Is That a Fact?: Understanding Persuasive Strategies in Election Campaigns
Students become critical consumers of information as they learn to separate fact from election rhetoric.
- Grades: 3–5
- Separate fact from opinion
- Identify some of the persuasive strategies candidates use to win voters
- Assess the trustworthiness of various sources of election information
- Computer(s) with Internet access
- Election ads or fliers from various candidates
Set Up and Prepare
- Collect election materials for various candidates for the class to review.
Step 1: Review with your class the difference between fact and opinion. Remind them that a fact is a statement that can be proven true, while an opinion is a statement that shows how a person thinks or feels about something. An opinion cannot be proven true. Look for examples of facts and opinions in Scholastic News Online's election coverage.
Step 2: Explain that during an election, it can be hard to separate facts from opinions. Voters are bombarded with all kinds of information sources — including print and online news articles, Web message boards and blogs, print and television advertisements, speeches, debates, and the candidates' own official websites. Write these sources on the board, and have students try to rank them in order of trustworthiness. Assign a low number to a source that students trust to be mainly fact. Assign a higher number to sources that students feel are out to persuade and may rely more on opinion than fact. Note that there is no one correct outcome to this exercise; answers may vary slightly. Sources that include both fact and opinion (such as debates and candidate websites) should get a middle ranking. Discuss what types of materials students can find on Scholastic's site (news stories are fact-based, and opinions are restricted to areas like polls and message boards).
Step 3: Point out that in some sources (election ads, for example), the creator goes beyond simply stating opinions and actually uses sophisticated techniques to persuade voters. Explore some of the most well-known techniques with your students:
- Bandwagon: In this technique, the creator makes it seem like "everyone" is doing a certain thing or supporting a particular candidate. Think of a political ad that shows a crowd of people around a candidate and says, "250,000 voters can't be wrong."
- Negativity: In this case, the ad or text creator focuses mainly on making the other candidate look bad — by listing failures or taking his or her quotes out of context, for example.
- Warm & Fuzzy: Ads or fliers that use this technique show a candidate kissing babies, shaking hands with elderly voters, petting ponies on a farm — anything to make the candidate seem like a regular, friendly guy or gal.
Step 4: Have students work in pairs to look through your samples of election ads and fliers for persuasive techniques like those described above. Have them discuss whether they think these techniques work — and why. Wrap up by discussing how voters need to be able to focus on facts and see through the persuasive techniques aimed their way.
Supporting All Learners
Auditory learners may find it helpful to read examples of facts and opinions out loud, listening for clues that signal opinion statements (should, should not, best, worst, etc.).
For homework, have students think of an imaginary candidate and use the Scholastic News Online "Create a Campaign Poster" game or their own materials to create a campaign ad that uses the bandwagon, negativity, or warm and fuzzy technique.
Over time, see if students are able to differentiate between fact and opinion and recognize persuasive techniques in the media.
Have each student pair share its findings with the class.