I Found It On the Internet, It Must Be True: Fact vs. Opinion for Middle School Students

 Actual text message exchange between one of the authors of this blog and her child:    


Text messages about online research

While this particular fun fact turned out to be entirely true, what caused a double take was the last little bit of this text exchange: “fun facts that I found on the internet.” What makes this conversation even more relevant (and extraordinarily more horrifying) was that we had just finished presenting a session on fake news and information literacy at a conference and here was one of our own flesh and blood finding “facts” on the internet. 

Fact vs. fiction 

If you have ever spent much time around middle school students, you know that they love to gross you out, they are fascinated by the unusual, and they have very strong feelings about almost everything. And, of course, they are spending more time than ever on the internet, being consumers of information.

As the study conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Education found, middle school students are easily duped by misleading or fake information and have an extremely difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction, ads from articles, and checking the validity of information. This needs to change. 

As librarians, it’s our job to guide students to be savvy consumers of information. When we think about middle school students, we want to build on what they already know about finding information. We want to teach them to take into consideration the difference between facts, opinions and informed opinions.

Fact checking: The basics 

It’s important that we start with some good definitions.

  • Fact: Something that can be proven to be true
  • Opinion: A view or judgment about something, not necessarily based on fact
  • Informed opinion: A view or judgment about something based on information

Ensuring students understand the difference between facts, opinions and informed opinions can be challenging. With the right resources and some fabulous lessons, librarians can lead the charge to turn the 11-, 12-, and 13-year-olds of the planet into truth-seeking superhero fact-checkers!

With the superhero fact-checker in mind, we’ve curated and annotated a list of resources and ideas to use when teaching middle school-age students to be discerning users of information and distinguish fact from fiction.  

Teaching resources