The Real Problem with Fake News

 Originally appeared in Educational Leadership, November 2017

Teaching students how to be skeptical—but not dismissive—of the media

For years, as I checked out in the grocery store, I saw Bat Boy on the pages of the Weekly World News. That “news”paper is no longer being printed, but exists. According to an article on the site this summer, Earth was going to collide with the planet Nibiru on October, 17, 2017, so I suppose if we were indeed obliterated, you will never get to read this article.

My point is that fake news is nothing new. Weekly World News started in 1979. Other similar outlets could be mentioned—The Onion and The Daily Mash come to mind—whowho had the idea of writing silly news stories for our amusement. No one thought this was real stuff. We all knew it was satire or farce. All of us, right? But how about a story claiming that Hilary Clinton sold weapons to ISISt? Is that fake news? It’s not obviously false like Bat Boy but certainly could be false. Unlike the Bat Boy story, which is obviously (to most) silly, the Clinton story is part of new generation of fake news with less benign motives than amusement.

It was the less benign type of stories surrounding the 2016 presidential election that brought fake news to everyone’s attention. Some made-up stories were getting lots of attention, and some worried that the stories were being used to influence voters

Since then, educators have responded to one of the alarms raised by fake news: the easy problem of how to teach students to find the fakes. We have, however, largely ignored the more important and more difficult problem caused by fake news: how to limit skepticism of the media. For every person fooled by a fake story, are there a thousand people whose trust in the media has been diminished? Tens of thousands? I’m afraid the answers are yes. Discounting all news means discounting true news, too, and overwhelming, most news is true.

First, the Easy Part

Lots of resources such as The News Literacy Project ( exist now for solving that first problem: teaching students how to identify fabrications. Let me add to the resources by sharing five ideas.

  1. Teach a healthy level of skepticism

The distance between news and “fake news” has shrunk. In the old days, the Detroit News landed on my doorstep. To find the Weekly World News, I had to travel to the supermarket, and I don’t how far I would have had to go to get other fake news sources.  Now that news is obtained mostly online, no travel is involved. Students are one click away from going down the rabbit hole of “news.” They can instantly access an increasing number of websites putting out stories intended to deceive, to attack, and to influence in addition to the ones putting out stories to entertain. “News” stories about spider eggs inside of beanie babies are mixed in with New York Times editorials, and it’s becoming less and less clear what the legitimate news stories are.

Teach students to be a little suspicious. Just because a headline popped up on the computer feed does not mean it is accurate. Just because a source has a great sounding name that includes the word “news,” does not mean it is news. Weekly World News, after all, claims to be “The World’s Only Reliable News.” Encourage students to resist the urge to uncritically accept click-bait headlines. Let them know that some people are trying to fool them, but only some.

  1. Show students how to look for sources

Legitimate articles will name sources. Ask students to list the sources in any article and to cite sources themselves when commenting in class. Instead of saying, “The Keystone Pipeline will wreck the environment,” encourage students to instead say, “According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Keystone Pipeline will cause environmental damage.” A class discussion now becomes a media literacy lesson as you discuss sources—“Why should I believe the Huffington Post?”—as well as a discussion about the pipeline.

  1. Show students how to analyze sources

I wrote my book Researching in a Digital Age because too many teachers send students online without properly preparing them to think critically about what they find. Lessons in that book about how to evaluate websites should be used to look for fake news, also.

Here’s an easy way to teach students to critically analyze news sources. Divide them into small groups and give each group an article to check. Give most of the groups fake news articles but sneak in a couple of legitimate articles. Ask them to look for the “About Us” or “Home” or “FAQ” tabs on news sites. KTLA is a real news channel in Los Angeles, but News4KTLA is bogus. The difference between the two is apparent from the “about us” tabs.

Another tip is to have them check the site’s history and information pages. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal will have extensive archives. Not so for lots of sites on Facebook with “news” in their name that were created in the last couple of years.

Next, ask students to analyze the sources within the article. Do the links work? Do the experts quoted exist? Do they have a particular bias? Can you find the sources? Is the treatment of anonymous sources explained?

Once they’ve finished their discussion, have each report their findings to the class and declare the article to be true or not using evidence from their research. Students will begin to make critical thinking a habit.

