Teaching Zack to Think: Developing Critical Thinking Skills

Too many students are not sure how to separate fact from fiction on the Internet. The Internet can provide any version of the truth to support almost any belief. We can teach students how to read the “grammar” of the Internet and to apply strategies to validate information on a website. This popular session provides step-by-step teaching tips that help students and teachers think critically about Internet information and improve their online search strategies.

Shelley's Agenda

Website Validation (REAL)

Evaluate websites with variations and extensions of skills you use to evaluate print materials.


Read the URL:
Examine the content:
  • Does the site appear useful for your purpose?
  • Does the information appear accurate and complete?
  • How does it compare to other resources on the same topic?
  • Are sources cited? Can you verify key information?
  • What is the purpose of the site (inform, persuade, entertain?)
  • When was the site last updated?*
  • How has the site changed over time?
    Wayback Machine - http://www.archive.org
  • Are there ads on the page? Does that affect the credibility?
Ask about the author
  • Who wrote the site? Do they provide credentials?
  • Look for "About." Google the author/owner.
  • Is there a way to contact the author?
  • Who owns the site? Check Easy Whois - http://www.easywhois.com/
Look at the links:
  • What does the page or site link to (credible/trusted sources)?
  • What links to this site?
    Use the Link: command (Yahoo, AltaVista, Google); http://www.backlinkwatch.com
*The implications/importance of these criteria will vary depending on the topic and purpose.

REAL Video Series (Brian Mull) - http://vimeo.com/8579858

Micro-Activity: Submit your school's URL to http://www.backlinkwatch.com

Sites to Examine

ACTIVITY A: In small groups, use the REAL steps to examine one (or more) of the above websites.
ACTIVITY B: Conduct a basic search on a common student research topic. Use one or more of the REAL steps to compare the potential value of three sites to meet your information need.

Dig in to Google

Classic  example of "Type & Hope."  (Image by Stefan).
Classic example of "Type & Hope." (Image by Stefan).

ACTIVITY A: Do a search for a topic of interest (possibly curriculum-related). Start by Thinking Like a Webpage, and see how far you can refine and improve the results using the Google Advanced Search techniques above (Think Like a Search Engine).
ACTIVITY B: Work in a small group to develop a "Google Scavenger Hunt" for your students to teach them about advanced search features: examples (Thanks, Lainie)...
  1. Find information about ozone depletion in Australia from a government website (Not sure, try this)
  2. A presentation file that is related to your subject matter and from universities in the U.S. (Not sure, try this.)
  3. A black and white image that's labeled for reuse to download on to your computer. (Not sure, go here.)

Search Smarter

ACTIVITY: "Social Searching:" Try one of more of the following:
- Use Topsy Realtime Search to locate three resources about about a current news topic
- Teach yourself something of personal interest or curricular relevance in YouTube
- Locate 5-10 resources on a topic of interest by searching Delicious

What About Wikipedia?

ACTIVITY: Check out a topic of professional or personal interest in Wikipedia. Does the content seem valid, complete, well-written? Visit the Discussion tab to see if there has been any conversation or controversy about the article. Also look at the History tab and explore a few of the revisions.

Web Literacy & Critical Thinking Resources