Teachers often find it difficult to decide how to teach research skills to high school students. You probably feel students should know how to do research by high school. But often students’ skills are lacking in one or more areas.
Today we’re not going to give you research skills lesson plans for high school. But we will give you 12 tips for how to teach research skills to high school students. Bonus, the tips will make it quick, fun, and easy.
One of my favorite ways of teaching research skills to high school students is to use the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series.
The videos are free and short (between ten and fifteen minutes each). They cover information such as evaluating the trustworthiness of sources, using Wikipedia, lateral reading, and understanding how the source medium can affect the message.
Another thing I like to integrate into my lessons are the Crash Course Study Skills videos. Again, they’re free and short. Plus they are an easy way to refresh study skills such as:
- writing papers
- editing papers
- getting organized
- and studying for tests and exams.
If you’re ready to get started, we’ll give you links to great resources that you can integrate into your lessons. Because often students just need a refresh on a particular skill and not a whole semester-long course.
1. Why learn digital research skills?
Tip number one of how to teach research skills to high school students. Address the dreaded ‘why?’ questions upfront. You know the questions: Why do we have to do this? When am I ever going to use this?
If your students understand why they need good research skills and know that you will show them specific strategies to improve their skills, they are far more likely to buy into learning about how to research effectively.
An easy way to answer this question is that students spend so much time online. Some people spend almost an entire day online each week.
It’s amazing to have such easy access to information, unlike the pre-internet days. But there is far more misinformation and disinformation online.
A webpage, Facebook post, Instagram post, YouTube video, infographic, meme, gif, TikTok video (etc etc) can be created by just about anyone with a phone. And it’s easy to create them in a way that looks professional and legitimate.
This can make it hard for people to know what is real, true, evidence-based information and what is not.
The first Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video gets into the nitty-gritty of why we should learn strategies for evaluating the information we find (online or otherwise!).
An easy way to answer the ‘why’ questions your high schoolers will ask, the video is an excellent resource.
2. Teaching your students to fact check
Tip number two for teaching research skills to high school students is to teach your students concrete strategies for how to check facts.
It’s surprising how many students will hand in work with blatant factual errors. Errors they could have avoided had they done a quick fact check.
An easy way to broach this research skill in high school is to watch the second video in the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series. It explains what fact-checking is, why people should do it, and how to make it a habit.
You can explain to your students that they’ll write better papers if they learn to fact-check. But they’ll also make better decisions if they make fact-checking a habit.
The video looks at why people are more likely to believe mis- or disinformation online. And it shows students a series of questions they can use to identify mis- or disinformation.
The video also discusses why it’s important to find a few generally reliable sources of information and to use those as a way to fact-check other online sources.
3. Teaching your students how and why to read laterally
This ties in with tip number 2 – teach concrete research strategies – but it is more specific. Fact-checking tends to be checking what claim sources are making, who is making the claim, and corroborating the claim with other sources.
But lateral reading is another concrete research skills strategy that you can teach to students. This skill helps students spot inaccurate information quickly and avoid wasting valuable research time.
One of the best (and easiest!) research skills for high school students to learn is how to read laterally. And teachers can demonstrate it so, so easily. As John Green says in the third Crash Course Navigating Digital Information video, just open another tab!
The video also shows students good websites to use to check hoaxes and controversial information.
Importantly, John Green also explains that students need a “toolbox” of strategies to assess sources of information. There’s not one magic source of information that is 100% accurate.
4. Teaching your students how to evaluate trustworthiness
Deciding who to trust online can be difficult even for those of us with lots of experience navigating online. And it is made even more difficult by how easy it now is to create a professional-looking websites.
This video shows students what to look for when evaluating trustworthiness. It also explains how to take bias, opinion, and political orientations into account when using information sources.
The video explains how reputable information sources gather reliable information (versus disreputable sources). And shows how reputable information sources navigate the situation when they discover their information is incorrect or misleading.
Students can apply the research skills from this video to news sources, novel excerpts, scholarly articles, and primary sources. Teaching students to look for bias, political orientation, and opinions within all sources is one of the most valuable research skills for high school students.
5. Teaching your students to use Wikipedia
Now, I know that Wikipedia can be the bane of your teacherly existence when you are reading essays. I know it can make you want to gouge your eyes out with a spoon when you read the same recycled article in thirty different essays. But, teaching students how to use Wikipedia as a jumping-off point is a useful skill.
