development says that children should be taught how to spot fake news in schools. He says that being able to distinguish fact from fiction is an essential skill in the modern age and teachers are well placed to provide guidance, leadership and support.

“Exposing fake news, even being aware that there is something like fake news, that there is something that is written that is not necessarily true, that you have to question, think critically. That is very important. This is something that we believe schools can do something about.”

Teaching children to be news-savvy and read between the lines is crucial but where do we look for resources?

One useful site worth visiting comes from Common Sense Media who have produced a practical and thought-provoking video which looks at ‘5 ways to spot fake news’ (see here)

The International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) has produced an excellent infographic to help support us when spotting whether a news item is for real or not.

Another resource you can use comes from the News Literacy Project. They have produced the checklist ‘Ten Questions For Fake News Detection’ and supports children with identifying whether they have spotted an illegitimate news source – for more details see here.

Sometimes websites are so convincing they can hoodwink us into thinking they are credible especially when they use images and videos. Worryingly, it is clear that many young people are not making critical judgments about the information they find online.

For example, take a look at the BBC ‘Fake News’ report found here. They visited one school and gave children six stories to read on their iPads and they were asked to try and work out which ones were fake– in fact they all were and the children’s reactions are interesting and insightful. Take a look at their fake news quiz too found here.

The UK Safer Internet Centre ‘Power of Image Report’ (see here) found that images and videos “found that despite 70% of 8-17 year olds recognising that images and videos can be misleading and don’t always tell the full story, just a third (33%) of young people said they find it easy to check if the images and videos they find online are truthful. Almost half (48%) said they are more likely to trust something has happened if they see an image or video of it.”

Ofcom’s 2016 report ‘Children and parents: media use and attitudes report’ found that 28% of 8-11s (28%) and 27% of 12-15s believe that if a website has been listed by Google then it can be trusted, while around one in ten in each age group don’t think about whether the results can be trusted.

Reality check

The UK’s independent fact-checking charity is and they provide free tools, information and advice so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media. Their toolkit is well worth looking through at

Since the mid-1990s has been writing about viral claims and online rumours and it maintains a list of known fake news websites.

Other fact-checking sites include ,, and See as well, the home of the International Fact-Checking Network.

You can also use Google Reverse Image Search to check an image (see In March 2017 Google introduced Project Owl, their initiative to combat the fake news that’s corrupting the web (see

Social media platforms are often demonised and get considerable bad press but children need to see the efforts some companies are making to combat fake news too. For example, Facebook has developed 10 Tips to Spot False News (in partnership with Full Fact) which can be found at

And finally….

Whilst children might have high levels of digital literacy, we mustn’t let this fool us into thinking that they can understand the torrent of information they see every day. Media literacy is a key life skill and part of our duty of care is to help children develop an active and critical relationship with the news.

We can do this by making sure that they have strategies for spotting what’s fake and what’s for real, stopping the spread of false information and promoting a culture of truth. Schools have a key role to play in encouraging the generation of factual information and making the truth louder.

In the US, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication hold an annual News Engagement Day and this year it is on 3rd October. This has now grown into a global event, where people of all ages across the world are encouraged to read, watch, listen to and discuss news. Perhaps we can start our own version in the UK so that children can engage with the news positively and not accept ‘the news’ at face value (see here).

What will news look like in the future? By John Dabell

They say that it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future!

That’s certainly true when it comes to the news. Things change so fast and life is always throwing us curveballs which means events can often shock, surprise and bewilder. Breaking news can hurt.

Raw news is in a constant state of flux and that’s what makes it so exhilarating. We don’t know what will happen next but when it does, it’s the reporting of it that really matters.

Information inequality means that lots of newsworthy events just don’t get reported or go underreported. Some news is noisy, some of it is buried. News reporting is an art and a science.

In 2015 the BBC presented the first Future of News project and said

“The job of the news is to keep everyone informed – to enable us to be better citizens, equipped with what we need to know. In the exciting, uneven and noisy internet age, the need for news – accurate and fair, insightful and independent – is greater than ever.”

Their full report can be read here.

Trying to spot trends that are likely to impact on the news might be like predicting the weather but that doesn’t stop us from trying. Everyone has an opinion and leading BBC staff and celebrity experts say what they think in this video.

Extra, extra, read all about it!

News has always been a very selective experience. What might be news to you isn’t necessarily news to me.

We choose news as consumers and news consumes us. We let a lot of news wash over us and yet we also wash ourselves in news on a daily basis.

The news manipulates us even if we think it doesn’t and it shapes our world views. It misleads us, misinforms us, polarises us and disengages us.

We are fed it, we eat it and some of it makes us sick. Then there is news that we can’t get enough of, it entertains us and we enjoy binging on it. News is really rather personal but maybe that’s the future of our news.

Editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News, John  Micklethwait says news is  “re-emerging as something more digital, more personalized, more automated, more paid for—and (eventually) less fake.”

