Site evaluation criteria for students in elementary grades

This is the first of a series of posts on teaching research skills on the internet.  Let me give some background, first, to give you the context of these posts.  Choosito! has been extensively piloted in K-12 classrooms. This is because we wanted to develop a set of search tools that best fit real needs in real classrooms. Choosito! has been developed hand in hand with educators and students. In our pilot studies, we recorded student behavior and their research strategies.  Ι will share with you what we learned and how these studies inform not only the design of Choosito! but also our understanding of how to better teach research skills.

When students search for specific information on the web, they click on the first result and, if the site contains the information they need,  they use it and move on. This behavior reveals two shortcomings. Firstly, students use the web as an encyclopedia while we would like them to exercise their research skills by exploring multiple sites and sources of information. We will talk about this aspect of research in another post. Secondly, they assume that all sites are equally valuable. The basic evaluation criterion they apply is whether the visited site contains or does not contain the information they need.

We want to help our students develop a more sophisticated attitude to the web. To that end, it would be beneficial to integrate in your curriculum a research activity that explicitly focuses on exercising site evaluation criteria.

For Elementary school students, I like the 5W’s approach. Encourage your students to ask and answer the following questions for the sites they visit:

  1. WHO. Who is the author? Is there a biography? Is the author an expert? Is it a well-known organization? How can I find more about the author?
  2. WHAT. Is the information reliable? Can I find the same information in another site?
  3. WHERE. Where is the information coming from? Where can I look to find out more about the sponsor of the site? This criterion is intended to make students think about the “objectivity” of the presented information.
  4. WHEN. When was the site created? Is it up to date? When was it last updated? Are there a lot of broken links?
  5. WHY. Why is this page useful? What topics are covered? Why should I use this information? Anything that you can’t find anywhere else? Why is this page better than others? This criterion will make students aware of the fact that serious sites offer full COVERAGE of the topic they present in contrast with sites that present short paragraphs as hooks for search engines to bring traffic and then expose visitors to, e.g., advertisement.
Source:  (last accessed 2013-02-28). The author allows you to print the pdf file and use it in class. 

After students review the evaluation criteria, you can use Choosito’s questbook to assign a simple  information hunting activity. Ask your students to use the rating stars to give their evaluation score. Ask them to use the “comment” function to explain to you the evaluation criteria they used to rate the site. If your class is registered with Choosito!, you can get a report of the ratings and comments that students made.

Students love rating sites! This activity works very well. When students are asked to find information they want to do it quickly and be done with it. When they are asked to rate the sites, they immediately assume a critical stance and enjoy it, even more so when they know that their ratings appear on the web!

We are currently running year long studies to evaluate if the acquired skill persists over time.

Happy evaluating!