By Tom Bigglestone, a former Head of Humanities and now Online Learning Manager at The Economist Educational Foundation
The news can cause young people to become anxious and sometimes form stereotypes about others. However, fact-based, inquisitive discussions in the classroom can provide opportunities to challenge scary misconceptions and reduce anxiety-provoking uncertainty.
The Economist Educational Foundation provides fully planned lessons that make complex news stories accessible for all students aged 9+. Free weekly Topical Talk resources explore the world’s most pressing issues – from racial equity to the climate crisis.
Keen to get discussions going in your classroom? Here are the Foundation’s top tips for doing it right:
Establish the facts
Use trusted, reputable sources that explain the what, where, when, why and who. Don’t be afraid to challenge incorrect or misleading information. If you’re aware of a common misconception or conspiracy theory that may be affecting your students’ thinking, you could consider raising it yourself. Harmful disinformation can spread quickly if left unchallenged. Present evidence for the facts and outline how an untrue conspiracy theory may have begun and, importantly, why it is unfounded.
Explore a range of diverse perspectives
Consider the different voices and perspectives represented in your class. How do views about an issue differ within the room? Show solidarity with potentially marginalised voices and ensure it’s not left to any particular student(s) to stand up for a minority viewpoint.
Encourage students to look beyond your classroom – to the wider community and across the world. Ask how this news story might affect these people? How will it inform their opinions? And what can students learn from that?
Be comfortable without an answer for everything (and so should your students!)
You don’t need to have an answer for every question asked. News is ever-changing and you can’t be expected to have up-to-date information on every story. You are exploring the topic alongside your students. Your role is to facilitate discussion: to challenge assumptions, correct misinformation and to protect your school’s values. Students will also learn there is no one agreed “right” answer in discussions because many questions cause reasonable people to disagree.
Encourage students to clash ideas
Remind students that difference of opinion is something to be embraced and debates can be respectful without becoming personal. Encourage them to say “I disagree with Lucy’s idea” rather than “I disagree with Lucy.” This helps them argue about the answers, rather than quarrel. Doing this is a sign of maturity, so praise them when you see it happening.
About The Economist Educational Foundation
The Economist Educational Foundation is an independent charity that leverages the journalistic expertise of The Economist newspaper. With a wealth of teaching experience in the team, they work closely with journalists to create engaging and objective resources trusted by schools across the UK.
Next steps: For resources that can help you have conversations about the news in class, visit:
- Conspiracy Theories in the News by The Economist Educational Foundation
- Generation Global’s resources for teaching dialogue