  1. Teach students to look for multiple sources

About one million people engaged with the article that appeared on Facebook saying the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump. The article appeared on a site called Southend News Network. If you click on their “About SSN” page, you’ll see that the site’s creators admit it is bogus. But even if students never get that far, ask them to check for multiple sources. Ask them: If the leader of one of the world’s largest religions makes a political endorsement, do you really think only one online news site would cover it? Do you think that CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, CNN, Reuters, The Guardian, and The Washington Post—all of them missed it? Nope. It never happened.

  1. Show how to use fake news detectors,,, and others have as their express purpose to verify information. Can you be sure they are legit? Remember: multiple sources. You don’t need to believe one of them. Check several. You can also find examples of fake news stories to use for demonstration purposes at Snopes. ( 

Now the Harder Part…

What has been called news may be false, but I am more worried that what has been called false may be true. As I mentioned, finding fakes is easy. Once students are aware of the problem and given simple tools for analyzing information, they can easily sniff out made-up stories. And the truth is, being duped is not generally dangerous. Is it possible that someone believes NBA refs were paid off? That someone might build an underground shelter to try to survive Earth’s impending collision into another planet?  Oh well. The real problem with fake news is problem two: not letting the hysteria about fake news lead to total distrust of media.

In an era where the term “fake news” gets shouted all the time, truth gets buried with all the falsehoods. The default becomes, “Ah, they are all lying. You can’t believe anything.” We must instead cultivate a healthy level of skepticism. It is not the case that there is no news, no truth, and only lies. Don’t let students give up.

Here are three ways to avoid total distrust of media.

  1. Teach the difference between biased and fake

With President Donald Trump using the term “Fake news!” in his tweets and at his rallies to dismiss stories and attack the media, I cannot avoid mentioning him in this discussion. Yet this brings up a problem for educators: In a highly charged, divided nation, any critique of the president will lead someone to say, “You’re cramming your political views down the throats of your students!”

Yet I would argue that critically analyzing what politicians say is fundamental to democracy. Pointing out a factual error is not out of bounds. Noticing that language has been misused is not foisting a political view on anyone. And President Trump is misusing the word fake. Fake means made up, didn’t happen, completely bogus. I believe the President should say that he thinks some news sources are biased, because he believes they lean one way and choose stories that cast him in a negative light. Mainstream media outlets such as The New York Times, NBC, ABC, CBS, and CNN—all of which the President has called “fake news” in tweets—are not making up stories in the same way that Weekly World News and News4KTLA are. They may report things the president doesn’t like, they may fail to report things he wants reported, but they are not churning out “fake news.” That doesn’t mean they don’t make mistakes, but making a mistake is not the same as inventing stories.

  1. Know your personal biases

In the book Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (, I introduce a couple of reasoning errors that contribute to our susceptibility to fake news claims. The first is the availability bias. What we see is what we believe. Easily available information, repeated often, crowds out significant other information. If all we hear is “FAKE NEWS!,” we come to believe that all news is fake. And indeed, Americans’ trust and confidence in the mass media to “report the news fully, accurately, and fairly” has dropped to its lowest level in Gallup polling history, with 32 percent saying they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the media (Gallup, 2016). 

Teach students to be wary of believing that all news is fake just because they hear the term a lot. There is much, much more real news than fake news out there.

The second error is the confirmation bias. You have opinions, and those opinions alter the way you view reality. Humans want to be right, and we tend notice the things that “prove” what we already think. An example: Anne, my wife, has for believed for a very long time that a no-fat diet is important. There are a lot of stories out there now suggesting that the research about low-fat diets was flawed and that type of fat is more important than amount of fat. ( As a cheeseburger lover, I share these stories in the hope that Anne will join me at In-N-Out Burger someday. She discounts the new articles because they don’t confirm her deep-seated belief. But look at the reverse case! Am I attracted to these articles because I want to believe them? Anne and I are both influenced by confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias influences how the media is viewed. According to an Emerson College poll in 2017, 91 percent of Republicans think the news media is untruthful while only 31 percent of Democrats do. ( Republicans and Democrats are both seeing what they want to see. Teach students to be very careful about making decisions about news stories based on what they want to believe.

