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How the pros fact check


This lesson walks students through the fact checking process of professionals at the American Press Institute and Politifact. Then, students will apply this same process to their own fact-checking exercise.


  • Students will examine the process professional journalists use to ensure accuracy in their stories.
  • Students will evaluate the strengths and weakness of this process.
  • Students will apply the same procedures to their own fact-checking exercise and reflect on the process.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text, including determining where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.8 Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the usefulness of each source in answering the research question; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.


60 minutes (this may take up to 90 minutes if your students are new to fact-checking and need extra time on the exercise)


Group set: print or online access to news stories about a candidate, election, or campaign

Slideshow: 7 Steps to fact checking

Group set: 7 Steps to fact checking exercise sheet

Internet access for each group

Group set: 7 Steps to fact checking assessment

Lesson step-by-step

1. Building background — 5 minutes

Begin this lesson by asking students how often, especially during political campaigns, they hear their parents or other adults grumbling about inaccurate ads or untruthful politicians. Allow students to share their experience with this, and then ask them if or how their parents go about getting the right information about politics.

Explain that the news media often take special care to fact check political statements because these statements are often ones citizens use to make political decisions. Ask students to consider the most recent election in their area (school board, midterms, etc.). What were the big issues during that election? What were the main statements of “fact” that the candidates discussed or even fought over? (Depending on your students, you might have to do some pre-lesson preparation here and have an example ready).

Tell students that when it comes to fact-checking, the best professional media are very methodical about how they approach finding the truth. Use the slideshow provided to walk students through the process used by expert fact-checkers at Politifact and the American Press Institute.

2. Slideshow — 20 minutes

Talk through the slideshow using the notes provided and the discussion prompts within the slides. This slideshow is an example of how professional journalists go about fact-checking. Ask students to take notes and ask questions as you go because they will apply this process to their own fact-checking exercise later.

3. Group activity — 5 minutes for set up, 20-40 minutes for completion

Divide students into groups of three, and provide access to a political story (either campaign, candidate, or ad-related) that appeared in local media. Pass out copies of the exercise sheet and assessment (one for each group). Then, go over instructions with students and ask them to complete the exercise, reminding them that it will be graded according to the assessment.

4. Debrief — 5-10 minutes

Ask students to reflect with the class on their exercises. What was hard? How could they apply this process to what they might do on the publications staff (if they are student journalists)? How would they need to adapt this process for their own publications?


For higher-level students, ask them to follow up the exercise by creating their own step-by-step process for fact-checking that would be used for a specific publication (newspaper, newsmagazine, yearbook, web, etc.) at your school. This should be a very school-specific process that editors or the entire staff could follow. Alternatively, ask upper-level students to interview publications editors on their fact-checking process.

For students who need more reinforcement on the concepts before completing the activity, assign them one of the tools described under Step 4 of the process (slide 8 in the slideshow). Let them use a computer to explore the tool/website, and then write a summary of what it is about and why journalists might use it. Have students share their summary with the rest of the class.

Students with more specific reading needs could be provided with an audio clip or a TV ad to watch instead of reading the print stories. Or, pair students with a stronger reader who can read the story aloud.


Repeat this exercise with another story or a different medium–would any of their responses or approaches to the 7 steps change?