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Rewrite the Headlines: Commended primary schools

by on 2016/02/15

At the end of January, we were delighted to announce the winners of Rewrite the Headlines, our national competition encouraging school children and students to explore how the latest research is turned into headline news. You can view the full list of winners here. Over the last two weeks we have been showcasing the top entries in the undergraduate categories. This week we will be showcasing the top entries in our primary school categories which involved rewriting a headline to be more accurate and providing an explanation of the process engaged in to come up with the new headline. We begin with the commended entries which came from Towerbank Primary School, Edinburgh; St Fillan’s Primary RC School, Glasgow; and Milesmark Primary School, Dunfermline.

First the entry from Towerbank Primary School.

The children at Towerbank Primary changed the headline ‘Alien megastructure’ could surround giant star baffling scientists looking for new planets’ which they had read in the Mirror newspaper, to ‘Aliens or otherwise? Unusual light patterns surrounding star confuses scientists’.

Here is the children’s explanation for this change in the headline:

We chose this article to write a new headline for because we felt that both the original headline and the article were biased towards one side of the story; the possibility of there being an alien megastructure. We felt that the headline made it seem like this was the only possible explanation for the unusual light patterns found near the star KIC 8462852. We also felt that the article highlights the opinions of two scientists who believe in the possibility of aliens and only briefly mentions the 1000’s of other scientists who have presented other explanations such as data error, shrapnel from an asteroid or comets. The headline is very one sided and leaves the reader with the impression that the most likely explanation for the unusual light pattern is related to alien technology, when really the majority of scientists would argue otherwise. We feel that our new headline presents both sides equally (aliens or otherwise) and gives the reader a bit more information about what is actually going on with the light patterns around the star.

The judges felt this was a particularly strong entry because of the way the children showed understanding that there may be alternative explanations for the story. The judges agreed that the new headline more accurately reflected the information provided in the story. Well done Towerbank Primary for this highly commended entry!

The next commended primary school entry came from St. Fillan’s Primary RC School, Glasgow.

The children at St. Fillan’s changed the headline ‘Drinking three glasses of champagne every week could prevent dementia’, which they had read in the Metro newspaper, to ‘Can champagne boost the brain?’.

Here is the children’s explanation for this change in the headline:

After reading the article we decided the headline was misleading for several, reasons. Here are some of our reasons:

  • This research was done on rats and not humans.
  • The scientists could have used the compound found in the grapes instead of champagne. Using champagne makes us think it’s the drink and not the compound that works.
  • The journalist, Harry Readhead, did not speak to the professor who carried out the research. He just used a quote of his from the Mail on Sunday.

We did some of our own research on this article. We read an NHS choices review on the champagne study. The article said that the research was done on three cages of eight rats (24 in total). We also think the experiment would need to be repeated several times. We found out the compound is also found in blueberries, peanuts, parsley as well as grapes. A good journalist should have written that we could eat these instead of champagne. In our new headline we decided to write a question instead of making a statement because sometimes statements are not true. By asking a question we are making people think about the question and maybe they would read the news article to see what it’s all about.

The judges felt this was a particularly strong entry for a number of reasons. The children had noted that the research had been conducted with animals rather than humas. They had also noticed that the journalist had not spoken to the academic who had carried out the research directly. The school also did their own research – they found an NHS Choices review on the study and this provided them with further important information about the study. Well done St. Fillan’s Primary for this highly commended entry!

Our final commended primary school entry came from Milesmark Primary School, Dunfermline.

The children at Milesmark changed the headline ‘How pigeons can detect cancer – and could replace doctors’ which they had read in the Daily Telegraph newspaper, to ‘Some pigeons are smart enough to detect breast cancer, but not smart enough to replace doctors’.

Here is the children’s explanation for this change in the headline:

On the first day back after the holidays, the workshop facilitator came to the P6/7 classroom and talked to us about the Rewrite the Headlines Contest. We talked about how newspaper headlines don’t always tell you the exact truth, and went over examples together about how we would rewrite the headlines.

Next, we had a follow-up lesson with our teacher. We did a lot of activities about what exactly fact and opinion means and we looked at examples of newspapers where they were misleading with the headlines that they used. They had exaggerated, been selective or written something inaccurate. We had a dictionary race to find out what the words meant, then we highlighted different parts of the text that were examples of exaggerations, being selective and being inaccurate.

Finally, we had a lesson where we looked at newspaper articles and chose the headline, “How Pigeons can Detect CANCER- and how they could replace DOCTORS”, from the Daily Telegraph online. Everyone thought the headline was very funny and weird, and many of us couldn’t believe that a newspaper would write something as silly as pigeons replacing doctors in their headlines, even if it was just to grab attention or to boost the sales of the newspaper. We used our pencils to underline and annotate what parts of the headline were exaggerated, selective and inaccurate. Using this information, we then changed the headline to something more suitable. We came up with a replacement headlines in pairs, then we narrowed it down to two headlines, one for each class.

We are two classes, P6 and P7, so we wrote one headline for each class. This is the second headline entry – it takes away all of the exaggerations, selectivity and inaccuracies and replaces them with the cold, hard truth. We also believe that this one speaks the truth and it is snappy enough to be a real headline in a newspaper because it uses repetition which is a technique of persuasive writing and advertising: ‘Some pigeons are smart enough to detect breast cancer, but not smart enough to replace doctors.’

The judges felt this was a particularly strong entry because of the careful attention the children paid to applying the concepts learned in the workshop relating to exaggeration and selectivity. In their explanation the pupils explain how they carefully changed each word in the headline to avoid exaggerations, selectivity, and inaccuracies. Well done Milesmark primary for this highly commended entry!

The Rewrite the Headlines competition was supported by funding from the British Academy, with additional funding from the University of Strathclyde.


Prizes were supported by the British Academy, the University of Strathclyde, the School of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews, the School of Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Strathclyde, the University of Dundee School of Life Sciences, and the Particle Physics Experiment Research Group at the University of Edinburgh, the Social Research Association, the Scottish History Society, and Palgrave Macmillan.

Competition details can be accessed at, and the full list of winners is available here.


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