  1. Teach the importance of the press

The news is a fundamental part of our democracy. The Founding Fathers thought that protecting the press was so important they put in the First Amendment. They realized that a free and respected press would help hold government leaders accountable, publicize important issues, and educate citizens so they can make informed decisions. Attacking the press, then, is a very dicey proposition. If the press is demeaned, those three things don’t happen. Who will perform those functions?

I understand that it is a brilliant strategy for rulers to discredit all news sources. Demeaning the press has always been used by authoritarian leaders before they move to limit all but approved sources of information. . I grew up in the age of communist Russia. Pravda was the official news publication of the Communist Party and subscribing to it was mandatory for many organizations in the Soviet Union. Another Soviet newspaper was Izvestia, but it, too, was controlled by the government. The communists in China and the National Socialists in Germany also shut down all but approved news sources. In situations such as those, critique and investigation become outlawed.

Former President Richard Nixon would have loved the “fake news” gambit during the Watergate scandal. Dismissing the news as inauthentic would’ve been a great tactic for him. Instead, however, the then-respected press performed an important function, and the public’s belief in the veracity of the press forced us to accept a truth we didn’t want to see. Share with students the events of Watergate. Is it possible for an elected leader to do something wrong? Is it possible that a president may want something hidden from the public? Was a free press useful in discovering the truth? Did we accept the unpalatable conclusions of the reporters because we respected the press? The Watergate example shows students how believing in the press can change history.

I wish none of this were necessary. I wish we lived in an age where complete disregard for the truth was not common. I wish “fake news” was a term never invented. But my wishes don’t matter. Civic literacy demands teaching about fake news and critical thinking about media, and understanding the important role the press plays in our democracy.

Concha, J. (February 8, 2017) Trump administration seen as more truthful than news media: poll. Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Dizlikes, C. (April 16, 2017) Arrests made as protesters clash at pro-Trump rally in Berkeley

Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Duane, D. Why experts now think you should eat more fat. Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Gallup. (September 14, 2016) Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low. Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Lake, F. (2017) Earth to Collide with Nibiru on October 17th, 2017. Weekly World News. Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Palmer, E. (2016) Good thinking: teaching argument, persuasion, and reasoning. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Palmer, E. (2015) Researching in a digital world. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Pew Research Center. (November 23, 2015) How government compares with other national institutions. Retrieved September 5, 2017 from

Erik Palmer ( is an education consultant and the author of Researching in a Digital World: How Do I Teach My Students to Conduct Quality Online Research? [LINK: (ASCD, 2015) and Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking [](ASCD, 2014). Twitter @erik_palmer



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Connecting the talk to the audience

“In New Jersey v. TLO, the Supreme Court granted certiorari to consider the appropriateness of the application of the exclusionary rule.  The Court overturned the lower court ruling in a 7-2 decision and held that the search did not violate the Fourth Amendment.”

What does that mean?  I heard that during a student presentation about landmark Supreme Court cases.  I can’t challenge the accuracy of the statement because that is exactly what the Court did.  I can challenge the appropriateness of the statement for the listeners.  Most eighth graders are probably not familiar with “certiorari” (though if all students are researching Supreme Court cases, the listeners in that situation may be) and probably no eighth graders understand what the exclusionary rule is.  What we have here is an example of a student presenting information without any consideration of the audience.  It happens all the time in our classrooms.

Here is what happened in the situation above: the teacher gave each student a case to research; she gave them a date for an oral presentation; she required certain content (name of the case, decision of the case, law the case was based upon); and she gave them a score sheet that would be used to evaluate the presentation which included eye contact, time limit, and posture. In this case, the student got maximum marks.  He accomplished what was asked.  Unfortunately, the class got nothing from his presentation.  The teacher failed to require that the speech be designed for the audience, a common omission.

All oral communication must be designed for a particular audience.  This is true for one-on-one communication, small group communication, or large group communication.  It amazes me how often speakers miss this point and fail to analyze the audience.  I recall being called to a faculty meeting on Friday afternoon so someone from the district could introduce us to RTI with a PowerPoint presentation full of densely packed text.  Really?  Is that going to work with this audience at this time?   You have been to talks where the speaker failed to understand the audience, too: telling you things you already knew; using insider jargon audience members didn’t know; not noticing the mood of the listeners; and so on.  If adults can be so inept at designing a speech for a specific group, no wonder children fail as well.  Students need specific instruction about how to build a talk for an audience.

