Teaching Kids to Evaluate Sources

Before the age of technology, conducting research was both less convenient and a lot more straight-forward. Students would have to go to a library, look through the catalog of books organized using the Dewey Decimal System, and then locate their book on one of hundreds of shelves. There was little room for unreliable sources. And with all of the information available to us today, there is no shortage of high-quality, reliable sources at our fingertips. But there’s also a lot of bias and misinformation. So students not only need to find sources, but they need to make sure they’re the right sources. How do we teach students which sources they can trust, and which they should skip? 

Start with Search Terms

Not all search terms are created equal! The words students choose when conducting an internet search make all the difference in their results. For example, if a student is looking for arguments on both sides of an issue, they should be careful not to include any adjectives in their search that could cause their results to skew one way or the other. Otherwise, one view will outweigh the other in their sources, and probably in their final product.

Discuss Media Bias

In order to evaluate sources for credibility, students first need to understand what reliability (and unreliability) means. “Media bias” is an important term to teach students in introducing the concept of reliability of sources. So many news websites and independent journalists write with media bias, whether they realize it or not. Have students explore media bias by comparing two or more reports of the same event, and analyzing how they differ. Any differences in perspective, events that are or are not included in the story, or facts that are left out all point to media bias.

This doesn’t mean students should avoid using sources just because there is media bias present. It just means that students need to evaluate the source and the facts it presents with a critical eye, and always ask whether there is more to a story than is being presented.

Teach Healthy Skepticism

In general, students should always view online sources with a healthy level of skepticism. This doesn’t mean they need to distrust everything they come across. But they should get in the habit of always questioning the reliability and credibility of what they read. Here are some great questions to model with, and to teach students to ask themselves as they are internet browsing:

  • What was the author’s purpose in writing this, and what is their background? Do I know that they have the expertise to write on this topic?

  • What is the website’s purpose?

  • How current is the information on this website?

  • Is the information on this website backed up anywhere else?


CommonSense.org’s Digital Citizenship Curriculum for K-12 has some great lessons and activities to supplement students’ development of research skills, as well as lessons in how to interact with online content more generally.


This infographic, created by Richard Byrne and Canva, has some excellent strategies for executing effective google searches.

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