There is so much news happening at any one time, it’s impossible to get access to it in one place.

Perhaps the next step in the evolution of the news is news tailored to us specially compiled to suit our individual interest and tastes.

Companies love collecting data on us. Supermarkets do it all the time and make purchasing suggestions and recommendations to us based on our shopping habits and the information we give them.

The news is no different. Websites can collect and read our news preferences and build a profile of what sort of person we are.

Personalised news is the future so let’s imagine what this looks like.

Data about our education, occupations, hobbies and socio-economic level could easily be analysed by computers. These can then scan and thumb through the world’s newspapers, websites, television programmes and radio broadcasts on our behalf.

Whenever these ‘News Computers’ come across anything that dovetails with our character profile they then extract it, compile it into a news bundle to make personalised newspapers, online or paper.

Every page of this newspaper would be guaranteed to interest us because we’ve disclosed what we like. If we are hungry for a particular type of news and gossip then they will find it and deliver it.

Such a newspaper might easily be made up of: the front page of The Wall Street Journal , letters to The Times, the culture pages of Le Monde, the sports page from The Sun and the fashion tips from Elle with a selection of local news from the Whitby Gazette, the Liverpool Echo and WalesOnline.

Does this sound scary or exciting? Is this the future?

The thing is, it already exists!

You can download news aggregation apps and services such as Flipboard, News360, Feedly, Google News, Apple News,  NewsNow and many more that pick out the news we are interested in or they compile news feeds from a variety of sources for users to customize and share with others.

Content Overload

News aggregation apps have been around for a relatively short time and they are gaining a lot of traction. They are popular because they are fully-automated and display breaking headlines linking to news websites all around the world on a continuous basis.

But even though news can be aggregated and personalised for us does this make us any better informed?

We can only ever receive a limited amount of information. There is simply no way of collecting every bit of news. So even though we can get news from a number of different channels this eventually just drowns us in information and we could just switch off.

If we limited the news to just one bulletin a day would that produce better and more thoughtful  journalism?

Selecting and presenting information, curating the news and aggregating content has always been part of the role of journalism.

At the end of the day, we might think we select the news but it’s the news that selects us.

Good News

“Miss, tell me something good!”

Children can be forgiven for thinking that the world is a very bad place with very bad people doing very bad things. It’s true, there is plenty of bad out there but not everything is toxic.

Pick up a newspaper or access the news via social media, TV or radio and there doesn’t seem to be much positive going on.

There are blogs, articles and stories galore about people hurting each other or people harming the environment or the environment harming us so it is little wonder children get scared. We seem to be  drowning in war, violence and natural disasters.

Then there are news stories that seem to run and run like Forrest Gump. These are never off the front page and they might not necessarily be tragic or traumatic but are just dreary and lacklustre.

Brexit is important but it is politics at its driest with little to excite anyone but it dominates at the expense of hundreds of other events and experiences that are worth getting excited about.

Good news doesn’t get the same attention as bad news yet there is good news happening all the time pretty much everywhere.

Young children live completely in the environment in which they live and do not seriously conceive of there being any other. Their contact with the news can be extremely limited as their world is very much their own.

Yet as children get older they see and hear things that make them aware that there is ‘stuff’ going on around them and their world view starts to expand. This world view though is often traumatic, misrepresentative and overdramatic.

The power of the media in shaping our world views is huge as organisations select what is news and what isn’t. Children need to know this.

They need to know that ‘the news’ is something we are given and served and there are thousands of things that never get reported or make the headlines.

They also need to know that they can make the news, shape the news and challenge what is deemed as newsworthy.

We don’t have a newspaper called ‘Good News’ or ‘Just Great News’ but wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a newspaper and website devoted to not just all the good news out there but the unusual, weird, wonderful and interesting?

Amazing scientific discoveries are being made that dramatically save lives and change humanity, yet remarkably they are often ignored or buried in the fast food news of the day or the stubborn news stories that are stuck in the system and refuse to budge or give way.

Take CAR-T cell therapy as an example.  This is a type of treatment in which a patient’s T cells (a type of immune system cell) are changed in the laboratory so they will attack cancer cells as a living drug.

After several decades of painstaking research, the most exciting advance in treatment for childhood leukaemia is big news and should be celebrated but it didn’t get on the front page. How could this be a non-event?

Of course, there needs to be a balanced diet of news so children don’t grow up with rose-tinted glasses on but there is a desperate need for pipelines of good and great news to enter the system to enrich and inspire everyone.

Children need to know that the mainstream media are failing us because what’s happening in society isn’t being broadcast fairly or with balance good news stories are not in short supply but their reporting of it is.

Being hit with a constant stream of negativity can lead children to see the world in very distorted and twisted ways. Let’s not forget the fake news, misinformation, sensationalised headlines, inaccurate reporting and craving for drama. The news we get is a box of damaged goods and misconceptions.