First, whenever an assignment is given that involves talking to an audience (this includes mock interviews, discussions, book chats, digital stories, podcasts—everything!), begin with an explicit caution to students to think about the audience and design the talk for them.

You may have read a book designed for boy readers, but our class has boys and girls.  How can you make the book talk interesting to all of us?

We will have an in-class discussion about whether or not we should ___________.  Come prepared to state your opinion and defend your position on the issue.  Think about what arguments will be persuasive to class members.

You researched your topic and know a lot about it.  We didn’t research it and our class may not know many of the terms you are now familiar with.  How can you explain to our age group the important things we need to know?

Ideally, at some point the audience will change.  Perhaps students will present to another grade level or to parents.  This creates a great opportunity to broaden the discussion and analyze disparate audiences.

Second, make sure students know they will be judged in part based on how well they communicated with the audience.  The audience must be involved in scoring this part.  Way too often, students speak at the teacher only.  They know he or she is the only one whose opinion counts.  This is misguided.  A speech is for an audience and only by asking the audience will we know if the speech was effective.

Let’s score Spencer’s speech.  Did you think he did a good job of designing his talk for you?  Did he make everything understandable?  Did he keep you interested?  We use a 1 to 5 scale, remember, with 5 being perfect.  Raise your hand if you give Spencer a five?  A four?  A three?  Hmm, seems like most people gave you a three, which is good but which could be better.  What did you think he could do better next time, class?  (Discuss)

It does not damage students to have their performance scored if the teacher creates the proper atmosphere. (Of course, we don’t all get perfect marks, we are just beginning to master the difficult job of presenting…)  It does damage students to fail to teach them that what the audience thinks matters.

Third, teach students how to connect with the audience.  A good talk becomes a great talk if specific statements are added that let the audience know the talk was designed just for them.  The speaker must take his topic and connect it to the lives of the listeners.  In the eighth grade class mentioned above, this would be a connector:

How many of you have cell phones?  Would you be OK with the principal taking your phone and looking at your text messages?  My case, New Jersey v. TLO, is about a principal searching a student’s stuff, too, and like you, she wasn’t happy about it.

Now, some old Supreme Court case is much more interesting to the class.

Students (and adults!) need to do a better job of making sure they design their words for their listeners.  That means that we have to do a better job of letting them know how to do so.

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Media Literacy & Speaking (from Channel One Blog)

(See the original post here.)

After two decades teaching, Erik Palmer has coached countless students through the basic steps of forming a good argument. Drawn to debate in high school, his fascination with spirited discourse propelled him from the debate stage to law school. Later, he moved into business and helped grow a commodities exchange firm. When he became a father, he needed a more family-friendly schedule. “I loved playing with my kids. As a single dad, I wanted to be on the same schedule as my boys and was drawn to teaching.”

Early on, Palmer decided to bring his love of presentation and debate into the classroom. He quickly realized that kids didn’t speak well and was surprised at the lack of materials to teach it. “The limited information on speaking well was focused on esoteric, hard to understand jargon like ‘elocution,’” Palmer said. So he created his own curriculum that became known as The Palmer Method.

His eleven-step process (shown below) covered the two phases of speaking: what you do before you open your mouth and what you do as you are speaking.

Public Speaking and Media Literacy

Erik’s method became popular within his district and at professional development conferences. After becoming known as the “guru” for this topic of teaching kids how to speak, he was asked to write a book about it.

When researching the book, he found the speaking and listening standards required integrating and evaluating diverse media and formats. “That was my lightbulb moment,” Palmer said. “Wait, kids will need to be media literate to do that!” Listening standards also required the ability to evaluate arguments and reasoning skills.

Restoring Civility in Debate

Maintaining civility through heated debate is tough, especially when parties are anonymous on social media and debates are limited to 140 characters. One teacher of gifted students in Mississippi reported becoming reticent to discuss politics in the classroom, after moderating fights among her students during last year’s presidential election. “We have a bad model right now with tweeting and public name calling,” Palmer said. But we can teach students “don’t attack the person, attack the idea.”

