6 Tips for Teaching Students How to Research

teach students researchFiltering Information in the Information Age

Technology has revolutionized our world.  It has without a doubt created new forms of communication and learning, doing business, socializing, fame, and entertainment, among others.  In fact, technology has sent us into an information age like nothing we have seen before.  There is a tremendous amount of information floating around on the Internet as of now.  As an educator, that makes me wonder how much bad information there really is out there and how we can get students to know the difference.

At the elementary school level, technology use is somewhat limited.  Students, for example, may be given a computer to work on, but they are only allowed to access certain applications or a handful of educational websites.  In other words, they experience electronic information from a very narrow scope.  As students begin the third grade and continue through the fifth grade, they are introduced to more information.  From websites approved for instructional use, to teacher recommended websites, to perhaps some general searches, students see just enough information to be able to complete reports and projects.  However, this does not take into account the access they have to phone applications, Internet use at home, or other technological access outside of school.

Come middle school and high school, students have a different level of access to information.  Now, course syllabi are found online along with places for needed information pertaining to class assignments.  Students may also have access to the school’s electronic library database as well as other county online databases.  Again, this does not take into account the amount of Internet usage outside of school, and that is where things get troubling.

As educators and parents, it is our job to teach students how to differentiate good, useful, and accurate information from advertising and junk.  Studies show that teens will research the internet for information on health related issues, and they don’t always find credible sources. But how can we prevent this? While there is no real way to know how much bad information is out there, there are concrete steps that can be taken to help children learn how to sort out the good from the bad.  Sources say that teens tend to click on the first link that comes up, which is usually an advertised link.  Below are some strategies to ensure your child or student, no matter the age, is engaging in smart research tactics to find quality information.

Strategies for Student Research

  1. Checking Sources

When teaching children to search the web, you want to ask them some critical questions.

  • Does it come from a reputable source?
  • Is the information up to date?
  • Does the site ask for personal information, or is it littered with pop-up ads?
  • Is the information in depth?

Use these questions as benchmarks for Internet searches.  If the websites students are finding do not match the benchmarks, they must keep searching.

  1. Ask Good Questions and Go Beyond the Surface

Teach students how to research the right information with the right questions.  For example, if they are doing a report on physical activities for good health, have them find ten different sources to support that topic based on ten more narrow questions.  For example, they may look for the best lower body physical activities, the best playground activities, or the best strength exercises for good health.  Have students make a fact tree stemming from the main question to ten facts based on the answers to the narrower questions.  This will teach children to find multiple, reputable sources by separating questions from the general to the more specific.

  1. Patience

Students today generally have short attention spans due to the instant response of technology.  This can make having to go through a detailed research that takes time a tall task. Challenge students to come up with questions that are not searchable online.  Use opinion questions such as What is the best Fast and Furious movie and why?  Which singer is better, Miley Cyrus or Megan Trainor?  Encourage students to use a wide variety of sources when answering these types of questions, and see who creates the most convincing case. For example, for movie questions like the first one, they may want to look at what others have said, box office numbers, and the types of awards they have earned.

  1. Respect Ownership

It can be tempting and easy to just copy information from a website and paste it into a report without thinking about the consequences.  In fact, I knew a student who once printed a web page on a musician he had to do a report on for music class.  Clearly, he did not understand the consequences of plagiarism or the value of ownership.  Make the point of plagiarism personal.  Ask the students how they would feel if it was their work being stolen, whether it is a dance move, drawing, song, poem, or any other form of intellectual property.  Make them understand the personal nature of trying to pass off someone else’s work as their own.

  1. Use of Social Networks

It is inevitable that students will want to reach out to their friends for answers and find information on social sites. They may even use sites like Wikipedia. To combat this, have students ask themselves questions: How would the information being offered be useful to a report on Barack Obama, where their family came from, and the like? How would they incorporate that information into a report? When it comes to sites like Wikipedia, emphasize that paying attention to the source the information comes from in one of their articles is important when deciding how valid the information really is.

  1. Consider Other Factors

Researching accurate information is not just about a set of skills.  It is also about the environment in which it is done.  Remind students that they should not fall prey to distractions while researching such as email, text, or social media.  According to research at the University of Michigan, homework can take between 25 to 400 percent longer with these distractions. In addition, when students are online, they are more likely to share more information than they usually would offline. This can lead to bullying, so if students are researching in groups, be sure they stay on topic.

Despite the information overload facing our youth every day, helping them sort through it to find the right information is still possible.  It’s important to understand the limitations that the educational system has for students accessing information. Teaching research skills, like anything else, takes time and patience. But the results show that it is worth it for a child to learn what is right the first time around instead of acting on the premise of bad information.

About the Author:

literacy in physical educationCharles Silberman is a physical education and health teacher with 14 years of teaching experience. He has become a leader and advocate for incoming physical educators by running workshops on teaching in limited space at staff in-services and conferences, assisting with new teacher orientations, and other initiatives. He has experience writing curriculum from scratch and writing published information specific to physical education in state and nationally recognized publications and websites. Charles has also created a niche as a physical education specialist who fuses technology and primary instructional subjects into physical education lessons.

View all of his Professional Development courses at the S&S Worldwide online school.

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