Ten Tips for Teaching Students how to Research and Filter Information

I was recently involved in a conversation about how difficult it now is to filter what is on the internet and research effectively. In the past, students would primarily use books to research; being overloaded with possibly unreliable information wasn’t really an issue.

Teaching students research skills is becoming increasingly important. Some refer to the filtering and critical evaluation of information as ‘web literacy’.

Unfortunately, many teachers don’t feel confident with their own skills to be able to assist their students with this. Often this is due to the fact that teachers aren’t actively searching and using material from the internet themselves.

Some schools get around this issue by heavily blocking the sites children have access too. My philosophy is to educate rather than block, in most cases.

I’m no expert in this area but I have compiled a list of ten tips that I try to give my students to help them with internet research and filtering. I’d love you to add your tips in a comment!

  • Search: Start with some general key words. If your results aren’t what you want, alter the keywords to make a more specific search. I often encourage my students to put the word “kids” in to find child friendly websites and articles. The Google Search Education website provides detailed lesson plans on teaching search skills. This cheat sheet also summarises some of Google’s advanced search features.
  • Delve: Look beyond the first few results. Flick through a few pages if need be. Let students know that many websites use Search Engine Optimisation to improve the visibility of their pages in search results. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the most useful or relevant sites.
  • Source: Look at the actual URL address to see where you’re going before you click on a search engine result. Use some intuition to decide whether it seems reliable. Is it from a well known site? An educational or government institution? Is it a forum or opinion site?
  • Validity: Ensure students understand that you cannot believe everything you read. Encourage them to make their own judgement by checking more than one source if they’re not sure.
  • Purpose: Be wary of websites that are cluttered with advertisements or might be trying to sell you something.
  • Background: When reading articles, try to look for the author’s name and when the article was written. Is it recent or outdated?
  • Teach: Integrate the teaching of these skills into everything you do. Model your searches explicitly and talk out loud as you look things up. Researching skills don’t need to be covered in stand alone lessons.
  • Justify: When you’re modelling your research, go to some weak websites and ask students to justify whether they think the site would be useful and reliable.
  • Path: Students might like to start their search with some sites they know or have used before rather than randomly googling.
  • Cite: Give students lots of practice of writing information in their own words, and show them how to use quotation marks and cite sources. Remind students about the seriousness of plagiarism and copyright infringement. These are terms even my grade two students used. It’s never to early to learn about web literacy.
Image: 'not quite clear on the concept' http://www.flickr.com/photos/73645804@N00/1431384410
There are some useful lesson plans on the Common Sense Media website if you’d like to try some more structured lessons in your class. There are also some great links on the Education World website.

What tips can you add?

How do you teach ‘web literacy’?

Do you use custom search engines designed for children?

17 Comment

  1. Two sites that can help reinforce the importance of verifying the URL:
    1. http://zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/ (being from the Pacific Northwest, it is particularly important to me that we save these endangered tree octopuses.
    2. http://allaboutexplorers.com/explorers/cabot/ The John Cabot entry is my personal favorite.

    Janet | expateducator.com

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Janet,

      Thanks so much for the links – excellent resources! I’ll be sure to use them in the future.


    2. Hi Janet and Kathleen,

      I remembered reading about those two lessons in ISTE’s August 2011 Learning & Leading magazine. They look so real but are hoaxes. — I linked to them also (as well as this post) in my recent post.

      Kind regards,

      1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

        Hi Tracy,

        What a great post you’ve written there! Some fantastic tips and ideas to use with my students and colleagues this year.



  2. Miss M says: Reply

    We have been working extensively with our students in Year 3/4 on effective web research techniques, as we found that our students were just ‘expected’ to know how to do this. We noticed many typing in full questions on google, scouring through many many websites trying to find relevent information and being bombarded by unsafe advertisements and junk. Your hints and tips in this weeks post are great.

    We found this video a fantastic springboard for discussion: http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/cyberquoll/html/episode_2_finding_stuff.html
    And the kids just loved it.

    We have also put links on our blog to Kid Rex (this kid friendly search engine is fantastic), Ask Kids and Kid Cyber search engines for them to use, rather than google. The kids are rapt as via these engines they are finding things much more relevant, safe and more easily accessible. Along with this we also workshopped on search techniques (e.g. key words) and summarising information (quality in your own words VS quantity of copy and pasted text!)

    Thank you for this weeks informative and helpful post. 🙂

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Miss M,

      It is always really interesting to watch the students and see how they approach searching. Often it is really ineffective as they just haven’t been taught.

      That video is fantastic and I look forward to showing my students, thanks for sharing!

      Thanks for your other ideas too. It’s great to find out what happens in other classrooms.


  3. Hi Kathleen,
    Great set of tips, thanks. Have you seen Finding Dulcinea http://www.findingdulcinea.com/ ? These folk have all manner of guides and teaching resources related to research and information literacy. They also administer Sweet Search http://www.sweetsearch.com/ arguably the premier curated search for students.
    You might also be interested in my Search site at https://sites.google.com/site/mrpbps01/ and especially the curated search section.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi John,

      Thanks so much for those links. They will definitely be useful in my classroom!


  4. Hi Kathleen,
    Good searching is definitely very important for students and I agree that it’s best to educate rather than block. I am often surprised how often students type a whole question (often their research topic!) into google. Looking at keywords, advanced search options and refining results can be very helpful.
    This are a couple of good search tips here: http://teachinghistory.org/digital-classroom/ask-a-digital-historian/25219
    Ergo, from the State Library is a great site for looking at research skills. It is more targeted to secondary students, but the concepts could certainly be used with primary students:
    There are also some great resources for teachers: http://ergo.slv.vic.gov.au/search/for-teachers

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Stephanie,

      Thanks for introducing me to the State Library resources. I hadn’t come across them before and they look very thorough.

      I appreciate the Teaching History site too. It summarises some great tips.

      So many kids do type sentences into Google …. it’s fantastic to see that approach change after a few simple lessons!

      Thanks again and great to hear from you.


  5. Hi Kathleen,

    I was just in a discussion about this recently with educators in many grade levels. Your post is perfect timing.

    I also like what Sheri Edwards wrote in her post about searching tips, including some fabulous links to other sources.

    Kind regards,

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Tracy,

      I’m so glad this post was good timing for you. Thank you so much for the link to Sheri’s post too. She really has included some excellent examples and resources!

      See you soon!

  6. […] This post is an example of how Ms. Morris offers help to students with research. […]

  7. […] Ten Tips for Teaching Students How to Research and Filter Information – a post by Kathleen Morris which details advice for ten steps for showing primary school pupils how to find and use information: Search, Delve, Source, Validity, Purpose, Background, Teach, Justify, Path, Cite.  […]

  8. Ms.S says: Reply

    Hi there,

    My 6th grade ELA students are about to do their first research paper. We’ve had some trouble in the past determining what a reliable internet source(s) would be. Do you have any PPTs on hand with any tips or tricks?


    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Ms S,

      I’m sorry I don’t have a PPT. Try checking out some of the links that other readers have posted in their comments. Google also offers a range of PPTs on searching etc. Not sure if that will help https://sites.google.com/site/gwebsearcheducation/lessonplans

      Good luck!

  9. […] Ten Tips for Teaching Students how to Research and Filter Information The Internet is the New Reality: if you can't Google it it didn't happen, isn't true. Here are some of the essentials you have to know in order to navigate such a moldable reality. […]

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