In his classes, Palmer always assigned a “public defender” during student discussion and debates. The public defender knew to stop conversations that became heated and say, “You need to rephrase.”

“Over time kids learned to express an idea passionately without ever having to attack another individual,” Palmer said.

Palmer Method

Building a talk (what to do before you begin speaking):

  • Audience. Understand the people you are talking to. “There are differences between a group in Manhattan, New York and a group in Manhattan, Kansas.”
  • Content. Include relevant material that connects with the audience.
  • Organization. Have a strong opening, good transitions and a powerful closing.
  • Appearance. Make sure you look your best for the group you’re speaking to.
  • Visual Aids. Incorporate graphics that support your overall message.

Performing a talk (what you do as you speak):

These steps were given the catchy acronym kids could remember “PV Legs.”

  • Poise. Appear calm and confident and get rid of odd tics.
  • Voice. Make sure every word is heard.
  • Life. Add feeling, passion and emotion to your voice.
  • Eye contact. Look at each member of the audience.
  • Gestures. Use hand motions, facial expressions, and body motions to enhance your words.
  • Speed. Pay attention to pace and adjust it during your talk.

(From Erik Palmer’s Well Spoken: Teaching Speaking to All Students)

How do you teach civil discourse in your class? Share your experience in the comments.  We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.

Additional Resources:

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Media Literacy (from Channel One Blog)

(See the original post here.)

“I don’t like football, it’s bad. It causes concussions,” he said, his small brow furrowed with conviction.

“Okay. Why do you feel that way? Help me and the class understand.” The boy’s teacher, Erik Palmer, gently probed for the rationale behind his statement. The child looked up, shifting his weight uncomfortably, before sitting back down. “I’m not sure, Mr. Palmer. I just heard it.”

“Fake News” remains a hot topic underscoring media literacy as an essential part of civic understanding. In celebration of Media Literacy Week, Erik Palmer, media literacy expert and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt thought leader, shared his perspective after 20 years of teaching the topic in classrooms and to educators.

“Spouting conclusions, unfortunately, has become the norm in today’s political discourse. We need to teach kids to construct the points that led to the conclusions,” Palmer said. “What sticks in people’s minds is what’s available to them. Topic X is bad, they recall hearing it, but don’t remember where.” In order to bring the concept to life in the classroom, a difficult one for many adults to grasp, students need to understand, “that’s a conclusion. What statements led to that conclusion?”

How to Know Which Sources to Trust

“The default used to be ‘I believe’ and is shifting to ‘I don’t believe anything,’” Palmer said. “When our top elected officials describe news from our most credentialed media outlets as fake, all sources of information are undermined.”

This mistrust is the troubling byproduct of both the rhetoric around fake news, as well as the actual presence of false news reports pumped into the internet by disreputable sources. Although the overall impact on children’s beliefs is still unknown, the trust gap among adults is visible. According to a December 2016 Pew Research study, nearly one-in-three U.S. adults (32 percent) say they often see fake political news online. An earlier report (January 2016) from Pew showed trust in the media among Millennials is trending down. Just 27 percent of Millennials now say the media has a positive impact, compared with 26 percent of Gen-Xers and Silents and 23 percent of Boomers.

Media bias, also widely discussed, perhaps more so after the 2016 election is one that journalists are honor bound to take seriously. “Many people may not realize that reputable news organizations follow strict journalistic ethics and standards and they have a lot of checks and balances along the way,” said Angela Hunter, Executive Producer of Channel One News. “So when you compare a legacy news organization to a blog or some other less traditional news organization, it is helpful to understand the journalistic process and what goes into the report.”

Educators and media have stepped up to teach the fundamentals of analyzing every source and evaluating it for trustworthiness. For instance, “fake and bias are different things,” Palmer said. “You can show images of Donald Trump that make him look like a wonderful or a terrible person. Both images are true — the photos exist. Choosing one image over the other displays your bias.”

It takes a long time for kids to grasp subtleties on the continuum from fiction to fact across categories. Palmer suggested that, “a little bit of suspicion should be the new default. Let’s help kids move to ‘even if I believe most of what I see is true, let me check.’”

