In an age where anyone can add content to the internet, knowing whether resources are credible is an important digital literacy skill. Students can become savvy internet researchers by learning how to optimize search results and evaluate sources for credibility. This strategy also offers an acronym, C.R.A.A.P., to support students to remember how to determine whether a source is offering credible information.
Determine whether students will develop their own research questions or if you will provide the research question/topic for students. In Project Based Learning, for example, students often craft their own essential questions. To learn more about this practice, consult BetterLesson's Building Driving Questions strategy included in the resource section below.
Once students have their research question or topic, support them to craft a search question. Model how to do this by identifying key words and brainstorming synonyms to aid your search. Watch the "Crafting a Savvy Search Strategy: Part 1" video included in the resource section below for more guidance on crafting a strong search question.
Support students to select an appropriate search tool. Please note that Google, Yahoo, and other search engines will pull resources from their catalogs, which span the web. (Watch "How Search Works" to learn about how Google finds and recommends resources.) Most educational institutions such as libraries and universities have their own search engines, which offer vetted scholarly articles and digitized books.
Provide students with a visual aid, such as the Legit-O-Meter or Deception Detective anchor chart, or a checklist like the Digital Research Checklist, to support them through the process of evaluating a resource for credibility.
Show students how to evaluate the resource's authorship. In general, domains ending with .gov, .edu, or .org are reserved for government organizations, educational institutions, and other official groups. If you do not recognize the organization that has authored the resource, try to find information about the organization elsewhere on the site, such as an "about us" or "contact us" page.
Show students how to check the date to see when the resource was published. Generally, reliable resources have been published recently (within the past 10 years) but not too recently (within the past 10 days). Brand new resources should be vetted by looking for other sources that contain the same information.
Instruct students to skim through the resource. Use a checklist, like the Digital Research Checklist, or an anchor chart like the Legit-O-Meter or Deceptive Detective, to support students through these steps. themselves the following questions as they skim:
Is this a primary or secondary source?
Is there a clear position being taken by the author?
Are other sources referenced or cited within the resource? Are the cited resources credible?
Are there errors in spelling, punctuation or formatting?
Is the resource easy to understand?
Is there any information in this resource that seems unrealistic or unreasonable?
Instruct students to check the resource against other sources they've found. They can use a template like the Choosing Reliable Sources Venn Diagram included below to compare the new resource with any that they have already examined for credibility.
Tell students that once they have determined that their source is credible, they should add it to their list of sources to keep track of their research. See the Research and Citation Resources page from the Purdue Online Writing Lab for APA, MLA, and Chicago style citation guidelines.
Students can use the acronym C.R.A.A.P. to assess website sources when engaging in the research process. The acronym C.R.A.A.P. stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. This strategy can be used in any content area for grades 6-12.
Provide students with an anchor chart, display on the board, or handout of the acronym C.R.A.A.P. and an explanation of the acronym. See resources for several examples of specific questions for each letter of the acronym.
Timeliness - How recently was the website or information published?
Importance - How relevant or important is the information to the needs of the research?
Source - Who is the author or website source and how credible is that author or source?
Reliability/ Correctness - Is the information supported by evidence? Does the information seem free of bias?
Reason - Why does the information exist? What is the purpose of the information (inform, sell, teach, convince, etc.)?
Model with students how to assess a website or information from a website. Use a blog, website, video, etc to work through the C.R.A.A.P. analysis with students.
Provide students with both a real website or online resource and a fake site (see resources for an example) to have students practice assessing website credibility.
Have students complete a C.R.A.A.P. analysis of a website or online resource. This can be individually, in partners, or small groups. There are a couple of different implementation options to use based on teacher preference:
Provide students with a worksheet to fill out while reviewing the website or online source. Include a space for the student to identify the website, a space for an explanation of each letter of the acronym, and a final summary of website credibility for the student to fill out.
Have students complete the analysis using a tech tool like Google Forms. Have the students answer the same types of questions on the Google Form that they would on the worksheet.
Bring students back together to review their assessments either in a whole group discussion, small group feedback, or individual conference. This does not have to be done every time, but should be done the first few times to assess student understanding and to make sure students are accurately assessing website credibility.
For EL students who are developing English reading skills, practice evaluating the credibility of a video or audio resource. If EL learners are proficient readers in their home language, they can practice digital literacy skills by evaluating resources written in their home language.
Evaluating Website Credibility students with disabilities by providing scaffold supports to build the skills to conduct research by gathering and assessing information. Developing Digital Literacy Skills requires developed reading comprehension and writing skills in addition to executive functioning skills (task initiation, prioritization, working memory, etc.). In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas, consider the following modifications:
For students with disabilities that impact working memory, provide a graphic organizer such as a checklist, chart, or table, where students can record sources they have already found and vetted. See the "Research Organizer" in the resource section below.
Consider using the “quality over quantity” approach for students to complete the task. As an example, a teacher may narrow a student’s focus to evaluating three websites as opposed to four to give them more time to fully research and vet their sources and synthesize information.
If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider having one teacher work in a small group of students with more intensive disabilities to provide them both more scaffolded modeling of how to evaluate website credibility and more frequent feedback on their completion of tasks.
Evaluating website credibility is an imperative 21st century skill that this strategy supports. English learners benefit from the scaffolds provided in the activities so they may apply their language skills to internet searches confidently. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:
Guide research question development. Create templates or model research questions for learners to choose from to lessen linguistic load and allow English learners to focus on digital literacy.
Provide search term word banks or templates. English learners at lower levels of proficiency may benefit from having models of common search terms or ways to build search phrases. Consider the unit of study and research question models and provide a bank of words that you know will likely get learners where they need to be. Draw learners attention to the suggestions made by most search engines as another helpful tool. Also provide non-examples, e.g., eliminate filler words, connector words, etc., to create parameters for learners.
Make accessible anchor charts. Ensure English learners at lower levels of proficiency can access anchor charts by adding graphics and/or using simple language. Checklists are great tools for English learners. Orient English learners to all tools and check in throughout to ensure understanding and appropriate use.
Understanding digital research skills supports students to examine their own personal beliefs and explore other perspectives. Digital research skills strengthen students' understanding of fake news, and can support students to develop a more critical lens when ingesting public and social media. Understanding digital research can also support students to consider deeper questions related to equity and representation online. Once students have skill in examining online sources, they can create their own online resources to spread credible information about social issues they are passionate about.
What scaffolds might students need to be successful independently conducting digital research?
What peer feedback or collaboration strategies could support the development of digital research skills?
Explore the Online Science Research unit by 7th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher Mariana Garcia Serrato included in the resources below to see how teaching research processes, critical source analysis, and citation deepens students' digital research skills.
In developing this strategy, the following resources were consulted:
The Complete Guide to Evaluating Online Resources. HostingFacts.
Learning the Landscape of Digital Literacy. Cory Collins and Kate Shuster, Teaching Tolerance.