Since the 2019-2020 school year marks the 10th Anniversary of this blog, on Fridays, I’m resurrecting and updating old posts that sparked a lot of conversation or that still have a lot to offer people teaching or writing nonfiction. Today’s essay is the final post in a six-part series that originally appeared in spring 2016.
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.
When students have solid visual literacy and information literacy skills (Scrolls down to read previous posts on these topics.), they’ll be well equipped to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of websites as they conduct research for reports. Here are some suggestions that can help children assess 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. Because this is not the same as the students’ main goal, which is to gather accurate, up-to-date information, these websites usually aren’t the best sources of information.
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 their town, the local historical museum’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 (See previous posts.), 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’ll 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, they may want to skip the site and look for resources that are clearly good choices.
Using the activities I’ve described over the last five weeks, students should be ready to begin doing authentic, self-driven 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.