Standards for Media Literacy

Media literacy concepts are now baked into state and national standards across subjects, including the C3 Framework for Social Studies, which includes “making and supporting evidence-based claims and counter-claims” as a key component. They require that students demonstrate the ability to access, analyze and evaluate all media types, from movies and TV shows to news articles and YouTube clips. “Teaching students how to think, not what to think, is the goal of social studies educators,” said Geraldine Stevens, Product Marketing Director for HMH Social Studies. “In this way, skills are paramount. When students look at evidence — in all its modern forms — they analyze point of view, bias, context and authenticity. This is critical to successfully navigate today’s media-saturated society.”

How do you teach media literacy in your class? Share your experience in the comments. We’ve also gathered additional links and resources to help you make the most of Media Literacy Week.

Additional Resources:

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Understand the audience!

What do these three articles have in common?

  • Amy Dinning ( wrote about networking. She said that if you want to be a successful networker, you should do something before attending an event: find out who will be there and do some research online to find out about the people you want to meet. TD Magazine 8/17
  • Phylise Banner ( wrote about content strategy and how to target content for a specific community. She suggested creating learner personas based on surveys or interviews with learners to find out their preferences, attitudes, motivations, and so on. TD Magazine 8/17
  • Howard Pitler ( wrote about six questions teachers should ask their students on the first day of school including “What are you passionate about?” “What is your greatest strength?” and “What characteristics do you want in a teacher?”

I found all of those articles as I was reading yesterday, and I realized that all of them are about what I call “Step One: Analyzing the Audience.”

Readers of Own Any Occasion know that there are two parts to being an impressive speaker: one, creating a good message and then two, delivering the message well. There is no point in speaking if you don’t have something worth saying. There is no point in having something worth saying if you can’t say it well. The three articles above all refer to an aspect of creating a message. Before speakers ever open their mouths, I wrote that there are five steps needed to take to make sure the talk will be well-received. The first step is to analyze the audience. I am surprised at how often speakers underestimate the importance of this. Indeed, some speakers never even think about it, yet all talks are doomed if the audience analysis isn’t done. All three of the articles are really telling readers the same thing: find out about the folks you’ll be talking to.

It is quite common for managers, trainers, teachers, and salespeople to have content they must cover. The employees/trainees/students/buyers must be told about the new procedures/safety regulations/sales promotion/whatever and so that’s that. The content is the content, and it must be presented. Pretty PowerPoint slides are made; another handout for the binder is created; an evaluation form with smiley face/frowny face is run off; and the text of the talk/lesson is prepared with all the important information. Then the thought is, “I covered it so I’m done.” Unfortunately, this forgets the most important people, the audience. Did the listeners get it? Was there an impact? You know that way too often the answer is “No.” So what went wrong? The speakers only thought about themselves as they prepared: what do I have to say? Big mistake.

All talks are for an audience. That audience may be one person, a few, or many, but the audience must be understood before any other preparation takes place. What do they know? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? What mood are they in? What are their interests? What filters/mind-sets do they have? (A baby-boomer with 28 years of experience “hears” messages differently than a Gen-Xer with 8 months of experience even though the words spoken were the same.) What will they be able to get out of the talk? All three articles feel the need to remind their readers about Step One: before a word is spoken out loud, it is critically important to know about the people being addressed. Implied is that once you know who they are, you must make adjustments to your talk.

  • Adjust your language. What level of vocabulary is appropriate?
  • Adjust your style. Should you be formal or informal?
  • Adjust your look. What will the listeners be expecting?
  • Adjust your content (Part A). Is it all necessary? (No.) What will the listeners be able to grasp right now?
  • Adjust your content (Part B). What can you add that connects you and your content to their lives?
  • Adjust your expectations. Realistically, will all listeners respond exactly as you hope?

Every talk is more effective if it is adapted to the audience. It may seem difficult to accept, but listeners are your number one concern, not your topic. Amy, Phylise, and Howard want us to know that.



