Have you ever gotten to the end of a research-based unit, read student papers, and wondered w.t.a.f. are my students doing when I give them time to research?
Then you have to work out if they just wasted their time or if they need some help brushing up on some basic research skills.
You might then decide to give your students the benefit of the doubt and re-teach some research skills, such as how to locate information or evaluate sources of evidence.
Then, Jeremy in the back row decides to pipe up at the end of the lesson and ask ‘What are research skills?’
Cue: palm to the face.
By now, you’ve used up a bunch of time and need to refresh those research skills for your students a quickly as humanly possible.
Enter the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series on YouTube. I’ve written about it before, but I’ll do it again. This series is a great way to quickly and easily review research skills with your middle or high school students.
This series is great for a number of reasons:
- It’s online so you can assign it for homework or for classwork if you are doing distance learning
- The videos show real-world examples of research skills being used
- Students learn strategies to research more effectively such as lateral reading and fact-checking
- The videos are fast-paced and are only about 10-15 minutes long
- John Green presents the videos and he is hilarious
- The videos give statistics that show just how easily people can be fooled by inaccurate or unsubstantiated claims
- The videos show how to interrogate real-world sources of news and information such as videos, photos, social media posts, and infographics. Yay for real-world skills!
Now, this post is about how to teach research skills, not about teaching students to take effective notes. So, if you are looking for how to teach students to take notes, check this post instead.
What are research skills?
Before we begin, let’s define what we mean by research skills. Some people class taking notes as research, but in my opinion, note-taking is more of a study skill.
You can use it while studying and it is a more general skill than say, identifying sources of accurate information.
If you had to give research skills a definition, you might say something along the lines of skills that people use to identify, extract, organize, evaluate, analyze, interpret, and use accurate information for some type of purpose.
In school, this purpose is typically some sort of paper, essay, or presentation. This presents a problem because often research skills in themselves are either not taught by teachers or not mastered by students.
So students have a research paper due, and teachers give them time to research in class, but then students don’t really know what they need to do to research.
Why teach research skills?
While the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series says it better than I do, having research skills means students are less likely to be fooled by fake news, inaccurate information, or social media posts.
And with the huge amount of time most people spend online, being able to identify false news, websites, and social media posts from genuine and accurate information is a massive advantage to students.
Not to mention you hopefully won’t be thinking w.t.a.f. when you grade their papers
How to teach research skills fast!?
Ok, so I’ve convinced you to teach (or, more likely, re-teach) research skills. But how do you do it fast? As in a jet plane with a tailwind fast.
First, give students a reason to learn about research skills. I’m sure you usually find that if students have a reason to do a task (beyond, you know, it’s part of the curriculum and they have to) they are more engaged and willing to work and learn.
A great way to do this by showing the first Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video (below).
In the video, John Green explains that we should be increasingly aware of where and who we get our information from. This is for two main reasons:
- people are now spending much more time online than ever before
- many people now source their news and other information from the internet
- the internet is not regulated, edited, or overseen in any cohesive way.
Green cites problems such as misinformation, disinformation, passive scrolling of information, and algorithm preferences as things that can distort our understanding of the world.
Further, he shows that many people are unable to differentiate between sponsored posts or advertising and a genuine news story.
These real-world applications for learning research skills are a great selling point for students to learn them.
Once students are engaged and ready to learn, it’s time to hit them with some strategies. Listed below are some research skills examples. This list is not exhaustive, and it is more of a re-cap than in-depth learning.
But it is fast, easy, and possible to do in a limited time frame.
Research skill #1: fact checking
An important research strategy students may need a refresher on is fact checking.
Basically, fact-checking is the process of:
- reading or viewing the source of information
- working out what claims the source is making
- finding out what other sources of information say about the claims being made or the author/organization who published the information
From this, student-researchers can identify whether or not a source is trustworthy or whether the claims being made are likely to be true.
Helpfully, John Green points out that information that is shareable, emotional, interesting, or likely to change people’s opinions on a topic is information that students should fact-check carefully.
Research skill #2: lateral reading
A second research strategy that students may find useful is lateral reading. And in the digital age this couldn’t be easier!
No more spreading out five textbooks on a tiny student-sized desk and trying to cross-check information. Now students just need to open a new tab!
In this video, students can see a real-life example of a company creating a lobby organization. Then it shows the company’s campaign to change people’s opinions about a local government area that was going to provide free internet to it’s citizens.
The video also explains why it’s so easy for organizations to create fake websites that are designed to persuade people to a point of view. Because we tend to read them like we read a book – top to bottom, left to right.
Finally, the video gives websites that students can go to to check the validity of the information presented on websites and in the news.
Research skill #3: deciding which sources are trustworthy
A third strategy the video series gives is how to identify which sources of information are generally reliable and are written by people with appropriate credentials.
And then compare those reliable sources of information against information that you are trying to fact-check.
In deciding on which sources of information to trust, students are asked to consider how bias, opinion, perspective and political orientations affect how information is presented.
It also explains that trustworthy sources of information:
- are created by authors with professional expertise
- use a set process to create and vet content
- have systems in place to catch mistakes (such as fact-checkers and editors).
Importantly, the video also explains that news and information sources inevitably have biases and perspectives. But readers can account for those biases and perspectives when deciding whether or not to trust the source.
Research skill #4: getting a broad overview of a topic
A fourth research strategy the video series gives is to use reference material (such as Wikipedia) to gain a broad overview of a topic.