Steven Pinker says that prolonged exposure to negative news can ‘miscalibrate people’ meaning they have an unreasonable sense about the probability of airline crashes or of terrorists taking over.  Bad news can make you glum and worry more crime, even when rates are falling.

The power of good news can be uplifting and engaging. We need the feel-good stories for our mental health and wellbeing.

In mainstream TV news good news tends to be a bolt-on, an added extra and something to stick in the ‘..and finally’ section of a programme. 29 minutes of the bad and boring stuff and 60 secs of good isn’t balanced broadcasting though.

Fortunately there are news sources that do achieve a balance and cover positive, quirky and feel-good news items. Picture News often features an array of optimistic and great news stories that can get missed and it is these stories that can then prompt children to see the news in more positive ways.

Children need a diet of hope not devastation and we can help by providing opportunities for them to research and find stories that celebrate humanity and achievements. We also need to promote what public health expert Hans Rosling calls ‘factfulness’ as a source of mental peace.

Seeing the world factfully and positively is within our grasp and as classroom practitioners we are well placed to ensure that there is balance so we can support children develop healthy news mindsets.

By being more constructive and getting more positive back into the system we can help children see there is an upside which spreads hope.

This is precisely what The Guardian are doing by deliberately seeking out the good things happening in the world. Their Upside series is going to be part of a Google experiment to spread good news via its voice assistant.

Solutions journalism like this isn’t just good news, it is great news and it’s the daily dose we all need.

Do you want the good news or the bad news? By John Dabell


What makes the news?

When the news makes the news then that really is news!

Put simply, the news has never more been ‘in the news’.

Over the last couple of years there has been definite media literacy movement to raise the profile of ‘news nous’ and combat misinformation with many schools putting ‘news’ on the curriculum.

In a time in which almost anyone can publish information, many are calling for news literacy to become an established part of the curriculum so that children can be critical commentators and canny consumers.

As pointed out in the National Literacy Trust research report Fake news and critical literacy,

“several experts recommend that critical digital literacy should be taught in schools as part of citizenship lessons and throughout the curriculum (e.g. Hinrichsen and Coombs, 2013; Holmes-Henderson, 2014; Schleicher, 2017).”

According to University of Salford research, education must be adapted to help children recognise fake news. Researchers surveyed 300 children from years five, seven and nine at schools in Manchester, Liverpool, Scotland and Wales and found although the majority of children said they knew what fake news was in practice they were far less savvy at spotting it, particularly the more ‘subtler’ forms. 

Providing children with the know-how to find and filter information is essential in nurturing a clued-up and clued-up society but high-quality training support to teach news literacy is lacking. However, big efforts are underway.

The BBC is launching a new programme starting in March targeted at secondary schools and sixth forms supporting young people to identify real news and filter out fake or false information. Schools will have access to free online materials classroom activities, video tutorials, and an interactive game where the player experiences being a BBC journalist in the heart of the newsroom. Around 1,000 schools will be offered mentoring – in class, online, or at events – from top BBC journalists such as Huw Edwards and Tina Daheley.

Another initiative is being developed jointly by the Guardian Foundation, the National Literacy Trust and the PHSE Association. Starting in the autumn term, the News Wise pilot programme will provide primary teachers with a bank of online resources, lesson plans and journalist-led workshops to help children how to access, navigate, analyse and participate in the news. Primary schools can register their interest here.

Getting Wise

Clearly there is a need to teach children how to spot misinformation, distinguish fact from fiction and identify persuasion in communication. Many are naïve and unsophisticated recipients of news information and can be easily hoodwinked and bamboozled.

A Stanford University study of nearly 8,000 students found that when it comes to evaluating information on social media then so-called digital natives are ‘easily duped’ saying that, “Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak.”

I’m not so sure. Are we doing our children and ourselves a disservice?

Have we underestimated the progress we have already made in highlighting fake news and other news literacy issues?

Children aren’t mindlessly lapping up everything that comes their way and are questioning the content they see.

Some children are probably far more news literate than many adults and according to research by Ofcom, ‘tweens’ are ‘getting wise’ to fake news and aren’t fooled by what’s hitting the headlines.

Image: Ofcom


Ofcom’s Children and Parents Media Use and Attitudes Report 2017 is a fascinating insight into the  media use, attitudes and understanding of children aged 5-15, including information about the media access and use of children aged 3-4.

The report tells us that secondary aged children are more likely to be guarded about the reliability of news updates they see on social media and 86% of those surveyed say they would make at least one practical attempt to check whether a social media news story is true or false.

They regard news on the TV, the radio and news from family and friends to be reported more truthfully than social media.

Older children prove themselves to be conscious and responsible consumers. If they encountered fake news then 35% saying they would tell their parents or other family member, 21% would tell a friend, 18% would leave a comment saying they thought the news story was fake and 14% would report the content to the social media website directly.