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Looking Into Education’s Crystal Ball

(Larry Ferlazzo is an educator worth following. He collects, curates, and shares great ideas from educators around the world and contributes brilliant ideas of his own as well. He asked educators to predict the future, and included this comment from me. This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here. –Erik Palmer)

Response From Erik Palmer

Erik Palmer is a professional speaker and educational consultant from Denver who ran a commodity brokerage firm before spending 21 years as a classroom teacher. Palmer is the author of Teaching the Core Skills of Listening and Speaking (ASCD, 2014), Researching in a Digital World: How do I teach my students to conduct quality online research? (ASCD, 2015), and Digitally Speaking: How to Improve Student Presentations with Technology (Stenhouse, 2011). Learn more about Erik’s work at or connect with him on Twitter @erik_palmer:

Oral communication will be by far the number one language art taught.

Actually, it is the most important and most used language art now, but we fail to recognize that. In the near future, speaking and listening will so dominant that it will be impossible to not realize their importance. How will people communicate? By writing? Nope, by Skype 4.0 or FaceTime 6.0 or ThisIsBetter 7.37. How will people text? By thumbing a small keyboard? Nope, by talking the message. How will people communicate internationally? By writing and email? A little, but mostly by speaking. Some will use digital tools such as WhatsApp 8.9 or GoToMeeting 11.14 or NotYetInvented 7.2. Some will speak their native language into a translation app and play the audio translation for foreign listeners. How will people get hired? By analyzing a novel well? Nope, by speaking well. The resume you speak into a resume-creating app will get you in the door, but your speaking will get you the job. The hiring process will involve digital speaking tools: interviews are now being done over Skype; voice-analyzing software will be a big part of hiring decisions. How will people write? By typing on a keyboard or mobile device? Nope, by speaking into voice-to-text apps. How will we research? By verbally asking a device a question and listening to the answer. You can read more of my predictions here.

Of course, all of those are happening now so it is not very bold to suggest that our future will see more verbal communication tools and an increase in their prominence. What is bold is say that we should decrease emphasis on haiku and increase emphasis on speaking. No one will ever say, “Palmer, fire off a haiku to our affiliate in Beijing,” but every day of our lives how we speak will matter. Oddly, my son had haiku units in five different grades but never had one oral communication unit. Yes, after the haiku unit, he was asked to get up and say a haiku poem, but he was never taught how to say that poem well. Lessons about word choice, yes. Lessons about syllables, yes. Lessons about where to put commas, yes. Lessons about adding life to the voice, no. Lessons about speeding up and slowing down for effect, no. Lessons about descriptive hand gestures or body gestures or facial gestures, no.

It is already true that the odds of professional and social success dramatically improve if you are well spoken. In twenty years, those who speak well will have an even bigger advantage. At some point, schools will be forced to pay attention to this reality. The favorite lessons teachers have trotted out for the last fifty or sixty years will go away, and curricula will be adjusted to specifically teach the most important language art, speaking, as much as the language arts of reading and writing. 

Copyright Erik Palmer


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Fake News! ALTERNATIVE FACTS!! (Part Two)

Fake news!! ALTERNATIVE FACTS!!! (Part Two)

In my first post about fake news (, I mentioned Bat Boy, the Pope carving roast cherub for Christmas, and the imminent destruction of Earth by the planet Nibiru.

I suggested that no one would believe any of those stories and would recognize that they are all fake. Well, almost no one.

Since that post, our new administration has given us other stories to challenge our thinking about news, including President Trump’s press secretary statement that Trump’s inauguration attendance was the largest in history, disagreeing with many of the news reports. Whose “news” was accurate? A Trump surrogate suggested that the press secretary didn’t lie but rather used “alternative facts.” So here we are discussing whether comments from the White House are in the same category as Bat Boy, cherub carving, and Nibiru. The problem of fake news is much bigger than we might have thought and certainly bigger than we wished.

(You’ll recall that one of the strategies from my first post was to analyze sources. That can’t be done if no sources are given so I have provided many here. Consider asking students to provide sources for all their comments, too. Ban discussion comments such as “The Keystone Pipeline will wreck the environment” and encourage “According to an article in the Huffington Post, the Keystone Pipeline will cause environmental damage.” Then you can discuss sources—why should I believe the Huffington Post?—as well as the pipeline.)

