How to teach news literacy in polarizing times

The historic upheaval that dominated previous headlines — including a global pandemic, a national reckoning over racial injustice, a contentious presidential election and the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol — underscored the deep divides separating much of the country and the world. In such a polarized era, partisanship and vitriol can easily seep into the classroom when current events come up.

But the challenges of teaching news literacy in today’s polarized climate — including charged reactions from students and parents over controversial news events — also present opportunities for learning and growth.

These eight strategies can help you teach the most important stories and issues of the day while navigating social and political differences to make classroom conversations worthwhile:

  1. Challenge students to reflect on personal biases and consider how these biases impact how they see the world, and how they perceive news.
  2. Establish ground rules for discussion to keep the conversation respectful.
  3. Approach news reports as texts and encourage students to read closely and critically.
  4. Focus on journalism standards to help build common ground.
  5. Emphasize facts and make sure students understand the difference between matters of fact and matters of opinion.
  6. Encourage students to consult diverse news sources to avoid falling into partisan news bubbles.
  7. Embrace ambiguity to make room for tough questions and meaningful discussions without the need for definitive answers.
  8. Focus on specifics and particular parts of news coverage to avoid fights over the news organization or topic itself.

In addition to these eight tips, this infographic includes classroom ideas and hyperlinked resources to help put these strategies into action.

Teaching news literacy amid so many controversial news events and political polarization can feel overwhelming, but approaching classroom discussions with these strategies in mind can help defuse partisanship while empowering students to identify credible news and information.