There are still many children who struggle to separate fact from fiction and 8% say they wouldn’t make any checks but reassuringly Ofcom found that almost all children do report that they have strategies for checking whether a story is true or false.

The reasons for this could be a lower trust threshold born out of recent efforts to help children be more news savvy around competing narratives. The Government is determined to play a bigger role and recently announced plans to establish a new unit to counter ‘fake news’ and  combat ‘disinformation by state actors and others’. However, England has opted out of out of an international standardised test designed to assess how well children can spot fake news saying that it would be an additional burden for schools.

Children Aren’t Interested

Do you want the good news or the bad news?

The good news is there is no bad news when it comes to children’s interest in a range of topics.

Encouragingly, Ofcom found many children are interested in the news despite the myth that children ‘just aren’t interested in the news’ – they are.

50% of 12-15 year olds say they are interested in ‘reading, watching, listening to or following news’, with nearly one in ten very interested.

When asked to select from a list of 11 types of news, interest among 12-15 year olds rises to almost 96%. The top news interests for 12-15s are:

  • music news
  • news about celebrities
  • sports
  • serious things going on in the UK
  • animals/ the environment
  • science and technology
  • local news
  • fashion and beauty
  • serious things going on in other countries
  • news about weather
  • politics/ current affairs

Children’s interest in a range of news is a healthy one.

So often children can be overlooked and their views can be marginalised but now they are right at the epicentre of the news, they are shaping the news and they are being equipped to be sophisticated real news spotters.

The great news is that children’s news literacy is on the front page and hitting the headlines. Children are ‘big news’ and that’s the way it should be.

Picture News – a resource for dialogic classrooms by John Dabell

Great News

It’s back to school and that means you will be getting your classroom ‘ready’ but what do you display?

How you design your classroom matters because this is the space that children will spend the majority of their time. Displays make a significant difference to the feel of a classroom and how children feel about themselves. There are a range of design factors that need careful consideration but displays play their part and what we display can affect how children think, behave and perform.

According to the report ‘Clever Classrooms’, undertaken by the University of Salford,

“Well-designed classrooms can boost learning progress in primary school pupils by 16%”.

Led by Professor Peter Barrett, the Salford research team offer some useful advice. They found that well-defined and age appropriate learning zones are important to facilitate learning and they recommend that displays should be planned to give “a lively sense to the classroom, but without becoming chaotic in feel.  As a rule of thumb 20-50% of the available wall space should be kept clear.”

There will be plenty of subjects and projects vying for wall space and over the terms, displays will evolve and change in order to keep children engaged and interest levels high. Purposeful and well-planned work-oriented displays set the tone and create a positive climate.

Bulletin Boards

Some displays are long-term residents and these mostly relate to classroom management routines, rule and expectations. But there is another display that deserves a permanent spot in a clever classroom and that is a News Board.

Also known as Bulletin Boards, Current Affairs Boards or News Flash Boards, these learning zones are a must for helping children develop their media literacy, their analytical and critical skills and abilities to interact with others.

Being news savvy is a “global competency” that the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is keen to promote, especially in relation to the impact of fake news.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director of education and skills, recently argued that schools have a role to play in making sure that young people have a chance to debate different views and opinions in a more interconnected world.

This is where News Boards can play a living and interactive part of classroom life supporting children to be mindful and inclusive citizens of the 21st Century. They can help children see the world through different perspectives, appreciate different ideas and be open to different cultures.


In the spirit of the recent OECD report ‘Global Competency’, News Boards have a very powerful role to play in teaching children how to be responsible citizens and how to interact respectfully, appropriately and effectively in connection with a range of issues.

Picture News resources are ideally placed to help children interact with key news events and can help raise awareness of multiple perspectives, develop critical thinking skills, promote analysis, reflection and problem solving.

A News Board is a static feature in the sense that a display board is devoted to the news but the actual content changes weekly making it a vibrant and dynamic classroom feature that children will constantly learn from. News is ever-changing and children are on the same journey.

News Talk

Taking the conscious step to display weekly news items using powerful pictures and news features is a strong characteristic of a dialogic classroom. The news items displayed are there to be discussed, mulled over, explored and crucially, debated.

Recent research by the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) shows that teaching children to argue helps their academic development.

Around 2,500 nine and 10-year-olds took part in a trial of “dialogic teaching”, in which teachers asked open questions and encouraged children to explain themselves rather than just state answers. The research found that ‘learning how to dialogue’ helped considerably and children who took part made on average two months more progress in English and science than a similar group of pupils who did not take part.

From a News Board perspective, this is great news because the news items that are posted aren’t just there to be looked at or to fill a space – they are there to be talked about, interacted with and used as a shared experience to exchange views, opinions and ideas. Talking about news content aids conceptual understanding, broadens world views and helps children take creative leaps.  They are ripe for asking open questions and for opening up minds.

