Building Website Evaluation Skills for Science Research

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SWBAT apply the five W process for web resource evaluation: who, what, when, where, why.

Big Idea

Get your students thinking about bias and accuracy to build their analytical skills in this engaging group lesson on website evaluation.

Notes for the Teacher

My colleagues and I have often complained to each other about how hard it is to get students to utilize appropriate web sources and to do online research one degree past Wikipedia!  We all know that the resources available online vary widely in accuracy and transparency and that this critical thinking skill is going to be an essential life skill for every generation from now on.  

In order to address the issue more substantively, this year my school librarian and I worked together to adapt a web evaluation lesson for our freshman and sophomore students in all biology classes at the school. Our thinking was that students need explicit guidance and practice evaluating websites for information and that it could happen while they were working on a big class project.  We chose a topic that students had expressed interest in but wasn't necessarily directly related to our curriculum, one that could be used by any class, and one that incorporated a variety of web sources that effectively showed how one topic can be communicated to the online public in very different ways. 

What made this lesson work so well was the timing and relevancy of it:  we were about to start working on a class project that would require independent research unique to each student group, making it challenging for students to navigate and choose between online resources.  Because of the questions students were prompted to ask through our web evaluation work, the librarian offered to come in to speak to our class a second day to talk specifically about the use of databases in research and this summer, we will be collaborating together to curate a body of science resources that pass our web evaluation test. 

Since we completed this lesson, I see and hear students sharing out their questions about the accuracy of information they read online with each other more frequently and I feel more comfortable that I can have students work independently online during research projects and provide appropriate sourcing for their individual work.  

Our lesson is based on the work of Kathy Schrock.  You can visit her website for more open source resources.  I hope the lesson is equally successful in helping your students enhance their digital literacy!

The Classroom Flow: Before our Library Lesson Day

1.  Before the web evaluation class session, assign students to read three short articles about Ebola.  

2.  Pass out the article link document for student access to the online resources.  The first article comes from the Center for Disease Control website; the second is from the Pew Research Center, and the third can be found on the Natural News website.

  • Note:  You may choose to have students read the articles for homework at home or you might choose to use classtime for this purpose.  I arranged for a flexible workday class session earlier in the week so that I could be sure that all students had access to the internet and a quiet space and time in which to read the Ebola content.  I chose this topic because of high student interest and not necessarily because it fit in with our current unit of study.  You can adapt this lesson by choosing a topic area you are studying currently or to pick a different article theme more aligned with the interests of your students. 

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

15 minutes

1. Ask students to sit in the room facing the projector screen.  Show powerpoint presentation slides #1-10.  These slides go over the session agenda, the rationale for doing this lesson, some tips for students using web resources, the definition of bias, and two short video clips about web evaluation.  

2.  Ask specific students to assist you during the short presentation by having them each read one slide.  

3.  After students view the two short clips about ways to evaluate websites (CRAAP and the 5W's), list the five W's on the board:  Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

4. Tell students that now they will be have the opportunity to work with the five W system to evaluate the three Ebola articles they have already read.

5.  Slide 11 of the slide presentation contains the directions for the pair work students will do for the bulk of the class session.  Students will work in pairs to evaluate one article and one pair from each article group will present their analysis to the class for discussion.  

6.  Have a sticky note with the numbers 1, 2, or 3 at each chair pair to indicate which article each student pair will be evaluating.  Choose one team from each group and tell them that they have been chosen to present to the group because of their exemplary speaking/student skills and that the presentations will happen during the last ten minutes of the class session.  

  • Note:  Together, the librarian and I chose our three student pairs, told them our reason for choosing them and then asked if they would be willing to help the class.  No student group turned us down over the course of the entire school day.  It is important to pick a strong set of presenting pairs because their analysis and presentation will drive discussion and support student understanding.  Students pairs you choose will take their preparation work seriously and it will benefit the entire class!

7. Pass out a website evaluation pair work document and the scoring rubric for webpage evaluation to each student pair.  Students will look at their webpage, fill out the evaluation document, and assign a score based upon the scoring rubric.

The Classroom Flow: Small Group Work

25 minutes

1. Student pairs will work on their devices/laptops to collaborate and discuss as they read, analyze their website according to the five W's, and assign a score based upon the rubric. Take this time to circulate around the and monitor conversations.  A website assigned a high score according to the rubric indicates a reliable source and valid information.  You can expect that web articles #1 and #2 from the CDC and Pew Research Center will receive higher scores than the Natural News website.  Point out to students the way the headlines are written, the number of ads on the site, and the presence or absence of author information as a quick way to approximate where an article will fall on the rubric scale.

2.  As you cans see from the images of student pair #1, student pair #2, and student pair #3, students were engaged and focused throughout the pair work section of the lesson.  You can expect that the interest in the article topics, the competitive nature of scoring with the rubric, and the short time frame all support student engagement throughout the course of the lesson.

3. Remind students five minutes before the share out will begin and check in with the three designated presentation groups to make sure they feel prepared and confident.  Tell them that their documents should be completed at that time.

4.  The student work sample for the web evaluation document for Article #3 from Natural News shows that the directions for finding each of the five W's is explicit and comprehensible by students; this group was able to answer each question in detail.  The student work sample for the scoring rubric again shows a simplicity that makes the scoring process easy for students.  In our discussion, it was clear that the numerical value student groups assigned to Article #3 matched their general feeling about the information they were reading--that they couldn't trust it outright.  Students told me it felt good to see their hunch validated by the scoring system descriptions.  

The Classroom Flow: Sharing Out, Wrapping it Up

10 minutes

1.  Ask each of the three presentation group to come up to the front to present their website/page evaluation and score one by one starting with the presentation group for Article #1 from the CDC.  

2.  Student presentation groups will talk briefly about their analysis focusing on the availability of author information, most recent update timestamps for the website, ad placement and number, and bias/word choice.  When students share out their score for the article do a quick check in with the entire class to see if their scores are comparable. This can be something simple, like a hand raising or clapping system.  Students will be happy to see how close their scores are.

Note: If you really want to get their interest, share out the librarian's scores as well.  Students feel a lot of satisfaction reaching the same conclusion about each site as the expert did!  In general, students loved hearing the presentations and comparing the score their group gave for their article to the score given by the presenting group as seen in these photos of the Student pair share out #1 and Student pair share out #2.

2.  Show Powerpoint presentation slide #12 for a final wrap up conversation with the entire student group.  This slide lists three questions that students answer as a check for understanding. They are:

Why is it important to evaluate information you find on the web? Turn to a partner to discuss.

Turn to a different partner and list the five W's.

Where can you find accurate, reliable information online but off the web?  

  • Note: this last question can shift into a later more in depth conversation about databases and specifically the databases available to students on campus.

3.  Ssk students to check in their devices and turn in their pair work evaluation forms and score rubrics.