Saturday, October 18, 2014

Fact or Faked: Using "Informational Text" as a Springboard for Research

Recently I came across a post on my Facebook page that declared that all Greek Mythology had been created out of thin air by a group of historians who wanted to advance their careers. They claimed to have created everything from documents to archaeological finds to the Illiad.   Now deep down I knew it wasn’t true (and so did the person who posted it) but the article seemed so matter-of-fact- …. So Real. 

I knew that the source, The Onion, was a satirical publication, but wondered, what about those who don’t know this? Time after time we see posts on Facebook that are simply untrue, yet people post them believing they are. Why? Because they do not search out the truth- instead they blindly post what they see,  accepting it for the truth because it is in print. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen posts that poor Johnny Depp has died.)

So are  students ready as everyday civilians to face the onslaught of fake material and scams out there? We want them to be college and career ready, but what about being ready for everyday life? What will happen when they open their email and they see they have ‘won the lottery in Zambia’? All they have to do is respond and send their personal information. Or what if they see a post on Facebook from Kroger claiming they can get a free $200 gift card just for saying thanks and re-posting? Will they know these communications are fake? Possibly a crafty scam to get their personal information?

Common Core Standards W7-9 direct students to perform short research projects, gather relevant information from digital sources and draw evidence from informational texts for analysis and research;  and CCS RI 10 directs teachers to provide a variety of informational texts.   The aforementioned types of communications are perfect for both.  Below, I have chosen just a few informational 'documents' that can be used to provide students an opportunity to research and do some critical thinking to find out if they are fact or faked.

The essential question: How do we know if the document/source is true or real? 
The Task: How do you search the information provided to find out? 

The Article

Questions for Students: 
  • How can we tell if this article is true?
  • What aspects of the article make it seem true and what aspects seem untrue, if any?

  • Research the origins of Greek Culture and the Illiad
  •  Can you find anything dated before 1971? (Why is that date important? – students should note that the article states that the culture was manufactured at that time- so anything dating before that would put that statement into question)
  • Research the purpose of The Onion –( scrolling to the bottom of the home page- FAQ- “Editorial” section reveals the site is satirical).
  • What is a satire? What does this reveal about the content of the article?
  • Students might also just search for what The Onion publication is in a Google Search.

Fake Kroger Facebook Post:

Questions for Students: 
  • How do we know if this offer is true or not?
  • Look at the information provided from the post and the website- are there any aspects of it that seem legitimate and any that do not?
  • How many people have shared this post? Does that make it real/true?
  • What can we search in order to find out if the post is true? 

The Email:  

(This below, like so many similar emails, arrived in my spam folder the other day)

Subject Line of Email:   From: Mr.Kenneth Egodi,(Funds Operational Head Director)
Email Address:

From: Mr.Keneth Egodi,(Funds Operational Head Director)
Nigerian Deposit Insurance Coperation (NDIC)
Mamman Kontagora House 23A, Marina,
Lagos Nigeria.

ATTN: Sir/Madam.

I am Mr.Keneth Egodi,Funds Operational Head Director,I monitor offices and control the affairs of all banks and financial  institutions in Nigerian unders the auspices of the NDIC. I am the final signatory to all foreign transfers of huge funds moving within banks both the local and international levels in line to foreign contracts settlement.

I have before me the list of foreign contract payment files, which are due to be transferred to their nominated accounts. Meanwhile, we identified some of these accounts to be ghost accounts, unclaimed deposits and over invoiced sum etc. I wish to have a deal with you as regards to the unpaid fund.
 I have a file before me and hope the data's are correct and un- tampered. As it is my duty to recommend the transfer of these surplus fund to the Federal Government Treasury and Reserve Accounts as unclaimed deposit. I have the opportunity to write you based on the instruction I received two days ago from the senate committee on contract payment/foreign debts to submit the list of payment reports, expenditures and audited  reports of revenues. Among several others, I have decided to remit the total sum of USD 5.525m following the idea that we  have a deal/agreement and I am going to perfact the paperwork legally.


1.You will have to provide foreign account where the funds will be transferred believing that I can trust you.
2.This deal must be kept secret forever, and all correspondence will be strictly by private email /telephone for security  purposes.

If you AGREE with my Conditions, contact me directly through this email address;( l will advise you on the next line of action and immediately the funds transfer will commence without further delay as I would proceed to fix your name on the payment schedule instantly within the next 5 working days.

Mr.Keneth Egodi,
Funds Operational Head Director, NDIC.

Questions for Students: 
  • How do we know if this is true or not?
  • What aspects of the email seem true and what aspects do not?  (It might be important to point out spelling and grammar as a possible signifier that the email is not truly authentic. While you can’t rely on that alone- it is often the case that these types of emails have spelling and grammar issues and that a professional would be careful to eliminate such errors).
  • Are there any aspects of the information in the heading that seems official and/or legitimate? (Both before and after searching heading information)
  • What information in this email is potentially alarming? (Providing account info, keeping it a secret, etc.)
  • What can we research to find out if this email is authentic?  (Most importantly the contact information in the heading of the email would be important to search)
  • Is there a reason this email went to the Spam/Junk mail folder? Does it automatically make it untrue because it was sent there? (and the answer is no- I have received items in my Junk folder many times that went there erroneously).
  • Students might research the email address

Note: I left all misspellings in the original email.
I purposely altered the spelling of the email address and sender’s name

The next time you see that fake email or a post that is ridiculously untrue- snag it and use it in the classroom. Students can work in small investigative teams to research and find out if that piece of informational text is fact or faked!