Debating news items, peeling back stories and getting under their skin can help children improve their higher order thinking skills, engagement in current affairs and their confidence to articulate their views. The quality of talk can dramatically improve when teachers give time to focus on the news.

In the LKMco report ‘Oracy: The State of Speaking in Our Schools, the authors make the point that,

“School leaders and class teachers should provide a mix of activities that enable pupils to practice and develop different types of talk in lessons and across the school, ensuring pupils are exposed to a range of opportunities and contexts for meaningful talk.”

News Boards help children learn how to talk and discussing news items provides an opportunity for them to reflect on the nature of society itself and understand social issues. In this sense, making news a feature of class and school life feeds and fuels oracy and helps children engage democratically with each other.


Interacting with the news via News Boards and resources like Picture News can help you cover a wide range of subjects and connect to all areas of the curriculum too. Talking about the news dips its toes into the whole curriculum. This helps build language, vocabulary, oral expression and listening skills.

But learning how to dialogue isn’t all talk. Reading about the news boosts reading comprehension and helps children become more effective readers too. Interacting with the news also helps children develop their writing skills as they can learn about the different styles of journalism and writing used to portray news information.

In The News

News Boards are an essential tool for classroom communication between teachers and children, children and their peers as well as between children and parents, visitors and volunteers. They are natural talking points and when used habitually as part of class life they can make great waves.

Setting up a News Board is simple and easy to do and changing the news from week to week is not onerous. The backing paper can be a newspaper and what you display on it can be a poster, photo, headline or newsletter such as the Picture News newspaper. These can be combined with class news items and any other local features that are newsworthy.

Weekly news communicates the message that domestic and global current events aren’t just something that happen ‘out there in the big wide world’. They connect children to their immediate surroundings, their home environments, their country and the wider world by making them an integral part of different contexts.

Children are part of the news not just as consumers but as active participants talking and debating what has happened and what might happen. Views and opinions can be posted around news boards quickly and easily using Post-it Notes and so children can take ownership of the News Boards.

Despite all the busyness and back to school business that can cloud your vision, one thing it is important not to lose sight of is the power of involving children in the news. So, make that display and make news a regular talking point so that children become commentators, reflectors and debaters of information not passive recipients or news victims.

And finally….

Champion the news and you’ll have a class full of worldly-wise news champions who know what’s going on and won’t accept the news at face value.

Children who have a regular news intake as part of a current affairs programme at school tend to have a far more positive attitude toward the news. It helps them learn about and understand the importance of people, issues and events in the news and feeds their interest in finding out more about what they see and hear around them.

They increase their awareness of and interest in current events and develop into adults who interact intelligently with the world around them by being informed citizens and lifelong active participants in the news.


Top tips for teaching the news

At Picture News, we really value the learning that can be gained from the news. We think that the lessons children can learn from real-life situations is incredibly powerful but we also believe it’s important that children learn more about the news; from analysing the credibility of sources to how to write it and present it. We believe it will lead to a better understanding of what it is that’s being said and the message it’s conveying – considering content with a critical eye.

Credit: Kelly B

We’ve come up with our top 3 tips to help you teach the news in school:

  1. Use images! You may have noticed how much we value images, but it’s worth saying again. Images can be an incredibly powerful tool to portray non verbal messages – as the saying goes… ‘a picture tells a thousand words’! Using images can also help to engage reluctant readers and very young children. Make sure the children use and find images to support any articles they produce.
  2. It may seem obvious – but encourage children to ask themselves; ‘is this interesting for others?’ It’s easy to pick a topic or news story that’s of interest to you but as a wide range of people are likely to be reading your news article. Is there something happening that will capture their attention? Will it engage people who may otherwise not be interested in the topic?
  3. CHECK all the details and facts. These days, it’s very easy to research information and find what appear to be facts online. It’s very easy to just assume they are correct and include them. There’s so much misinformation around, it’s a very valuable lesson in itself to encourage children to question everything they read. Particularly in modern day society, with the viral nature of content being shared on social media and reports of ‘fake news’ surrounding us.

Taken On Trust by John Dabell

Some teachers actively encourage the children in their class to be independent learners and that’s a good thing. The 21st needs them.

You gotta have sole

In a Self-Organised Learning Environment (SOLE) pupils are given the freedom to learn by asking ‘big questions’ where they work collaboratively to find the answers.

This is called ‘minimally invasive education’ as children are basically left to learn for themselves, a concept made famous by Dr. Sugata Mitra and his ‘hole in the wall’ experiment.

In 1999, Mitra and his colleagues carved a hole in a wall bordering an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC and left it there. A hidden camera filmed children from the slum playing with the computer and it recorded them learning how to use it. Mitra went on to win the $1 million TED prize for his research.

SOLE does have a lot of supporters and is widely used.  If you are interested in finding out more about SOLE then take a look at this support pack and the University of Newcastle’s SOLE Central.

