Saturday, February 26, 2011

Teaching Fact and Opinion

Identifying statements of fact and statements of opinion is a skill that is frequently evaluated on state tests.  I find that students often get hung up trying to determine whether a factual statement is true or false.  If they believe that the statement is false, they may be reluctant to label said statement as a fact. because many people are conditioned to associate the term "fact" with the idea of "true" or "correct."  A good way that I have found to break students of this habit, which may do them harm come test time, is to teach the concepts of fact and opinion in the following way.

Teach students that facts can be true or false.  Students should be taught that a factual statement is one that can be proven to be true or false, and that statements of opinion cannot be proven.  For example, I may say "Mr. Mortini is ten feet tall.  This is a statement of fact.  We can all see that it is a fact that is false, but we can easily prove it to be false, therefore it is factual.  Now, if I said that Mr. Mortini is tall, this would be an opinion.  A person who is shorter than Mr. Mortini might agree with this statement, but a person who is taller than Mr. Mortini would likely disagree.  Since there is no way to prove the statement beyond argument, it is a statement opinion." By teaching students that facts can be true or false, they will stop wasting energy trying to determine whether facts are accurate and focus their efforts on distinguishing between statements that can be proven and cannot be proven.

Teach students that opinions can be supported with facts.  Students may continue to struggle with the notion of proving an opinion.  For example, if I make the statement, "Drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth tastes bad," some students will argue that this is a fact.  I will ask, "Why?  How can you prove this?"  They will respond by saying that when they had done it in the past it tasted bad (personal experience), or that we could have a random sample of people do it and all of them will agree (polling).  I point out that this may be a very popular opinion, but that it is still an opinion.  Or I will point out that the statement was not, "10 out of 10 people I asked agree that orange juice tastes bad after brushing your teeth."  I tell them to respond to the statement that was posed, not to over think it.  Then, I show them how facts can be used to support opinions.  1.  Michael Jordan averaged over 30 points a game.  2.  Michael Jordan averaged over 2 steals a game.  3.  Therefore, Michael Jordan is one of the best basketball players ever.  I show them how we can prove the first two points to be true or not true, thereby making them fact, but that the third statement could never be proven.  It can be supported, but not proven.

Give students practice identifying statements of fact and statement of opinion.   I created a couple of worksheets that should prove helpful in this task.  They are double-sided and contain 25 statements each. Go to ereadingworksheets now to check them out: fact and opinion worksheets, and may you have great success in teaching your students to distinguish between facts and opinions.

Increase Your Students' Reading Test Scores

I've been a Chicago Public School teacher for six years now, and according to ISAT data (the Illinois state test that elementary school students take) my students have demonstrated remarkable growth.  My reading classes are averaging growth of 12.5% each year, and I believe that these scores reflect authentic learning, not an increase in test taking skills.  Additionally, 95% of my students are classified as "low-income," so I'm not producing this growth in some candy land suburb where teachers have the benefits of technology and materials.

The way I produce this growth is by focusing my instruction on the skills that my state (and probably your state too) has articulated that students should know at their grade level.  Skills like identifying text structure, figurative language, or the narrator's view point, to name a few.  When trying to buy or find materials on the internet that would provide my students with the necessary practice to become adept at these skills, I found a paucity of available materials, and the materials I did find seemed to lack in quality or were not rigorous enough.  So, I created my own.  The combination of effective teaching strategies and quality resources have proven successful in providing my students with useful literary skills that just so happen to be evaluated on state tests.  
Hoping to help and inspire other educators, I have now made my materials freely available at my website,  For each assignment I include PDF files (for perfect printing), RTF files (so that you may edit each assignment to fit your needs or to personalize the assignments), and HTM files (so that you may preview each worksheet in your browser before downloading the file).  Responses from users have been overwhelmingly positive, but I still have big plans for improving and expanding the site, particularly in the realm of elearning or creating true electronic worksheets using Adobe Captivate.  If you are a reading, English, writing, or language arts teacher looking for free materials or just some inspiration, please visit to access a wealth of resources.