We know you have experienced this before. A well-meaning friend or relative sends you an article to read — maybe it’s about a recent scientific discovery, a surprising story from history, or a concerning report about a new type of crime taking place.
But something about the article seems off to you. You do a brief check of its credibility, trying to locate the same information in sources you trust, checking the source it came from, and looking at the date of the article. Sure enough, the information is outdated or just plain wrong. You may choose to ignore the article, or perhaps you give your friend a gentle reply that the information is incorrect. But you know your acquaintance probably won’t change their internet search habits anytime soon.
You can, however, do something even more important. While you likely lack the authority to change the ingrained research habits of your adult friends and family, the habits of the world’s next generation of researchers, thinkers, and writers is largely in your hands.
We know that’s a huge responsibility but hey, this is why your job is one of the most vital in the world! And don’t worry, we have your back on this. We just created a fun (yes, fun!) and effective resource for finding credible sources online. And we’re going to share its components with you right now. You can grab our resource if you’d like less legwork, or you can create your own materials using the ideas below.
Where to Begin
To teach your students how to determine the credibility of a website, we recommend including the following elements in your lesson. Note that we teach credibility as a scale, with some websites being more or less credible, rather than websites being placed into black and white categories.
1. Start by Activating Students’ Current Analytic Skills
At EB Academics, we’re really into anticipation activities.This is not just because they get students excited and invested in a lesson (though that is hugely important). An anticipation activity also meets students where they are, so they can connect what they already know with what they are about to learn.
In this case, we want students to learn how to determine whether or not a website is likely to offer factual information. So, we start with a game of Two Truths and a Lie! In groups, students play the game with each other. Afterward, they reflect on how they determined the lie from the truths. After a whole-class discussion on how we evaluate information in our daily lives, we move on to the specifics of internet sources.
2. Give a Mini Lesson on Important Terms
Now that students have considered what they already know about analyzing credibility, they are ready to add to their knowledge. This is a great time to teach students terms that will be helpful as they explore websites. We include the following in our Finding Credible Sources Online resource, along with definitions:
Of course, as the teacher, you will add any others if you think there are additional terms your students should know. This academic vocabulary will set students up for great discussions on website reliability!
3. Offer a Tool for Determining Credibility
- I can easily see the group or individual responsible for this site and its content
- The organization in charge of this site has a good reputation outside of the internet
- The site has been recently updated
- Its links direct me to other creditable websites
- I can easily find contact information on the site, so I can reach out with questions
- I can verify the information on this site with at least 3 reliable sources
- This site presents facts and shows little to no bias
- The site cites sources when presenting information
Then we include the following signs that a source is NOT credible. Again, each of these is explained in student-friendly language:
- The site shows a clear bias toward a particular viewpoint
- It has an agenda that is unrelated to my topic (for example, the site’s main goal is to sell a product or support a political belief)
- It contains misspellings, punctuation errors, or grammar errors
- It has an unprofessional layout (hard-to-read font colors, distracting background images or wallpaper, etc.)
- It has not been updated recently and may contain broken links
- It contains links to websites that are not credible
- It does not cite sources when presenting information
4. Give Students an Engaging Way to Practice Their New Skills
Your students now have the terminology and checklist they need to find credible sources! Now it’s time to put this knowledge in action with a fun practice. In our Finding Credible Sources Online lesson, we provide a game of “Incredibly Credible.” Essentially, students each find a website that they determine is highly credible. They then play a board game in which they move spaces by checking off the positive traits they find on their websites. During play, students verbally explain where they found or how they analyzed the information on their websites. For an individual assessment, students then show what they learned by writing a paragraph that explains how they determined the credibility of their chosen website.
Of course, there are many options if you don’t want to build a game (or can’t grab our pre-made lesson). For example, you could locate three websites on the same topic and have students rank them from least to most credible, then have them explain their choices. You could also instruct students to find a website on their own, fill out the checklist, then share their findings with peers in a small group.
Teaching young people to read with a critical eye begins with showing them how to find sources they can trust. It’s one of the most important skills you will impart to our next generation, but we hope we’ve given you some ideas that will make the task easier for you and more engaging for your students.