Consensus or Conspiracy?

Level: Grades 9-12

About the the Author: Mathew Johnson, Director of Education, MediaSmarts

Duration: 2 1/2 to 3 hours, plus time for the assessment task

This lesson was produced with the financial support of Digital Public Square.

This lesson is part of USE, UNDERSTAND & ENGAGE: A Digital Media Literacy Framework for Canadian Schools.


In this lesson, students learn the definition of scientific consensus and distinguish it from conventional wisdom. They explore how consensus is formed and how new data can lead to it changing. Students then use digital tools to identify the consensus on a topic. Next, students learn how fringe theories can do harm and learn the characteristics of a conspiracy theory. Finally, students show their learning through creating a graphic organizer; in an optional activity, students then adapt the graphic organizer to a poster showing how to recognize a conspiracy theory.

Learning Outcomes

Students will:

  • Use digital tools to identify whether or not there is a consensus on a particular topic and, if so, what it is 
  • Identify and reflect on social and cognitive influences that may inhibit critical thinking
  • Understand how false and misleading information can do harm
  • Find information needed for their tasks and avoid unwanted or irrelevant content
  • Actively seek out information that provides new perspectives and viewpoints
  • Search or navigate within a source to find and select relevant information
  • Identify relevant and irrelevant and more or less valuable information
  • Find information that supports or challenges a position or point of view
  • Compare and evaluate arguments, evidence, models and theories valuate the expertise or authority of a source of information
  • Understand the benefits and drawbacks of collectively authored information sources such as wikis and review
  • Take active steps to make conscious use of networked tools
  • Contribute to a positive information landscape

MediaSmarts is currently seeking teachers to help test and evaluate this classroom resource. Click here for more information. 

This lesson and all associated documents (handouts, overheads, backgrounders) are available in an easy-print, pdf kit version.