An online presence has become a given in today’s society. While encyclopedias still exist – I guarantee there is a whole row of them at a nearby library – people, including young children, are getting more and more of their information online. All you have to do is read some of the articles that are shared on Facebook to realize how important it is to teach your children good online research skills.
Tips for Online Research
Here are some ideas to get you started.
Surf With Them
Spend time surfing with your children, especially when they are young. By sitting right beside them as they surf, you will be able to train them in what makes a good research site and what is questionable. You will also be there to quickly identify a dangerous site. Make sure to point out issues such as obvious bias, spelling and grammar mistakes, poor graphics, multiple advertisements, and broken links. As your children get older, you can let them research on their own, but spot check the sites they use.
Questions to Identify Sites
Specifically teach your children how to identify a trustworthy site. While some sites are more professionally designed than others, there is much more to determining whether a site is reliable. Teach your children to ask the following questions about any site they are using for research:
- Who created and wrote the information included on the site?
- Is he or she an expert in the topic?
- What is the purpose of the site?
- When was the site created? When is the last time it was updated?
- Where does the author find his or her information?
- Why is this page a good source for the information I need?
Teaching critical thinking questions such as these will help your children identify which sites are trustworthy and which may include information that is out of date, biased, or just plain wrong. Make sure to have a discussion about Wikipedia, which is well-known and often used for research. The information in Wikipedia is collected and written by individuals who may, or may not, be experts in the topic, and the site can be biased. Also discuss spoof sites, such as The Onion, which can sometimes be difficult even for adults to recognize.
Teach your children how to write their queries in order to get the best search results. Narrow down a broad topic before researching it. Instead of “Presidents of the United States,” search for “Thomas Jefferson.” Short queries are often best, so use nouns, verbs, and adjectives that specifically describe what you are researching. Use quotation marks to define phrases that you want to search. Also consider that search queries such as “Why does my dog eat wood?” might come back with results for dogwood trees instead. While this can’t be completely avoided, thoughtfully phrasing your query will return better results.
Understanding URL Extensions
Teach the meanings of URL extensions. Knowing what these endings mean will help with identifying whether a site is trustworthy as well as if the information is likely to meet the students’ needs. Some common URL extensions include .com, .gov, .edu, and .net.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Spend lots of time practicing. Just like any other skill, learning how to do online research takes time and opportunity. Require research and sources for essays, research papers, and other writing.