Teach students to verify

 Don’t take any one person’s word as gospel. Don’t believe one source. Check everything out. For example, watch candidate Trump describing Obama dealing with a protestor:  Notice that Trump said, “You have to go back and look and study.” Good advice. Did Trump accurately describe where “they put the cameras”? Did he accurately describe what Obama said and how he said it? You can check it out yourself. Here is a video of the event Trump was talking about: Unfortunately, we live in an era of fake news and alternative facts. Fortunately, almost everything is recorded somehow which makes verification easier. If there is no recording, remember the tip from my first post about looking for multiple sources. Are other reputable news outlets reporting the event in a similar way?

Teach students to verify images

My presentations about how to teach students oral communication skills are enormously popular. Here is a picture of the crowd that came to see my last presentation:


Except that isn’t true. Well, it is true that I do presentations about teaching speaking ( but that picture is not from my show. Use Google’s reverse image search. Upload an image, and Google will tell you where it is from:


Oops. Busted. If you wonder if an image is accurate, verify.

Teach students to demand evidence

As I write this, news outlets are talking about Trump’s claim that he would have won the popular vote if not for millions of illegal votes. Trump said that three to five million votes for Clinton were fraudulent. A simple and very specific statement. Where did that number come from? What evidence supports that statement? Turns out, none. As I write this, the President is going to launch an investigation into voter fraud so maybe some evidence will turn up later.


Of course, asking to students to look for evidence is not worth much if they haven’t been taught what evidence is. Teach them the five types of evidence. I talk much more about evidence in Good Thinking: Teaching Argument, Persuasion, and Reasoning (, but alert readers will get a pretty good sense of the five types of evidence from the questions this teacher asked a student during a discussion about football:

Teacher: Can you give us a number of how many concussions occur? Do you have any facts about how concussions affect the brain? Can you tell us more about the example of your cousin and how he was affected? Is there a quote from some doctor who agrees with you? Can you make an analogy perhaps about how concussions are like hitting a car windshield in a car wreck?

As I said in my first post, there must be a healthy level of skepticism. It is not the case that there is no news, no truth, and it is all lies. Don’t give up. Be a detective. Investigate.

Why are we susceptible to fake news?

Partly because we are lazy. It takes effort to investigate. Partly because we haven’t been taught about argument and reasoning. We make errors in thinking because we don’t know what to look for. Good Thinking also gives teachers ideas for teaching about how to avoid reasoning errors. I’ll share a couple of ideas from that book here.

Teach the availability bias

For years, my father gave money to an organization that claimed to be committed to eliminating pork barrel spending, money Congressmen and women earmark from a large budget bill to send to a local project in their district. For example, in 2006 the federal government authorized $500,000 to Sparta, North Carolina to construct a teapot museum to showcase Gloria and Sonny Kamm’s 6,000 teapot collection. Frequently, my dad would get an email with another example. Over time, my father came to believe that pork barrel spending was the largest part of the federal budget. I told him that pork barrel spending is between 0.5% and 1% according to most studies, and eliminating all of it wouldn’t dent the federal deficit. He didn’t believe me. What he saw was what he believed. My father was misled. Easily available information crowded out significant other information. This doesn’t apply only to repeated messages. The first message we see colors our subsequent thinking. We have all said, “I think heard somewhere that…” We didn’t research it, we don’t remember exactly where we heard of saw it, but it stuck. Teach students to be wary of believing something just because it was easily available.

Teach the confirmation bias

You have opinions. Unfortunately, those opinions alter the way you view reality. Humans are apparently wired to notice things that confirm what they believe. Ever have parents who think you are treating their child unfairly? You do several hundred things well but mismark one paper: “See? You hate my kid!” None of the good stuff got noticed. We want to be right, and we notice the things that “prove” what we already think. Fake news creators know this. You are more susceptible to falsehoods if they fit your pre-existing narrative. You hate Hillary? I will write a fake story alleging she did something horrible, and you will be inclined to believe it. You hate Trump? I will write a fake story alleging he did something horrible, and you will be inclined to believe it. You don’t need to verify the because you already feel it is true. The flip side is that you will call something that doesn’t agree with you fake news even if it is true. Teach students to be very careful about making decisions about news stories based on what they want to believe.

Critical thinking is a good thing to teach students (and adults). I worry that many of us are letting down our guard, and fake news creators are counting on exactly that. I hope these two posts are useful start for media analysis. Give students tools they need to be intelligent consumers of news. Keep them from being duped.

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