Research Building Blocks: Examining Electronic Sources
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Children are naturally curious#151;they want to know "how" and "why." Teaching research skills can help students find answers for themselves. "Examining Electronic Sources," taken from a research skills unit, is a step towards students completing a written report. Students first look at examples of a Website that offers relevant resources, as well as a Website with less useful resources. Then, on their own they identify resources they think would be beneficial in their research and others that would not. As a group, students discuss the criteria they used in selecting or discounting sources. They then create a checklist to guide their future searches. Finally, students find another site they think might be beneficial and evaluate the site using the class-created checklist.
Examining Electronic Sources: This sheet provides a list of criteria to help students evaluate Internet resources as they conduct research.
From Theory to Practice
Teaching the process and application of research should be an ongoing part of all school curricula. It is important that research components are taught all through the year, beginning on the first day of school. Dreher et al. explain that "[S]tudents need to learn creative and multifaceted approaches to research and inquiry. The ability to identify good topics, to gather information, and to evaluate, assemble, and interpret findings from among the many general and specialized information sources now available to them is one of the most vital skills that students can acquire" (39). In her article "Rethinking Research," Eileen A. Simmons agrees: "We can't expect students to produce outstanding research papers unless we teach them strategies for gathering information, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating that information through critical thinking." (115)
The myriad electronic sources of information available to students can be a double-edged sword. "To take advantage of the resources that technology offers and to become prepared for the demands that will face them in the future, students need to learn how to use an array of technologies, from computers and computer networks to electronic mail, interactive video, and CD-ROMs" (39). This lesson aims to fill that need by assisting students in analyzing that array of resources.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
- 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
- 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Before completing this activity, students should have experience with developing a topic, targeting keywords, and selecting print resources. Students should also be familiar with electronic sources before they can critically examine them.
- use an organizational system to locate information.
- analyze information for a project.
- determine the accuracy, currency, and reliability of materials from various sources.
- identify appropriate resources to solve problems or answer questions through research.
- choose and analyze information sources for individual, academic and functional purposes.
- discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information.
- select and organize information from various sources for a specific purpose.
Instruction & Activities
Selecting Electronic Sources
- Tell the students that they are going to be selecting electronic sources to use in their research of their state.
- Using Websites that follow your school’s acceptable-use policy, have the students choose one source they think would be beneficial in their research and one source they think would not be beneficial in their research. (An example of a good site to share might be Ben's Guide to U.S. Government for Kids, and a weaker example could be Illinois Fast Facts and Trivia.)
- While the students are searching, shadow them to see if they are using any method to choose their sources. Observe to see if students are taking notes or just randomly clicking.
- After about ten minutes, have the students discuss what criteria they used in selecting a source or discounting a source.
- Using that information, as a class create a checklist to guide their search for an electronic source. You can also use the Electronic Sources Evaluation Form as an example.
- Demonstrate the process by modeling the use of the template with a preselected site. This step will help the students be more prepared to evaluate electronic sources by themselves.
- Have the students, in pairs or on their own, find another site that they think might be beneficial in their research, and this time evaluate the site, using the given template or the class-created checklist. Recommend that they begin with one of these Children's Search Engines. This exercise will help students to ask themselves questions about electronic sources, which will enable them to make informed decisions about sites that will be good information sources on research report topics.
Have the students practice searching for information on the Web doing a State Scavenger Hunt. [Note: This hunt is for the state of Illinois, but the Yahoo site mentioned covers all fifty states.]
Student Assessment / Reflections
As this is only one step in teaching the research process, students need not be graded on the activity. However, peer review of their filled out Electronic Sources Evaluation Form would provide helpful feedback for the students as they seek out other sources for their projects. Teacher observation could best assess how well the students evaluated electronic sources.