While we as teachers may not love Wikipedia, John Green rightly states that it is a useful starting point for research for a few reasons:
- it has lots of information on a wide variety of topics
- information is available in many languages (which is helpful for ESL learners)
- articles often provide references and links to outside information
- it has been shown to be about as accurate as traditional encyclopedias
- Wikipedia’s core content policies have improved information reliability.
As Green explains, the core content policies Wikipedia has implemented mean that pages are supposed to be:
- written from a neutral point of view
- contain only established information and no original research
- be able to be verified by checking published reliable sources.
On top of this, users of Wikipedia can see when edits have been made to pages and whether a page has been locked or protected. This gives students the ability to identify who has altered a page and when they did it, which gives more context to use when evaluating the information.
Research skill #5: Evaluating whether evidence backs up claims made
Evaluating information sources is probably one of the hardest research skills for students. And that’s because it’s a complex process. Students have to:
- read and comprehend new information
- decide what claims the information is making
- find the evidence the information uses to back up those claims
- decide if the evidence supports the claim the information makes
- find out who wrote the information and what their qualifications are
- and read laterally to find out if the information, claims, and evidence seems reliable
The video then shows an example of evaluating the validity of evidence in a few real-life examples:
- a moon landing Facebook post from a YouTube channel (that is revealed to post many conspiracy-theory videos)
- an e-cigarette story about e-cigarettes helping people quit smoking being presented as evidence that e-cigarettes are not being marketed to teens
Finally, the video explains the difference between correlation and causation. And it encourages students to ask if the information provides evidence, if it is relevant to the claim or argument, and if the evidence credible.
Research skill #6: Evaluating different kinds of evidence
This series is especially good for students because it is all about navigating digital information. The skills students use when researching using digital information also apply to their real-world lives.
And being able to evaluate evidence not just from written texts, but also from photos, videos, data and infographics is a very useful research skill.
This skill is especially important given how easily images and videos can be altered, taken out of context, or shown alongside information that misleads the audience into believing something incorrect.
The next video in the series helps students learn to interrogate data and infographics in a more sophisticated way.
This is particularly important because many students think that information is reliable and accurate when it includes statistics, even when no reference is provided.
In the video they discover how to think about the effects of:
- the sample size for data collection
- representation of data (including the ideas of scale and proportion)
- whether data supports the argument of the information
- who conducted and paid for the research
- why the data was collected
- whether an infographic is based on actual data or ‘intelligent estimate’
- whether the data was interpreted accurately by a person with suitable training
Students can also learn about how vested interests may misrepresent data or their conclusions of the data.
Research skill #7: Keeping information, notes, and sources organized
This skill is a hard one to teach and learn. Some students will have well-organized parents who have taught them organizational skills, and others won’t.
I like to show students how I personally organize my own research process and you may like to do the same. If you are looking for good videos on this, CrashCourse does a Study Skills series and it has several videos on getting organized.
However, research does show that as teachers, one of the best ways we can support these skills is to model them and then give class time for students to actually do it.
Research skill #8: Citing sources
Citing sources is another example of a research skill students seem to struggle with. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times you re-teach it, it just doesn’t stick.
But . . . I have to admit that I look up how to cite sources correctly every.single.time. I have to provide sources for written work. In fact, I did it for this blog post.
So don’t fight it. Set a citation video for homework when students are writing papers and then let them go. Below are a few videos you may like to use.
These videos are great for citation skills, and if you go to the website there are also very short quizzes to check for understanding. The good thing about these videos is they show how to do both in-text citations and works cited pages.
Hopefully, we’ve helped you come up with some quick and easy lesson plans to help you decide how to teach research skills to your students.
Learning to research effectively is a difficult skill. And your students will need lots.of.practice. to master it.
Don’t despair if it feels like they never seem to get better. They do, you just might not see it. But their future college professors, employers, or customers will.
Want to learn more about teaching study skills to your students? Check out these blog posts:
- Why your students’ notes suck and how to improve them
- 8 awesome reasons to focus on study skills in ELA
- 5 research-backed reasons you should be teaching mind mapping
- 9 quick and easy study skills lesson plans for high school
Want to know more about our Crash Course Navigating Digital Information worksheets?
If you are wanting to find out more about our Crash Course Navigating Digital Information worksheets, check out our TPT page or clicking on the photo or link below.
The bundle has two additional episodes to the ones you read about earlier. If you have time in class, these are great for general digital citizenships skills.
BUT, this blog post was about quick and easy ways to teach basic research skills, so I left it out of the main part of the article.
The click restraint video shows students that sometimes using patience when looking through search results will reward them with more reliable sources of information.
The video also discusses how search engines like Google decide on which articles and pages to rank highly, and why that leads to some unscrupulous creators rigging the system.
The video explains how professional fact-checkers gather more reliable information by scrolling through the first few pages of search results to get a feel for the sources and topic. They then go back and click on the few pages that are most likely to give good information.
It also models click restraint using a real-life example of a news story that said that a Chinese company was buying up Woolworths.
The final video in the series is about social media. The video discusses many important ideas that students may not have considered in relation to social media use, such as:
- how people and organizations use fake social media profiles
- that we as digital citizens have a responsibility to not post or share inaccurate information online
- how engaging content can actually be paid or sponsored content
- the problems of catfishing, scams, cyberbullying, and disinformation
- how social media companies use data to target you for advertising
- how algorithms prioritize engagement and how that leads to ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘extreme recommendation engines’
The video then gives strategies to mitigate these problems.
Gambill, Jill M.; Moss, Lauralee A.; Vescogni, Christie D. 2008. “The Impact of Study Skills and Organizational Methods on Student Achievement.” Action Research Project., Saint Xavier University. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED501312.pdf