The delineation of fact and fiction is one of the myriad objectives of this teaching unit. The definition of "fact" is best achieved through examples. Start this unit by spreading across a table numerous texts of the following kind -- encyclopedias, dictionaries, almanacs, calendars, phonebooks, textbooks, census statistics, news from the "wire", i.e.
The Associated Press
"hard news", i.e.
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times
, "editorial news magazines", i.e.
The New Yorker
, "magazines", i.e.
, "Entertainment News", i.e.
The National Enquirer
; and fiction i.e. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Kiterunner. After reading the titles and allowing time for students to read the covers, ask the students to quickly write down three texts that they would like to read that night.
Then assign four students to a group and assign each group the task of ranking texts in terms of how much of the text is factual and how much of its information is based on fact, but not necessarily factual; with one being the most fact laden text and ten being the least factual. After the students have ranked the texts, ask them to write what process they used to determine which texts were most factual and which ones were not. Ask them to include at least four ways a text can be analyzed for facts. Then ask them what complications arise or what was most difficult in determining facts. Lastly, have the students compare their fact rankings with the texts that they ranked as desirable to read. As an exit question, instruct the students to write on the implications of this comparison.
The purpose of this lesson is first to define "fact." By having the students rank texts in terms of their factual content they will quickly discover texts steeped in provable information are most factual. If students' struggle with these concepts ask them questions which will elicit the following answers: Memorial Day will be on May 28, 2006; the capital of California is Sacramento, the President of the United States in 1983 was Ronald Regan, the word fact is a noun, etc. Such examples will highlight referential texts -- Calendars, Almanacs, Encyclopedias, Dictionaries, etc. -- and demonstrate the reasoning behind highly factual texts. Humanities collective reliance on this empirical knowledge is often taken for granted. Arguably, this information could be uncovered within every source listed above if it was on a pertinent subject. Consider then, the size of a purely factual text, most dictionaries, encyclopedias, phonebooks, etc. are large and lengthy allowing a scholar to instantly access a myriad of information in almost an inclusive way. The varieties of factual texts are limited because facts are constant, and creativity is only manifests itself organizationally and aesthetically. However, as factual information gains opinions the variety and prevalence of this source material increases. Assert the truism that opinion does not necessarily mean adding information, but can also meaning omitting information. The less facts the more opinion, and because all opinions are unique, the amount of opinion based information increases exponentially the less hard facts are included. Also, as facts are expounded it becomes harder to determine, what is fact, and what is fiction?
The popularity of opinion is evident when comparing the students' desire to read fiction or realistic fiction. In other words, on average, a student would rather read a magazine or entertainment newspaper than an encyclopedia, dictionary, phonebook, or news wire. Facts rarely appeal to the emotions and almost never approach the implicit reasoning for actions; they contain small conflicts if any, and similarly do not require or inspire passionate responses. Students will begin to see themselves as purveyors of opinions rather than analysts of facts. This is not a concept that should be condemned, but a concept that needs to be known.