Careful how you tread

Promoting independence, research and self-learning is an important skill but then this needs to be combined with critical thinking, information literacy, media literacy and technology literacy.

One of the biggest myths in education is that children are ‘digital natives’. They aren’t. Like many adults, children can be easily hoodwinked because they aren’t information-skilled.

Unsupervised learning and computers doesn’t seem to be a very clever mix unless you have powerful protections in place. Thankfully most schools do but that won’t stop children stumbling across information when engaged in ‘research’.

Giving Wiki A Wide Berth

I have often seen children use the internet for research and they more often than not end up on a Wikipedia page. They frequently copy and paste from Wiki and treat everything within it as sacrosanct.

Wikipedia is a wealthy source of freely available ‘knowledge’ and ranks as one of the world’s most visited websites. It’s almost become the de facto source for knowledge but can it be trusted? Do we need to tell children to ‘hold your horses’?

Students use Wikipedia to support their research just as many teachers do but Wiki can’t be trusted because it doesn’t require an article writer or editor to have any credentialed knowledge.

The Wikipedia model is based on an open crowd-sourced structure which allows anyone to contribute. This means it is wide-open to creating bogus facts and fake news that can quite easily dupe a reader.

Wiki is full of holes and leaks and children need to know this. One way to illustrate its unreliability is to share with your class the story of Henryk Batuta.


Who is Henrky Batuta?

That’s a good question. If you looked on Wikipedia a few years ago then you’d get plenty of information about him.

You find out that he was born in Odessa in 1898 and participated in the Russian Civil War. He was also an ally of Ernest Hemingway during the Civil War in Spain. The page devoted to him said there was a street in Warsaw named Henryk Batuta Street. The article relating to him was also richly referenced and linked to 17 other articles.

Guess what?

Henryk Batuta never existed. The Wiki entry about him was all a hoax and the authors deliberately set out to show, in part, that web users mustn’t swallow information whole. The information relating to Henryk Batuta stayed on Wiki for 15 months without challenge.

Now imagine that children were researching him as a ‘real’ person. Their research would have be worthless. Unfortunately, some websites can make the outside world think they are authoritative and factual but they can also smell and taste a bit funny.

Wikipedia might be the “people’s encyclopedia” but it is wide open to abuse and fake ‘facts’. I’d agree with Steve Cuozzo when he says, “Believe nothing it says about anything.”

You can be 100% sure that Wiki will contain many other hoaxes and pieces of information that are monumentally dodgy. You certainly wouldn’t go there for medical information! This is a site that is “inherently unreliable”.

Our pupils need to see Wiki for what it is – the ‘Wild West’ of information. As David Barnett wrote for the Independent in 2018, “Wikipedia shouldn’t be anyone’s final stop when it comes to seeking knowledge.”

Don’t go there?

If Wikipedia is full of fake news, wide open to vandalism and the last place to find reliable information, should we tell children to avoid it like the plague?


Children should go there but be discerning, critical and forensic. This means we need to teach them what open source websites are and why they need to question everything they read rather than accept things at face value.

Some of the information will be credible and by checking the citations and references and digging deeper children can see how the information has been mined. Some of that information will be spurious and full of fool’s gold.

It might be an idea to take them to Wikipedia itself – there’s a page on there called ‘Wikipedia is not a reliable source’.

Banning the use of Wikipedia just wouldn’t make sense. We can make intelligent use of it and support children to verify sources and understand the reliability of web materials. They can see first-hand just how easy it is to present information and misrepresent it too. Not all of it is junk but some of it is.

Do go there

Looking at Wiki with critical eyes gets children to ask questions around the biases of people writing entries, what they are leaving out and which communities are not included in a conversation.

Get your students to invent their own Wiki entry for something or someone that didn’t exist and let them test it on someone else. Mix some facts with fiction and see if others can spot which is which.

Wiki can teach children about gullibility and how easy it is to fall for pictures and information hook, line and sinker.

A healthy level of distrust makes children critical learners.  At least if they are asked to research a historical figure or event, they can question whether a particular person or incident actually existed or happened. If they did, how much can they really trust?



Ensuring a rounded education

This is an exciting time for schools teaching media and information literacy.

The current interest in the news, particularly ‘fake news’, means that ‘the news’ and critical literacy skills are enjoying an increasingly high profile and we seem to be getting serious about helping children become ‘news-savvy’. Children’s news has gone into hyper drive and that’s a good thing!

Studying the news in primary and secondary schools has ebbed and flowed in popularity over the decades. One scheme that was particularly successful in schools at one time was the Newspapers in Education strategy and the development of the Reading Passport by Dr Gerard van der Weijden.

This brilliant idea was basically a little booklet that contained about 20 assignments that encouraged children to analyse newspapers. After each project was completed and adult would sign them off and after they had all been done a ‘reading certificate’ was awarded.

