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5 Tips for Helping Students of All Ages Find Credible Online Sources

5 Tips for Helping Students of All Ages Find Credible Online Sources

While there are many sources of information online, not all sites are publishers of credible and authentic content. Many schools are stressing the importance of addressing the 21st century skill of digital citizenship to ensure that students are conducting research online in a way that is safe, responsible, and collaborative.

As an educator, you have an important role in helping your students build investigation, evaluation, and critical-thinking skills when it comes to conducting research. The ability to evaluate different types of media and forms of content has even made its way into the Common Core State Standards, as this skill is becoming increasingly important for your students to learn as they transition into adulthood.

Teaching your students this valuable skill is not an easy task, but there is a variety of strategies that are appropriate for students of all ages to help them learn the basics. We’ve gathered a few age-appropriate resources to help you teach your students about how to navigate the different parts of a website, how to find the right site, how to evaluate its credibility, and how to start the conversation about credibility in your classroom.

For Elementary School Classrooms

Students in this age group are in the beginning stages of going online for research. Your focus for teaching this age group should be on the basics, like how to keyword search, how to differentiate between authentic images and those that have been altered, and how to find age-appropriate online resources so that they can build the skills at the right level.

1. Start with basic keyword searches

Today’s youngest students have been exposed to a lot of Internet time on multiple devices early on in their lives. However, that exposure has not likely centered around building the important research and evaluation skills that students need to effectively use the Internet for the classroom. While your young ones aren’t writing 1000-word essays (yet), it’s important to teach them the basics of keyword searching to help them find the best sources as they begin using the Internet for research. Helping your students understand how to use synonyms in searches and identify their research goals is a great place to start. Common Sense Media has put together full lesson plans on keywords for grades K–2 and 3–5, along with games, parent worksheets, and videos.

2. Examine doctored photos

Images can be important research sources, but they can also be great clues as to the reliability of a website or article. Ever see a picture that you know was too good to be true? Show your students some wacky photos, like the one below (National Geographic Kids even created a whole gallery of tricky pics!), to help them get into an analytical mindset. Have your students point out certain elements about the photos that helped them reach the conclusion that the photos may not be real. Then, flip through a magazine and have your students evaluate other images to determine if they are real or fake.

3. Show how to evaluate websites that are age-appropriate

You wouldn’t give your students a book that is tremendously above their grade level, so you shouldn’t let them browse sites like that either. Have your students visit a few child-friendly websites and answer the following questions:

  • Can you read all the words on the site?
  • Does what you’re reading make sense?
  • Who created this site?
  • When was this site created?
  • Can you find this information on other sites?

These basic questions will help your students look for sites that are on or around their grade level, as well as help them determine whether or not the information they are looking at is accurate and unbiased. If your older students are beginning to conduct research for a project, help them find a list of sources that are appropriate for the project to get them started. The more time students spend on high-quality websites, the more easily they will be able to identify other quality websites on their own. TIME for Kids is a great place to find age-appropriate news for your students.

Want more resources on the basics of the Internet for your elementary students? Check out our free resources from EducationCity!

For Middle or High School Classrooms

By the middle school or high school age, your students would be comfortable enough using the Internet to find information. Your main focus for this age group should be teaching your students to be critical thinkers and consumers of content on the Internet.

1. Talk about media bias

According to Study.com, “Media bias is the perception that the media is reporting the news in a partial or prejudiced manner. Media bias occurs when the media seems to push a specific viewpoint, rather than reporting the news objectively. . . . Media bias also occurs when the media seems to ignore an important aspect of the story.”

Your students may not realize that many news sites are biased in how they report a story. Talk to your students about how to identify potential media bias on popular news sites, and discuss the negative effects of this. Have your students pull up similar stories on the same topic on two different sites. How does each site describe the stories? What parts of the stories could be biased?

The graphic below is a great source to help your students identify which sites they read are biased and what political direction these sites tend to lean in.

2. Talk about keyword search terms and evaluating results

The way in which your students perform an Internet search for material can affect what sort of sources are found. Teaching your students the art of a Google search is a valuable lesson for when they conduct research on the Internet for a school assignment or to educate themselves on a political or economic issue. There are many tricks to searching on Google that you and your students may not be aware of. A great infographic from Free Technology for Teachers outlines the best Google search strategies that every student can use:

  1. Think about the different ways to ask questions to get the right answer
  2. Try searching Google’s different services to find exactly what you’re after (e.g., images or video search)
  3. Get specific with advanced search tools (e.g., searching by region or last update)
  4. Search by domain based on what you’re looking for (e.g., .gov or .com sites)
  5. Search according to flavor (e.g., .ppt for PowerPoint presentations or .doc for Word documents)
  6. Try synonyms for your original terms
  7. Once you’ve found a webpage, use CTRL/CMD ‘F’ to search within the page
  8. Try Google Scholar to find books and articles cited by other researchers
  9. Keep your search skills sharp by trying the Google a Day challenges

Teaching your students about the importance of finding credible information online is vital to developing your students’ critical-thinking skills. When you arm your students with the tools to find credible and reliable information online, you are helping them become better-informed digital citizens.

Looking for more tips to help your students become research masters? Check out this blog post on how to help your students understand source credibility!

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