Have you ever looked over a child’s shoulder while they search the internet? There is so much indiscriminate clicking going on! Whatever comes up first must be what they are looking to find. Add to that interesting graphics and advertisements it isn’t long before where they’ve ended up isn’t in any way related to what they were looking for to begin with!
When using the internet with younger children, particularly third grade and lower, it is in your best interest to have a predefined set of websites selected for the students to utilize. This will focus the work time and help the students become more productive since the issue of website credibility and random searching will be eliminated. Even with older students I often tell them that they must first use the online encyclopedia before venturing into the search engines.
When learning to gather key points of information from a website I often choose a topic being studied by that class, provide a website of high content that I have located, and then ask the students to find five key points of interest and jot them down on paper. The idea of “points of interest” is always worth exploring with a class as often children choose isolated facts that are not important in the big picture of learning or even remotely interesting. This teaches the skill of scanning a web page. Often students will begin to read every word of a web page and then give up after the first or second paragraph. Learning to scan a page is a skill worth teaching and practicing.
When citing sources, a common misunderstanding for students is that Google or any other search engine is the source. They cite that they found the information on Google. Helping students understand that Google is a method for finding information and not a source requires repetition. I find that students need to hear this over and over to fully understand the difference between a search engine and an actual web page source.
Trying to teach children to determine the credibility of a website is very difficult. I begin by explaining to students that anyone in the world can make a web page on any topic. I could make a website showing that the best tropical vacation would be to visit the North Pole in December. I could show tropical photos tied to a map of the North Pole. I could mix up photos from around the world and relate them all to a visit to the North Pole. There is an excellent website to show this point about taking a whale watching expedition in Lake Michigan. An excellent lesson is to send students to this website to gather key pieces of information. See how long it takes before one of your students questions the legitimacy of this site!
Teaching students to find information on the Internet is an important skill. The earlier we teach students how to find information by scanning pages will enhance the learning for all the research projects and activities throughout the school year.