Being able to distinguish facts from opinions is an important skill not only for critical reading, but also for developing a strong argument. In the past few weeks, I have been teaching an argumentative essay in my writing class, and I have realized that students frequently struggle telling apart these two concepts.
Below I describe three simple activities that helped me clarify the difference between facts and opinions for students. Of course, you should start by defining these two terms. The easiest way to distinguish facts from opinions is to think of facts as statements that can be proven and of opinions as statements that cannot be proven and can be argued. It may also be helpful to tell students that facts can be used to support opinions.
The first activity is a simple worksheet. Write several facts and opinions and ask students to identify which ones are facts and which ones are opinions. Ask them to explain their answers (i.e., whether or not the given statement can be proven, or whether or not it can be argued).
- Many people order pepperoni on their pizzas.
- Saturday is the best day of the week.
- Teachers should allow English learners to use dictionaries during tests.
- When eggs are dropped on the floor, they break.
- Fried eggs are the most delicious breakfast.
- Cats make the best pets.
- July comes after June on the calendar.
The second activity may help students realize that people may have various opinions pertaining to the same fact.
Write a factual statement on the board. For example, “Running is a form of exercise.” Ask students to write one opinion that can be related to this fact. For example, they can write something like “Running is boring/fun” or “It feels good to run on a warm and breezy day” or “All people should consider running as the easiest way to stay in shape.”
Then ask students to read their opinions. Draw students’ attention to the diversity of their opinions and emphasize the fact that people may form various ideas and beliefs about the same piece of information.
Finally, ask students to write five statements that are facts and add five statements related to them that are opinions. For example, “Monday is the first day of the working week” (fact) and “It’s exciting to go to work on Monday” (opinion); “Meat contains a lot of protein” (fact) and “Roast beef is the most delicious type of meat” (opinion).
Put students in small groups. Each student will read his or her pairs of sentences, and the other students in the group will identify which ones are facts and which one are opinions.