Have you ever looked over a child’s shoulder while searching the Internet? There are so many indiscriminate clicks! Whatever comes up first should be what they seek to find. Add to that interesting graphics and ads, it doesn’t take long before they end up not being in any way related to what they were looking for to begin with!
When using the Internet with younger children, particularly third graders and younger, you may want to have a predefined set of selected websites for students to use. This will focus the work time and help students to be more productive as the issue of website credibility and random search will be eliminated. Even with older students, I often tell them to first use the online encyclopedia before venturing into search engines.
When learning how to gather key points of information from a website, I often pick a topic that class is studying, provide a high-content website that I have located, and then ask students to find five key points of interest and write them down. on paper. It is always worth exploring the idea of ”hotspots” with a class, as children often pick out 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 start reading 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 among students is that Google or some other search engine is the source. They cite that they found the information on Google. Helping students understand that Google is a method of 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 start by explaining to the 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. It could show tropical photos tied to a map of the North Pole. I could mix photos from all over the world and relate them all to a visit to the North Pole. There is an excellent website to make this point about going on a Lake Michigan whale watching expedition. A great lesson is to send students to this website to collect key 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 sooner we teach students how to find information by scanning pages, the better learning they will be for all projects and research activities throughout the school year.
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