The activities are all still relevant today and work incredibly well for getting children absorbed in the news of the day. For example,

Assignment One


Find four people in the news today who have made something change. Write their names and circle if what they did was GOOD or BAD.

Are all your choices easy to make or are some difficult? Talk to your teacher about this.

Providing children with a list of activities like this encourages active participation and interpretation and kick-starts healthy discussions and debate.

The importance of reading real physical newspapers in class cannot be underestimated. They offer glorious opportunities to support literacy so that children are canny consumers of words and pictures.

Combining newspaper reading and Reading Passports can support the 4Cs of critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration and as well as act as a bridge between home and school by promoting a ‘family’ culture of reading.

Creating a literate, civic-minded new generation of responsible readers is no easy task but it is something the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) helps parents and teachers work together to do.

WAN-IFRA is committed to promoting news literacy and supporting children and young people to appreciate content through a critical and journalistic prism.

Last year, Dr. Aralynn McMane, completed the report  News Literacy and News Publishers: 7 ways forward to help young audiences fight fake news and do much, much more.

This report was commissioned by the American Press Institute and gathered together intelligence about a wide variety of smart practice in 40 countries that have been created by or could involve news publishers.

The resulting joint report offers seven parts, each covering a different kind of activity, and a database of 130 examples.

The report includes the following chapters:

  1. Guide in digital space
  2. Teach about freedom of expression
  3. Create ways to try journalism
  4. Promote encounters with journalists
  5. Help the influencers
  6. Explore the new news for kids
  7. What next? Consider this example to create the future
  8. More than 100 ideas for what to try first.

You can download the full report here.

It is well worth taking the time to explore the report in detail as it links to various videos of initiatives of brilliant practice across the world and how organisations are helping children interact with the news.

It also goes further than the current focus on fake news. Although important, fake news is just one slice of news literacy and information literacy and children need to see that the news is more than this one aspect.

One of the most powerful chapters is that devoted to organising face-to-face meetings in class with journalists and how, if done right, these can have a strong impact. It provides an example of how the   Belgian journalists association (AJP) has organised journalists to visit schools for the last 20 years to talk about how the news works.

The BBC are now being more pro-active in this area and are offering mentoring sessions to support  1,000 secondary schools spot fake news via some ‘top name’ journalists (see also  Speakers for Schools, the charity devoted to helping state secondary schools inspire their students and broaden horizons through access to the insights, experiences and expertise of leading figures through free talks).

If you work in primary, approach your local BBC journalists and invite them to come and speak at your school as well as newspaper editors and reporters. You never know, you could become part of the news yourselves as they could do a feature on your interest in the news!

What the WAN-IFRA report demonstrates is that at an international level, there is a passion and appetite for teaching children more news literacy and so the potential for change is huge.

You can find out more about the sterling work WAN-IFRA are involved in via their  16 Centers of Youth Engagement Excellence and how they have been helping teachers support young people use and navigate the news.

WAN-IFRA is also a great destination to access a variety of resources  such as its  “The Questions to Keep Asking,” which is an enriched and internationalised version of the Newseum’s “Believe it or Not” resource. This enables children to see to approach all kinds of information through journalistic eyes.

Helping children and teenagers understand, value and participate in 21st century journalism is crucial because it allows them to examine their own biases and critically evaluate information and media messages from a variety of sources. It’s also part and parcel of a rounded education and a broad and balanced curriculum.

It is a time honoured teaching tradition to beg, borrow, and steal ideas from one another. WAN-IFRA takes sharing to a whole new level so we not explore what they have to offer, be resourceful and adapt to your own needs.

By John Dabell


Van der Weijden, G. (1996) Newspapers in Education: Reading Passport. Huntingdon: Creative Media Concepts

Visual Literacy by John Dabell

Children are consuming images at an extraordinary rate and it is therefore imperative that they learn how to ‘read’ them and develop the skills of exploration, critique and reflection.

Given the power of photos to influence and persuade, it is vital for children to become better “readers” and canny consumers of visual news and messaging.

Visual literacy is what we see with the mind and not just our eyes. It is our ability to construct meaning from visual images.

In Thoughts on Visual Literacy (1997), Philip Yenawine says,

Visual literacy is the ability to find meaning in imagery. It involves a set of skills ranging from simple identification – naming what one sees – to complex interpretation on contextual, metaphoric and philosophical levels. Many aspects of cognition are called upon, such as personal association, questioning, speculating, analyzing, fact-finding, and categorizing.

Being visually literate means being active, forensic and creative users of the visual language of images and teaching children how to interpret and create visual texts is an essential component of the English curriculum.

How can we support pupils to decode images and understand the world around them? How can we develop their skills to distinguish between sensationalism and healthy journalism; between fact and fake; between evidence-based statements and empty noise?

Visually literate learners are able to make judgements about the accuracy, validity and integrity of images but this is no easy task. It is a thoughtful and sustained form of understanding that requires some strategic planning and careful resourcing.

