Helping Students with Online Research

What are the challenges of having your students find and evaluate Web sites to use for online research? What are your ideas for helping them develop skills in finding and evaluating sites that are appropriate?

One of the challenges I have at the elementary level is finding websites that elementary age students can understand. Many websites are written at the 9th grade level. Most publications are written at the ninth grade level and this goes for websites also. How can a fourth grader find out information they need about Monarch Butterflies if the reading level is too high for her. I have used the website Twurdy. The website has two levels: Just Twurdy and Simple Twurdy. The search results are shade coded by “Easier to Read” and “Harder to Read”. The easiest is for around 8 years of age and is the lightest color. As the shade becomes darker the reading level goes to 18 years of age.

The second challenge I have had is the gullability of our students. They believe it if it looks like a good site. I have used the Tree Octopus site with younger students to explain that anyone can create a website. I usually try to use it as a site that is correct and see how long it takes for the students to start questioning the validity of the site. I do a similar exercise with the Martin Luther King site. Students who know what Dr. King stood for quickly realize that the site can not be real, but some students are influenced by how it looks. At the upper levels I created a google form to have them practice evaluating the sites. At the lower levels we discuss evaluating them together.

It is also important to talk to students about what Google is and what Google Advertisers are. Looking at other search engines are also important. The students need to review UC Berkeley’s BEST Search Engine Site. We also look at this site: Choose the Best Search for Your Information Need. Students need to develop these skills and we can not help them by always evaluating websites for them.


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