Lesson Plan

How to Fact-Check History


This lesson and its accompanying seven-minute video introduce students to a professional fact-checker, who describes the methods and processes he employs to verify information that appears in news stories. The video explains which claims can be fact-checked, and why some sources are more reliable than others. How do fact-checkers engage in analysis of contemporary and historical claims? How do we distinguish between “bad facts” and “bad narratives” when critiquing media sources? Examine the tools that fact-checkers use to identify and interrogate claims, and put those skills into practice.


Students will:

  • Define a claim of fact and distinguish it from an opinion.
  • Describe the process of identifying claims and fact-checking.
  • Describe the types of sources that fact-checkers use in verifying claims.
  • Practice the skills of identifying claims and evaluating sources of information necessary to fact-check.
  • Social Studies
  • Media/News Literacy
  • Journalism
  • U.S. History
  • Journalism
  • 1980s America
  • 1990s America
  • Civics and Government
  • Civic Engagement
  • Civil War
  • Media Literacy
  • News Literacy
  • Social Media
  • The Media
For Teachers

Introducing the Lesson

The flood of information spilling across social networks into classrooms has led to cries for more “fact-checking,” but what exactly is that? How do you do it – especially if you’re trying to check something that happened decades ago?

In this video, Joe Hogan, head of fact-checking at Retro Report, answers those questions, and explains why fact-checking is a needed skill today, whether you’re making a video, writing a news story, or just trying to stay informed.

“History is full of lessons,” Joe says. “And to really understand those lessons, you have to understand what actually happened.”

Joe’s job is to make sure that happens. He verifies every claim made in a Retro Report video to ensure it is accurate; if it isn’t, it’s corrected. And he pursues his craft with the skills of a prosecutor making a case in court.

If someone claims that Donald Trump was sworn in as president on Thursday, January 17th, 2017, wearing a blue tie, Joe checks every claim in that sentence: the month, the day, the year, the ceremony, that Trump was in fact there, and was being sworn in as president. And, yes, even the color of his tie.

Joe evaluates every claim in every Retro Report that way, whether it’s made by the producer writing the script, an expert commenting in an interview, or a date on a piece of historical footage.

And if that footage claims it’s showing a picture of the Detroit skyline in 1956, Joe will examine other pictures and footage to make sure that was in fact how the Detroit skyline really looked in 1956.

Fact-checking historical events can pose a challenge, especially at Retro Report, which often uses archival material to context current events, so they can be better understood. But every claim, old or new, still must be checked.

To do that, Joe tries to get as close to an event as possible. He reads newspaper accounts from the time, talks to people who were there, consults reliable histories, even talks to historians themselves, to learn as much as he can about what happened and why. All that gives him a bank of expertise that helps him understand the history around an event and verify the claims being made about it.

This may seem like a lot of work but there’s a lot at stake.

In 1995, a researcher at Princeton University predicted that by 2000, the U.S. would soon be overrun by “super- predators,” incorrigible criminals, many of them young black males.

The media picked up on the idea, and soon states across the country were passing laws to crack down on juvenile offenders,

Unfortunately, the researcher later admitted his predictions were dead wrong, but by then the damage was done.

“The idea of the super-predator lasted,” Joe says. “And led to a lot of very stringent laws and policies being passed that ultimately contributed to our current very big problem of mass incarceration.”

Essential Questions

  • What do we distinguish between claims of fact and opinion?
  • What methods do fact-checkers use to verify claims?
  • What is the difference between “bad facts” and “bad narratives” when it comes to analyzing claims?

Additional Resources

Transcript for "How to Fact-Check History"Retro Report 
The Moral Panic over "Superpredators"Retro Report 
Journalism & Media Literacy: McDonald’s Hot Coffee Retro Report 
Don’t leave fact-checking to the fact-checkersRetro Report 

Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Assess the extent to which the reasoning and evidence in a text support the author’s claims.

Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Explain points of agreement and disagreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question.

Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.

Determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions, taking into consideration multiple points of view represented in the sources, the types of sources available, and the potential uses of the sources.

Detect possible limitations in various kinds of historical evidence and differing secondary interpretations.

Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.

Gather relevant information from multiple sources representing a wide range of views while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

Critique the use of claims and evidence in arguments for credibility.

Identify evidence that draws information directly and substantively from multiple sources to detect inconsistencies in evidence in order to revise or strengthen claims.

Questions? Tips? Concerns? Reach out to our Director of Education, David Olson: dolson@retroreport.com