In the last few years, English 100 has considered how to meet the challenges of information literacy, especially misinformation and “fake news.” While our curriculum has always focused on research methods and working with sources, digital communication and social media platforms have altered the writing and rhetorical landscape that English 100 needs to prepare its students for.
Through a series of professional development workshops, English 100 instructors have worked together to develop resources for teaching about and with digital misinformation. This post shares some of the activities, assignments, and other resources developed for first-year writing.
1. Assignment: Write a Fake News Story
By asking students to write a short example of a fake news story, you can work together to “reverse engineer” a description of what can often be a confusing, and diverse, writing genre with an unclear rhetorical situation. This could be completed as a short, low-stakes assignment or in groups as an in-class activity, and it can challenge students to think about how misinformation can be spread not only textually but also through visuals and design.
2. Activity: Fallacy Bingo
On the class meeting after teaching rhetorical fallacies, English 100 instructor Naomi Salmon uses a Bingo game to help students recognize and understand that warrants are often places where arguments break down. To help students connect claims with evidence, this activity presents short arguments and challenges students in teams to break down the claim, evidence, and warrant (especially fallacies) at play.
3. Lesson Plan: Reading Science News Rhetorically
This 3-day lesson plan from English 100 & 201 instructor Meg Marquardt focuses on becoming critical readers of science news. Though we often focus on expertise as validation for sources, these lessons consider how we can evaluate information that think is always from expert sources with objective facts. It helps students develop strategies for reading science as narrative and rhetorical.
4. Reading: “Fake News” Isn’t New
This Politico article puts fake news within a longer history of sensationalism and yellow journalism to show that fake news is not a new phenomenon. It is a relatively short and accessible piece for first-year writing students and provides context for understanding how fake news works and what its consequences might be.
5. Reading: “You’re not going to believe these things I tell you”
This comic from The Oatmeal explores the affective dimensions of hearing information that doesn’t line up with your beliefs. It shows why encountering “facts” isn’t an objective experience. It can be deeply human and emotional, and this comic emphasizes the importance of listening and personal reflection when engaging new ideas.
6. Topics: Visual Information
Misinformation doesn’t only happen in textual writing. It also happens through images and the expression of data. One way English 100 instructors have addressed this aspect of information literacy is through reading, discussing, and making infographics. Misleading infographics are hard to fact check, and they often go viral. English 100 instructors have used infographic assignments to bring research and visual communication together, and it works particularly well in the first-year writing classroom because free online platforms, such as Piktochart, don’t require any technological expertise or equipment.
7. Reminder: Have Confidence!
In this article for the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative, English 100 Assistant Directors Stephanie Larson and Elisa Findlay reflect on leading this program after the 2016 election and encourage instructors to have confidence in approaching digital literacy and fake news with the writing and rhetorical skills we are already using in the first-year writing classroom.