Helping Students Do Research Online

With so much information on the web, students of all ages need to learn how to find information from credible sources.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade don’t know what the world was like before the internet. They spend their free time streaming videos on YouTube, chatting with friends on Twitch, and recording themselves dancing on TikTok. 

What they don’t know how to do is research and find reliable sources. With so much information on the web, students of all ages need to learn how to find information from credible sources. Otherwise, they don’t know how to find information that helps them make decisions and build arguments. 

In college, undergraduates need to be able to research so they can make important decisions. They also need to be able to analyze what they find and write critically about it. Being able to find reliable sources is key to succeeding at advanced academic tasks. 

Students know how to type a query into the search bar, but they do not know how to determine what sources are credible. They often pick the first source they find, regardless of its author, publication, and purpose. 

The struggle for educators and parents is to get students to think critically about the sources. Educators give students tools to use to determine whether a source is credible. The key is to get students to use those tools. 

Finding proof

One tool that helps students recognize whether a source is credible is the TARPS acronym. Students look at the title, author, reader, purpose, and support. Teachers help students locate the topic, author, purpose, and statistics, with the goal that students do it on their own with practice. 

The struggle for educators is to show students what type of sources are credible. Unfortunately, students who grew up with the internet did not grow up with newspapers and magazines in their homes. They assume that all authors are reliable, simply by being writers who have their work online. 

Teachers need to explain how easy it is for anyone to publish anything online. To prove that an author is credible, students can look up their biographies and the organizations that publish their work.

Evaluate the accuracy and relevance

Students need to be able to look at a website and decide if the content is worth reading. Teachers should show their students how to determine the publication’s agenda by looking at their About pages

Students should learn how to evaluate the writing quality and the reliability of the author. To do this, they must stop looking at Wikipedia, other than to find sources. Students should use academic search engines, like Google Scholar

Teachers can show students signs that a website is not reliable or accurate. Websites without publication dates and authors should create immediate red flags for students. 

Learn to cross-check

When evaluating sources, students have to judge the purpose of the website. Anything published by governments, colleges, and reputable media sources is the best choice for students. The trouble for students (and adults) is determining what is a credible media source. 

Teachers must help students recognize what resources are valuable for language and literature, STEM, and other general topics. To determine the credibility of any source, students should learn how to cross-check the source and the authors. 

However, this step requires more research, which students already struggle doing. 

With more exposure to newspaper websites and other reputable media sites, students will become more familiar with what legitimate newspapers look like. Eventually, they should develop automaticity at recognizing a credible newspaper or media site. 

Build digital literacy

While students are digitally savvy, their digital literacy struggles. Teachers have to show them how to determine the difference between a commercial site, a blog with an agenda, a professional page, and academic work. 

Students have to be able to explain the differences between domains like .edu, .com, and .gov and which ones are best for academic work. 

When teachers share search engines like LexisNexis and Google Scholar, students begin to see what a reliable source looks like. Students have to work harder to read the texts and teachers can show students where to find the TARPS details. 

Build a checklist

Along with having an easy acronym like TARPS, students also benefit from having an online research checklist. Teachers can adapt the checklist for their age group, and students can use the checklist when doing homework. 

The checklist should include questions like:

  • Who is the author?
  • What organization published this piece?
  • How often is the website updated?
  • Read the About page. What is the website’s purpose?
  • Is this article relevant to my work?
  • What are the author’s credentials?
  • Where did the author get their information?

The goal for teachers is to create automaticity, where students visit a website and immediately look for the author, publisher, date, credentials, and purpose. 

Teachers also need to teach students how to read the metadata and snippets on the results page. Otherwise, students waste precious time clicking through pages of useless content. 


How to Get Kids Into Computer Science

Back to Inspiration

Teaching Computer Skills to Elementary Students