Expert Opinion – Activity Directions

Set the Stage

Open the lesson with this Think/Pair/Share activity.Give students 4-5 minutes students to individually think about what makes a person an expert and write down a few ideas. Next, ask students turn to someone sitting by them to discuss the ideas they wrote down (5-6 minutes). Then, give them a few minutes then to revise what they wrote originally. Finally, lead a class discussion in which students share their thinking about what makes someone an expert.

Share that the Oxford Dictionary defines an expert as: A person who is very knowledgeable about or skillful in a particular area. For example, ‘an expert in health care’ or ‘a financial expert.’ Compare this definition to points made during the class discussion.

Explain that in this activity, students will research information provided in a scenario for the entire class. Then they will work in pairs or trios to research three additional scenarios. Their task is to decide if the person who is expressing an opinion about a subject is an expert in that field and if their opinion was correct.


Explain that students will work in pairs or trios to review scenarios in which a person who has expertise in one or more fields offers an expert opinion that may, or may not be accurate. Students research the person to determine if s/he is an expert in the field where s/he give an opinion and if that opinion was shown to be correct.

Tell students they will use the following three steps as they complete this assignment.

  1. Consider the source: A link is provided for each scenario. Does the link lead to a reliable source? What can students do to determine reliability?
  2. Check the facts: Search online or review print reference materials to verify that the event described in the scenario happened as described. Try to find three reliable sources that confirm or deny the facts as presented.
  3. Learn about the expert: Search online or review print reference materials to learn more about the expert, including his/her areas of expertise and overall career.

Possible Modification: If students need assistance in website evaluation, use Kathy Schrock’s 5 Ws of Website Evaluation as a guide.

Guided and Independent Practice

Walk the class through the Group Scenario on the Expert Opinion handout. Ask them to read the scenario and then model the three steps presented in the Instruction portion of the lesson: consider the source; check the facts; and, learn about the expert. Model the type of responses you expect to see on student handouts when they complete the rest of the activity independently.

Group Scenario

Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) was an Italian mathematician and astronomer. He built the first telescope and used it to study objects in space. His observations led him to conclude that Copernicus (1473 – 1543) a Polish mathematician and astronomer was correct when he said that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the universe. His conclusion about the structure of the universe contradicted the teachings of the church. He was brought before the Inquisition twice. The first time, he was not convicted of heresy. However, the second time he was convicted of heresy and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. (Galileo Biography)

Lead a short class discussion that covers the following points: Before Copernicus and Galileo, what did people believe about the structure of the universe? Was Galileo qualified to confirm Copernicus’ belief that the Sun was actually at the center of the universe? Why or why not? Does today’s knowledge that the Sun is actually what holds the solar system (not the universe) together mean that Copernicus and Galileo were wrong? (Overview, the Sun by NASA)

Allow students to research the remaining three scenarios on the handout.

Independent Scenarios

Scenario 1: According to the book, The Beatles Anthology published in 2000, a relatively unknown band called the Beatles auditioned for Decca Records on January 1, 1962. Dick Rowe, head of Artists and Repertoire (A&R) for Decca declined to sign the group, saying that guitar bands were on the way out. Was Mr. Rowe an expert in identifying new bands that were likely to succeed? Did he make the right decision about the Beatles? Why, or why not? (The Beatles audition for Decca Records)

Important takeaway from this discussion: A person who has expertise in a specific field is less likely to make mistakes than non-experts. However, experts can make mistakes.

Scenario 2: Fred Thompson was a well-known actor and politician. In 2010, he became a spokesperson for a company that sells reverse mortgages to people 62 years of age and older. Mr. Thompson appealed to the age demographic the mortgage company wanted to target, but does that make him a good source for financial advice? Why or why not? (Fred Thompson American Advisors Group (AAG) Commercial for Reverse Mortgage)

Scenario 3: In 1953, Katherine Johnson, a public school mathematics teacher, accepted a position in the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory (NACA later became NASA). In 1960, Johnson became the first woman to co-author a research report on orbital flight in space. In 1961, she was responsible for the trajectory analysis for Alan Shephard’s historic flight in space. The next year NASA was preparing for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission. This was the most complex orbital flight planned to date and Glenn wasn’t sure he trusted the new-fangled computers that had been programmed to control the trajectory of the space capsule. He asked for Katherine Johnson to check by hand the numbers that had been programmed into the computers saying that if she agreed they were correct, he would go on the mission. She confirmed the numbers and Glenn’s successful flight was a milestone in space travel. (Katherine Johnson biography)

Possible Modification: Depending on their skill levels and the amount of time required to provide instruction, students may need a second period to complete the assignment. You may also decide to divide the pairs/trios into three groups and assign one of the independent scenarios to each group instead of having them research all three.

Expert Opinion