Last month I attended the California Reading Association conference in Riverside, California. Lucy Calkins, the founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, spoke about nonfiction reading and writing. She noted that human knowledge currently doubles every thirteen months, and will soon double every twelve hours, so it is impossible for teachers and parents to keep pace with the flood of information hurling through cyberspace, broadcast on television and radio, reported in newspapers, and discussed on social media or by word of mouth.

According to Calkins, the role of the adult must change. With the rise of the Common Core, it is no longer enough for teachers (and parents) to impart their wisdom. We must show kids how to access, synthesize, apply, compare, and contrast information to develop their own view of the world.

Ebola cover with EurekaIn my newest book, Ebola: Fears and Facts, I say, “Some [media] sources provide accurate information. Some do not. Sometimes news spreads so quickly that mistakes creep in. Before they can be corrected, the news is passed on.” We all remember how true this was with breaking news about the 2014 Ebola epidemic:  “WHO: Ebola outbreak could last forever” (USA Today) or “Ebola: World goes on red alert” (Daily Mirror).  Kids (and adults) were scared, but where could we go for accurate information?

My research on how kids could address the accuracy of information led me to the National Association for Media Literacy Education, Powerful Voices for Kids, and the Center for Media Literacy—three excellent websites that provide a number of free resources and activities for your classroom or dinner table discussion.

These simple thought-provoking questions from Ebola: Fears and Facts get the ball rolling:

  • What does the storyteller want us to remember?
  • How might different people understand the story?
  • Does the storyteller present facts or opinions?
  • What action does the storyteller want us to take?
  • Do our emotions influence the way we evaluate the story?

Media literacy education provides young readers with the tools for deconstructing nonfiction to get at the truth by using critical thinking skills. Media literate kids become wise consumers of information, who can then effectively communicate their own ideas using language, images, and even sound. I believe the overwhelming plus is that media literate kids engage with world issues, such as Ebola or ocean plastic. Through that engagement they discuss what matters to them on their way to becoming global citizens.

Here are two media literacy activities for children—one related to Ebola and the other to marine debris:

  1. The ocean makes the oxygen for two out of every three breaths we take, so a sea of plastic could ultimately affect our health as well as the health of the ocean:

Read and discuss Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Ask students to create a public service announcement—a persuasive format that requires kids to think about the above questions from Ebola: Fears and Facts before writing their script. Consider using “The Power of the PSA” activity guide on the Powerful Voices for Kids website as a template.


  1. The “Applying Media Literacy” activity from the last page of my Ebola: Fears and Facts teacher guide:

Reread the feature box on page 35 entitled, “Truth or Hype.” As a whole group, apply the questions listed in the box in Chapter 4. Explain to students the importance of being critical consumers and the need to read between the lines.


Next, reread the feature box on page 39 entitled, “News from the Front Lines.” Have students examine the listed websites and choose an article from one of them. Have students apply the questions from the “Truth or Hype” section to their selected article.


Then, convene them as a whole group and facilitate an inquiry based discussion. Ask one or more of the following questions:

  • What is the author’s position on the media as presented in this text? How do you know? Is her argument effective? Why or why not?
  • What is the author’s position on education as presented in this text? How do you know? Is her argument effective? Why or why not?
  • How can nonfiction authors position you as a reader? (To what extent is nonfiction biased?)
  • How does media position you as a reader? (To what extent is the media biased?)
  • In regard to the Ebola outbreaks, is media involvement good or bad? (Make sure students studied the image on page 38.)



Picture1Patricia Newman is the author of fiction and nonfiction titles for children, including Ebola: Fears and Facts, recipient of a starred review from Booklist and a Junior Library Guild Selection; Plastic, Ahoy! Investigating the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a Green Earth Book Award winner, a finalist for the AAAS/Subaru Science Books and Films prize, and a Nerdy Book Award winner; Jingle the Brass, a Junior Library Guild Selection and a Smithsonian-recommended book; and Nugget on the Flight Deck, a California Reading Association Eureka! Silver Honor Book for Nonfiction. She is a frequent speaker at schools, libraries, and conferences. Visit her at