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While we here at Kialo Edu may genuinely believe the above statement, you can probably tell that it’s merely an opinion and not a provable fact. But can your students?
As our platform specializes in debate and argumentation, we strive to help students be confident in using both facts and opinions to strengthen their arguments in a discussion. These tips should help you teach your students the essential skill of separating facts from opinions.
Why is it important to distinguish between fact and opinion?
Our students live in a media landscape filled with an unprecedented amount of noise. The ability to distinguish fact from opinion is increasingly important in the digital age, where students are bombarded with fact-like opinions across their social media feeds.
While previous generations could rely on the reputation of newspapers to ensure they got the truth, the growth of the internet means that students get their news from a much broader range of sources. Many students now get their information on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tiktok, and not all of the people posting on these platforms are acting in good faith.
This could become concerning and dangerous if they become accustomed to sharing or believing in less-than-verifiable information. After all, we want our students to be able to discern clear facts and information, rather than relying on information from Whatsapp University!
What is a facts vs. an opinion?
First, here’s some background information on what exactly differentiates a fact from an opinion. This will help your students get a solid understanding before diving into dissecting these sources.
What is a fact?
It may seem obvious to most people that a fact is a provable piece of information. Unfortunately, recent surveys have found that many adults can’t identify facts when they see them. It seems that people’s perceptions of facts and opinions were heavily influenced by whether or not they agreed with them!
Help your students to avoid these pitfalls by giving them a clear definition of a fact. A simple definition could be:
A fact is something that can be proven to be true.
When explaining facts to your students, it is important to have some simple, tangible examples. It’s always best to take facts from your particular curricular materials, but here are some examples.
- Rihanna performed at the Super Bowl halftime show.
- Pythagoras’ theorem applies to triangles.
- Many of Shakespeare’s plays were performed during the 16th and 17th centuries.
All three statements above are undeniable, universal truths. There is not really one way or another to argue against them.
What is an opinion?
In the most simple sense, an opinion is a personal belief. That means that it is an unproven statement that cannot be verified. Moreover, opinions are highly debatable, meaning that different people might have different views on the same matter.
Below are some opinions that contrast with the example facts above.
- Rihanna’s Super Bowl performance was the best one in years.
- Pythagoras’ theorem is the least interesting theory about triangles.
- Shakespeare’s plays had the most profound influence on how we speak English today.
Notice anything in common with these three sentences that’s different from those fact sentences? Each of them uses a qualifier (best, interesting, most profound). This is a sure sign that the sentence is an opinion, as not everyone in the world will agree that Pythagoras’ theorem is the least interesting — some might find it the most interesting.
How to determine the difference between facts and opinions
Honest actors often use signal words to indicate whether their statements are intended as statements of fact or opinion. It’s a good idea for your students to be comfortable in using them, and to spot others using them as an aid to interpretation. This handy chart outlines some words that are often used to signify a fact or opinion.
It’s good to ensure students understand that these words won’t always be used accurately. Students should recognize that some people with bias might use fact signal words when they are actually stating an opinion.
For example, someone might say “this report shows Rhianna’s Super Bowl show was the best of all time!” when the report doesn’t support that at all, or only makes a subjective assessment. This will often be a good indicator that a source is not reliable!
This is important, as many opinions and claims can actually be backed up by facts. Students can find this distinction tricky, so it is vital that they are crystal clear on the difference between the two.
For students, these are the most important differences between facts and opinions that they should be familiar with. It is so essential for students to have a good grasp on this skill to help them navigate their world. We’d love to hear how you taught it in your classroom — drop us a line and connect with us on social media or at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Check out even more teaching strategies to help you empower your students with the skills they need for discussion success!