Identify Satire (Fake) Vs. Real News: Lesson Plan for Grades 9-12

Concerns about the proliferation of "fake news" on social media surfaced as early as 2014 as adults and students increased their use of social media platforms for gaining information about current events. This lesson asks students to think critically by analyzing a news story and satire of the same event in order to explore how each can lead to different interpretation.

Estimated Time: Two 45-minute class periods (extension assignments if desired)

Grade level: 9-12

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Lesson Objectives and Common Core Standards

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To develop an understanding of satire, students will:

  • Become familiar with the underlying concepts behind satire.
  • Analyze the interaction between satire and current events.
  • Apply their knowledge of satire and the news to create their own satirical piece.

Common Core Literacy Standards for History/Social Studies:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.1: Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.2: Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary that makes clear the relationships among the key details and ideas.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.3: Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.6: Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.7: Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.7-12.8: Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
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Activity #1: News Article: Facebook's Satire Tag

Satirical newspaper headlines

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Background Knowledge:

What is ​satire?

"Satire is a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption of an individual or a society by using humorironyexaggeration or ridicule. It intends to improve humanity by criticizing its follies and foibles." (


1. Students will read this August 19, 2014, Washington Post article: "Facebook 'satire' tag could wipe out the Internet’s terrible hoax-news industry." The article explains how satire stories appear on Facebook as news. The article references Empire News, a website "intended for entertainment purposes only."

According to the disclaimer for Empire News:

"Our website and social media content uses only fictional names, except in cases of public figure and celebrity parody or satirization."

Excerpt from Washington Post article:  

"And as fake-news sites proliferate, it’s become more difficult for users to weed them out. A top post on Empire News will frequently boast more than a quarter of a million Facebook shares, far more than on any other social platform. As that information spreads and mutates, it gradually takes on the pall of truth."

1. Ask students to closely read the article using strategies suggested by Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) and ask them to note the following:

  • What claims does the author make? 
  • What evidence does the author use? 
  • What language (words, phrases, images, or symbols) does the author use to persuade the article's audience?
  • How does the article's language indicate the author's perspective? 

2. After reading the article, ask students these questions: 

  • What is your immediate reaction to this article?
  • What does this article show us about the difference between satire and “real” news?
  • Why do you think some people mistake satire for straight news?
  • What concerns do you have about satire or fake news?
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Activity #2 : Compare and Contrast News Vs. Satire on Keystone Pipeline

Satirical newspaper headlines

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Background Information on the Keystone Pipeline System:

The Keystone Pipeline System is an oil pipeline system that runs from Canada to the United States. The project was originally developed in 2010 as a partnership between TransCanada Corporation and ConocoPhillips. The proposed pipeline runs from the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Illinois and Texas, and also to oil tank farms and to an oil pipeline distribution center in Cushing, Oklahoma.

The fourth and last phase of the project, known as the Keystone XL pipeline, became a symbol for environmental organizations protesting climate change. These last segments of pipeline channel American crude oil to enter the XL pipelines at Baker, Montana, on their way to the storage and distribution facilities in Oklahoma. Projections for  Keystone XL would have added 510,000 barrels per day with a total capacity up to 1.1 million barrels per day.

In 2015, the pipeline was rejected by United States President Barack Obama.


1. Ask students to "close read" both articles using strategies suggested by Stanford History Education Group (SHEG):

  • What claims does each of the authors make? 
  • What evidence does each author use? 
  • What language (words, phrases, images, or symbols) does each author use to persuade audiences?
  • How does the language in each of the documents indicate an author's perspective? 

2. Have students reread both articles and use compare and contrast strategies to show how the news event (“Obama vetoes Keystone Pipeline expansion” article from PBS NewsHour Extra, February 25, 2015) differs from the joke article on the same topic (“Keystone Veto Buys Environment At Least 3 or 4 More Hours” from The Onion, February 25, 2015).

Teachers may want to show a PBS (optional) Video on the topic.

3. Have students discuss (whole class, groups, or turn and talk) responses to the following questions:

  • What is your immediate reaction to each article?
  • What do these articles show us about the difference between satire and “real” news? 
  • Where do these two articles overlap? 
  • Why do some people mistake a satire for straight news?
  • What background knowledge might be necessary to “get” the jokes? 
  • How can even serious historical events be rendered in humorous ways? Can you find examples? 
  • Does the passage of time give us the ability to joke about the past? 
  • Do you think it is possible for satire to be unbiased?

4. Application: Have students write their own mock headlines for news stories about the cultural or historical events of their choice that can demonstrate their understanding using cultural and/or historical contexts. For example, students could use current sports events or fashion trends or look back into rewriting historical events.

  • What background research is necessary for you to write the piece?
  • What elements of your article function as satire?
  • How do these elements play on a general understanding of the event? 

Tech Tools for students to use: Students can use one of the following digital tools write their mock headlines and snippets of stories. These websites are free:

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Additional "Fake News" Resources for Teachers of Grades 9-12

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Your Citation
Bennett, Colette. "Identify Satire (Fake) Vs. Real News: Lesson Plan for Grades 9-12." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Bennett, Colette. (2020, October 29). Identify Satire (Fake) Vs. Real News: Lesson Plan for Grades 9-12. Retrieved from Bennett, Colette. "Identify Satire (Fake) Vs. Real News: Lesson Plan for Grades 9-12." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 28, 2021).