Take a Picture

News pictures are a rich-source of material for grabbing children’s attention and then exploring the events behind them, within them and around them. A picture is a starting point for helping develop critical thinking and for asking and answering the basic questions Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Pictures communicate meaning and can be ‘read’ in the same way as written or printed text can be.

Looking at a picture and what it says to us will depend on the opinions, beliefs and values we hold. What we see isn’t always what others will see and whilst the picture might represent a real-life story, there can be many stories wrapped inside that need bringing out. A visual is like a Babushka doll when you really start looking.

Using images and combining them with talking and writing tasks is a sure-fire way to increase vocabulary, grammar, and narrative skills. You can find the images yourself or visit dedicated websites where there are lots of collections to tap into.

One of my favourite go-to websites is run by Sam Daunt where you will find a whole pile of images to use for writing inspiration.

The following picture is from the non-fiction or ‘faction’ collection and the questions show how they can instantly get children involved. It’s certainly a powerful and unusual image and the sort of thing that encourages plenty of thought, talk and writing with plenty of room for development, extension and challenge.

Using these images involves intra-personal and meta-cognitive as well as inter-personal collaboration.


The Headington Shark

  • How did the shark get there?
  • Where did it come from?
  • Was anyone in the house at the time?
  • Were there any eyewitnesses?
  • How did the residents of the street react?
  • What happened to the shark in the end?
  • Write a newspaper report about the arrival of The Headington Shark.
  • Write a transcript of a police interview with a witness or the person responsible.

Another must-visit website is the images shed of the marvellous The Literacy Shed website, at

Here you will find lots of inspiring images that can be used as writing prompts. From abandoned places and landscapes to flying houses and statues, the images are stunning and can prompt some seriously creative discussions and writing.

Picture Perfect

Images and news photos are dynamic picture prompts and superb ways to develop narrative writing,  personal writing, argumentative writing or expository writing. They contain information and ideas and allow the viewer to place them in context or invent their own as well as being critical consumers.

Picture prompts can be productively used for making inferences or an educated guess as to what is going on. They can also inspire children to make some sort of personal connection and write from the perspective of one of the people, animals of things shown.

They contribute to children’s overall visual literacy by supporting their ability to

1) view, understand, analyse and evaluate,

2) design and create, and

3) acquire, consolidate, communicate and transfer knowledge and understanding.

It’s always a worthwhile activity to compare news stories and pictures by looking at different newspapers, magazines and websites – some are similar but others handle subjects and events differently. Pictures have a powerful way of shaping our perception of what has happened.

You Get The Picture

Visually literate learners should be able to read and write visual language but this takes time and this is why regularly looking at pictures in the news can help children comprehend and appreciate the images created by others.

To be an effective communicator in the 21st Century, learners need to be able to interpret, create and select images to express a range of meanings.

In a thoughtful and insightful report, The Visual Literacy White Paper, Dr Anne Bamford, Senior Lecturer at the University of Technology Sydney, says that to be visually literate learner should be able to do 7 key things:

  1. Understand the subject matter of images;
  2. Analyse and interpret images to gain meaning within the cultural context the image was created and exists;
  3. Analyse the syntax of images including style and composition;
  4. Analyse the techniques used to produce the image;
  5. Evaluate the aesthetic merit of the work;
  6. Evaluate the merit of the work in terms of purpose and audience; and
  7. Grasp the synergy, interaction, innovation, affective impact and/or ‘feel’ of an image.

This is quite a list and somewhat of a tall order for any individual teacher to tackle alone but collectively teachers can use opportunities within different subjects to develop these skills and build visual literacy.

Dr Bamford says,

“Pictures exist all around us. They surround us…Understanding pictures is a vital life enriching necessity. Not to understand them is visual illiteracy.” 

Picture News can certainly play a key role in helping teachers support children communicate more effectively by teaching the basic principles of visual literacy.

Using the photos in Picture News will enable children to develop a greater sophistication of understanding and move beyond the superficial to a higher order of visual literacy.

Interacting with news pictures encourages children to critically investigate images and enhances their verbal and written literacy skills and vocabulary.  ‘Getting the picture’ is a serious business but a fun one too and is best developed through contact with a varied menu of images fuelled by thoughtful and challenging questioning and discussion.


Bamford, A., The Visual Literacy White Paper (2003) Commissioned by Adobe Systems PTY Ltd,  Australia

Beaudry, J. (2014). Visual Literacy for Teaching and Learning: Essential Knowledge and Skills to Create, Use and Assess Concept Maps and Graphic Organizers.

Giorgis,C.,  Johnson, N.J., Bonomo, A., Colbert, C., & al, e. (1999) Visual literacy. Reading Teacher, 53 (2) 146-153

Yenawine, P. (1997) In Thoughts on Visual Literacy, , in J Flood, SB Heath, and D Lapp (Eds) Handbook of research on teaching literacy through the communicative and visual arts.