Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Behind the Books: Getting Ready to Research, 6

Because it’s difficult to create authentic, self-driven research experiences for early elementary students, I’m sharing the last of my ideas for activities that will allow K-2 students to develop research skills, such as visual literacy and information literacy, without actually doing research. As a result, they’ll be ready to start doing authentic research in third grade.

After reading today’s post, you may wish to scroll down and read the earlier ones. I will be grouping them all together on pinterest soon.

When students have solid visual literacy and information literacy skills, they’ll be well equipped to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of websites as they conduct research for reports. Here are some tips that will guide them in assessing digital resources.

The first thing young researchers should do is look at a website’s URL and identify its domain name—the final three-letter abbreviation. The most common ones are .com (company/commercial), .net (network), .biz (business), .org (organization), .edu (education), and .gov (government). Then they should ask themselves: “What’s the main goal of the people who created the website?” 

For the most part, websites that end with .com, .net, and .biz are businesses and their main goal is to sell products or services so they can make money. Then ask, "Is this your main goal when you are writing a report?" No, of course not. A student's goal is to gather accurate, up-to-date information. Then explain because a student's goal and a company's goal is not the same, a company's website is usually not the best sources of information for a report.

On the other hand, websites that end with .org, .edu, or .gov often have the goal of sharing carefully vetted, up-to-date information, which makes them great resources for students. For example, if a student is doing a report on the circulatory system, the American Heart Association’s website is the perfect place to gather information. And if a student is doing a report on the history of his/her town, the local historical society’s website is an excellent resource. 
As students look at a website’s homepage, they should ask themselves: “What is the first thing my eye notices when I look at this website?”

By drawing on their visual literacy skills, students can judge the usefulness and reliability of the site. If their search for “hippopotamus” leads to a website with a prominent logo for a well-respected university or a world-renowned zoo, students can be confident that they will find reliable information. But if the most dominant features are stuffed animals and dangly hippo earrings for sale or a sad-looking hippo and a donate button, students should be suspicious.

Young researchers should also think about efficient use of their time. If they find that evaluating a website is difficult at first glance and will take a lot of time and clicking around, they may want to skip the site and look for resources that are clearly good choices. It's important to stress that they don't always have to make a "yes" or "no" decision. They can say, "I don't know." and then move on.

Using the activities I’ve described over the last five weeks, students should be ready to begin doing meaningful research on their own in grade 3, but that doesn’t mean they will always make the right choices. Today, information is literally at our fingertips, but learning to effectively evaluate, compile, collate, and synthesize it takes time and practice.

Do you have other fun activities that will help students develop important research skills--visual literacy, critical thinking, information literacy, digital literacy? I'd love to hear them.


  1. This is so interesting. Thanks, Melissa. Love your blog.

  2. Hello Melissa~ I also had students check the about section at the bottom of the page for further information about the website's purpose and origins along with the date located at the bottom.

  3. Those a good suggestions, Margie. Thanks for mentioning them.