Lesson Plan

The Wright Brothers’ First Flight Fake News?

photo of a sandy landscape, to the left a flying machine is lifting off the ground, a man laying in the center. To the right another man stands.

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Grade Level:
Upper Elementary: Third Grade through Fifth Grade
Subject:
Literacy and Language Arts
Lesson Duration:
60 Minutes
State Standards:
North Carolina State Standards:

RI.4.3 Explain events, procedures, ideas, or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text including what happened and why, based on specific information in the text.
Additional Standards:
North Carolina State Standards:

RI.4.6 Compare and contrast a firsthand and secondhand account of the same event or topic; describe the differences in focus and the information provided.
Thinking Skills:
Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.

Essential Question

Does the news media impact our view of current events and is it our responsibility as citizens to look for accurate and reliable information?

Objective

The student will be able to:

• Compare 2 texts about the same event and identify discrepancies.

• Understand that inaccuracies in reporting may be due to bias, ignorance, absence or other factors.

Background

Wilbur and Orville strode into the Kitty Hawk Weather Bureau on the afternoon of December 17, 1903 and asked to use their telegraph to inform their family in Dayton, Ohio of their successful flight. The telegraph operator, John Dosher, sent the message. But as they were about to leave, a message came back from Jim Gray, the telegraph operator in Norfolk through whom the message had been relayed -- asking if he could inform his local newspaper. The Wrights politely refused, they wanted the story to come out of Dayton. Their father Milton and their brother Lorin were all primed to act as their press agents.
Jim Gray, however, ignored their request and told his friend, Ed Dean, a reporter at the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Dean, his editor Keville Glennan, and Harry Moore (who worked in the circulation department) all put their heads together to flesh out the sparse details and create a story worth reading. The resulting news article was certainly interesting, but bore not even a vague resemblance to the truth. And to make matters worse, the Virginian-Pilot distributed this made-up story on the Associated Press wire service and it was printed in whole or in part in dozens of newspapers across the country.
On January 5, 1904, the Wright brothers issued a statement to the Associated Press, calling the Virginian-Pilot article "...fictitious story incorrect in almost every detail" and offering a truthful account. Their statement was circulated, but few newspapers bothered to print the corrections. The truth was not nearly as gripping as the fiction.

Excerpt from:
http://www.wright-brothers.org/History_Wing/Wright_Story/Inventing_the_Airplane/December_17_1903/Virginia_Pilot_Story.htm
 

Preparation

Students will compare 3 texts about the Wright brothers’ first flight - Orville’s entry of the event, the telegram that was sent to Wright’s father and an article published in the Virginian Pilot on 12/18/1903.

Materials

Students will need: Copies of Orville's journal entry of 12/17/1903, Copies of the Virginian Pilot news article, Highlighters, Copy of the telegram sent to Wright brother's father, and a Comparison Chart. To access the full lesson plan with lesson materials, click the link below.

Download Lesson Materials

Lesson Hook/Preview

Does the news media impact our view of current events and is it our responsibility as citizens to look for accurate and reliable information?

Procedure

1.  Use read aloud books listed under suggested resources so students are familiar with the Wright brothers’ story.

2.  Explain to students that Orville kept a journal to document all of their experiments and discoveries. Ask students if they think this was important to inventors. Why? Tell them that you have a copy of Orville’s journal entry on December 17, 1903. 

3.  Make copies of the journal entry of December 17th and distribute to each student. Give each student a highlighter. 

4.  Read the journal entry aloud all the way through so students can get a mental image. Reread the entry having them highlight important information as you read such as: wind speed, who was flying, witnesses, distance and time of each flight, how high the flyer flew, how each of the 4 trials ended, and how the flyer was damaged after the trials. 

5.  Explain to students that the Wrights wanted to let their father know about their success by telegram. They also wanted their father and brother to be the ones to tell the press in Ohio about the story. They sent the telegram from the lifesaving station which relayed it to Norfolk. From there it went to Ohio to their father. Display a copy of the telegram for students to see. (see additional resources) Read it aloud and see if students pick up on the mistakes. (57 instead of 59 seconds and Orville’s name is spelled wrong.) Ask how that might have happened. 

6.  Ask them if they have heard the term “fake news” recently. What does it mean? How does fake news get started?  How do we know if news is accurate? Can students give you an example of how the “truth” became distorted in their lives and what consequences followed?  

7.  Tell the story from the background information listed above about how the telegram information was leaked to the Virginian Pilot newspaper. The telegram was the only information they had to go by when they wrote their story. 

8.  Pair students up and give each pair a copy of the actual newspaper article.  Read the article aloud as students follow along. Does this sound accurate?  How did the Virginian Pilot gather all of that information from the telegram?  Why do they think the newspaper published such a fabricated story? 

9.  Give each pair of students a copy of the comparison chart. Have them go through the journal entry and the newspaper article and fill in the chart with information from both texts. They should also answer the questions at the bottom of the chart for class discussion. 

10.  After students have had time to complete the chart and questions, have a class discussion about their findings. If available, use a chart to display and fill in as you discuss. Chart paper would also work. Would they consider the telegram “fake news” or was that just due to human error? What about the newspaper article?  Was it based on an actual experience or was it entirely made up? Is anything accurate in the article?

11.  Sample discussion questions could include: Should you believe everything you read or hear through the news media?  Do we have a responsibility to search for accuracy in reporting? What are some ways to check out news stories to see if they are real or not? What news sources do your parents use? Do they use more than one source? This could open up many possibilities for discussion.

12.  The link below leads you to an article that was written in the Virginian Pilot on December 17, 2003 that corrects the errors in the first article. Teachers can use this resource to point out all of the specific errors made.   
 

Vocabulary

Embellishment - A detail, especially one that is not true, added to a statement or story to make it more interesting or entertaining.

Exaggeration - Enlarged beyond bounds or the truth; an overstatement.

Media - The systems of communication through which information is spread to a large number of people.

Journalism - The collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.

Assessment Materials

Evaluation

Use the comparison chart to lead discussions in class.

Enrichment Activities

•  Students could write their own newspaper version of the first flight using accurate details from Orville’s journal. This could also be used as an assessment to check for understanding.
•  Read the interview from eyewitness John Daniels that was given in 1927. Note the inaccuracies in this account. Why do you think an eyewitness got so many things wrong?
 

Additional Resources

Websites

•  A copy of Orville’s journal entry 
https://www.libraries.wright.edu/special/wrightbrothers/packet/orville

•  The original Virginian Pilot article - :
 http://www.wright-brothers.org/History_Wing/Wright_Story/Inventing_the_Airplane/December_17_1903/Virginia_Pilot_Story.htm

•  The telegram sent to the Wright’s father (a copy of the telegram in included in this lesson plan:
 https://airandspace.si.edu/exhibitions/wright-brothers/online/artifactgallery/?id=5753

•  This link takes you to an interview of eyewitness, John Daniels that was taken in 1927.  It too contains some errors.
https://maritime-executive.com/article/coast-guardsmen-pioneered-flight-with-wright-brothers#gs.fdrTqNU

https://wrightstories.com/wrights-first-flight-distorted-by-press/

https://www.nps.gov/wrbr/index.htm

Books:  

Who Were the Wright Brothers? By, James Buckley, Jr

The Wright Brothers’ Glider  By, Gerry Bailey and Karen Foster

You Wouldn’t Want to Be on the First Flying Machine! By, Ian Graham 

The Wright Brothers: Inventors Whose Ideas Really Took Flight By, Mike Venezia
 

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Last updated: August 14, 2018