Every day we are bombarded with messages via TV, radio, the internet and printed material; a complex mix of facts and opinions.
Learning the difference between fact and opinion is a really important life skill. Children need to grow up with the ability to discern the two; not knowing the difference can be a serious matter.
Unsubstantiated gossip on social media is rife and might seem quite trivial (unless you’re the target I guess) but what about political propaganda, newspaper bias, criminal trials and the persuasive power of advertising?
So how do we teach children to be able to question what they see and hear? And able to distinguish between what is fact and opinion?
We first need a working definition. I know this won’t work for everything – there are many grey areas - but it’s a start when we are explaining it to children:
- Things known for certain to have happened
- Things known for certain to be true
- Things known for certain to exist
- Can be researched and verified
Opinions, on the other hand, are:
- Things believed to have happened
- Things believed to be true
- Things believed to exist
- There are usually many of them on any given topic
We also need to give children regular opportunities to think about and practise what the differences look and ‘feel’ like. This can be done through regular games and short activities.
Here are a few suggestions:
With young children bring in a few objects and ask them to give a fact and an opinion about it:
E.g. Teddy bear:
FACT – The teddy is brown
OPINION – I think that Teddy is pretty
FACT: An elephant has a long trunk
OPINION: Elephants’ ears are quite ugly
Talk about the differences – seeing how many people agree or disagree with each one is a good indicator to start with.
Give children two cards – one with FACT and the other with OPINION written on them.
Read out some facts and opinions and have them choose between by holding up one of the cards.
Watch some adverts and use the cards to hold up and down according to what is heard (and seen).
Have children sort some sentence strips you have prepared into two piles of FACT and OPINION
e.g. Christmas Day falls on 25 December each year.
Too many Christmas presents can make children spoilt and selfish.
We should always think of those who have less than us at Christmas.
Christmas pudding has dried fruit as one of its ingredients.
You could use similar statements that you read out and children have to move to different areas of the room which have A FACT or OPINION sign displayed. This way they have time to check with a neighbour and you can build in more thinking and talking with others.
Make up new ‘law’ or rule – pretend it has been introduced across the whole country - with reasons– sit back and wait for the heated discussions:
Mobile phones are to be banned for use by children under the age of 16
Too much use can cause brain damage.
They cause too much jealousy and encourage theft
They cause children to underachieve at school – too distracting
They are expensive to run
1 in 4 mobile phones gets lost or stolen every year
Some are obviously ambiguous and need further investigation and discussion – children soon find that the difference between fact and opinion can get complicated!!
Have children sit in a circle. Throw a ball or beanbag to a child and say ‘FACT or OPINION’ to them. They have to answer with one or the other. Others can challenge if they think it isn’t a fact.
Introduce a new topic and have everyone brainstorm all they think they know about it: e.g. Spiders.
Have 8 legs, spin webs, come in different sizes, some are poisonous. These may or may not be correct but they can be verified in some way. So FACTs can be deduced at some point.
Then introduce how they make us feel or any other superstitions and beliefs: spiders are scary, they can kill you, they are a necessary part of Halloween. Sort the FACTS and OPINIONS into different pockets on a display board that can be added to as the topic progresses.
If we offer children lots of opportunities to listen, talk, discuss and question the world around them they are more likely to develop a robust ‘internal radar’ – to recognise the language of opinion and bias - words like should, most, least, best, never, all, worst, pretty, nice, bad, could, might etc.