Wikipedia is no less accurate than other online encyclopedia-type sources. And it often includes hyperlinks and references that students can check or use for further research. Plus it has handy-dandy warnings for inaccurate and contentious information.
Part of how to teach research skills to high school students is teaching them how to use general reference material such as encyclopedias for broad information. And then following up with how to use more detailed information such as primary and secondary sources.
The Crash Course video about Wikipedia is an easy way to show students how to use it more effectively.
6. Teaching your students to evaluate evidence
Another important research skill to teach high school students is how to evaluate evidence. This skill is important, both in their own and in others’ work.
An easy way to do this is the Crash Course video about evaluating evidence video. The short video shows students how to evaluate evidence using authorship, the evidence provided, and the relevance of the evidence.
It also gives examples of ways that evidence can be used to mislead. For example, it shows that simply providing evidence doesn’t mean that the evidence is quality evidence that supports the claim being made.
The video shows examples of evidence that is related to a topic, but irrelevant to the claim. Having an example of irrelevant evidence helps students understand the difference between related but irrelevant evidence and evidence that is relevant to the claim.
Finally, the video gives students questions that they can use to evaluate evidence.
7. Teaching your students to evaluate photos and videos
While the previous video about evidence looked at how to evaluate evidence in general, this video looks specifically at video and photographic evidence.
The video looks at how videos and photos can be manipulated to provide evidence for a claim. It suggests that seeking out the context for photos and videos is especially important as a video or photo is easy to misinterpret. This is especially the case if a misleading caption or surrounding information is provided.
The video also gives tools that students can use to discover hoaxes or fakes. Similarly, it encourages people to look for the origin of the photo or video to find the creator. And to then use that with contextual information to decide whether the photo or video is reliable evidence for a claim.
8. Teaching your students to evaluate data and infographics
Other sources of evidence that students (and adults!) often misinterpret or are misled by are data and infographics. Often people take the mere existence of statistics or other data as evidence for a claim instead of investigating further.
Again the Crash Course video suggests seeking out the source and context for data and infographics. It suggests that students often see data as neutral and irrefutable, but that data is inherently biased as it is created by humans.
The video gives a real-world example of how data can be manipulated as a source of evidence by showing how two different news sources represented global warming data.
9. Teaching your students how search engines work and why to use click restraint
Another video from the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series is the video about how search engines work and click restraint. This video shows how search engines decide which information to list at the top of the search results. It also shows how search engines decide what information is relevant and of good quality.
The video gives search tips for using search engines to encourage the algorithms to return more reliable and accurate results.
This video is important when you are want to know how to teach research skills to high school students. This is because many students don’t understand why the first few results on a search are not necessarily the best information available.
10. Teach your students how to evaluate social media sources
One of the important research skills high school students need is to evaluate social media posts. Many people now get news and information from social media sites that have little to no oversight or editorial control. So, being able to evaluate posts for accuracy is key.
This video in the Crash Course Navigating Digital Information series also explains that social media sites are free to use because they make money from advertising. The advertising money comes from keeping people on the platform (and looking at the ads).
How do they keep people on the platform? By using algorithms that gather information about how long people spend on or react to different photos, posts and videos. Then, the algorithms will send viewers more content that is similar to the content that they view or interact with.
This prioritizes content that is controversial, shocking, engaging, attractive. It also reinforces the social norms of the audience members using the platform.
By teaching students how to combat the way that social media algorithms work, you can show them how to gather more reliable and relevant information in their everyday lives. Further, you help students work out if social media posts are relevant to (reliable for) their academic work.
11. Teaching your students how to cite sources
Another important research skill high school students need is how to accurately cite sources. A quick Google search turned up a few good free ideas:
- This lesson plan from the Brooklyn Library for grades 4-11. It aligns with the common core objectives and provides worksheets for students to learn to use MLA citation.
- This blog post about middle-school teacher Jody Passanini’s experiences trying to teach students in English and History how to cite sources both in-text and at the end with a reference list.
- This scavenger hunt lesson by 8th grade teacher on ReadWriteThink. It has a free printout asking students to prove assertions (which could be either student- or teacher-generated) with quotes from the text and a page number. It also has an example answer using the Catching Fire (Hunger Games) novel.
- The Chicago Manual of Style has this quick author-date citation guide.
- This page by Purdue Online Writing Lab has an MLA citation guide, as well as links to other citation guides such as APA.
If you are wanting other activities, a quick search of TPT showed these to be popular and well-received by other teachers:
- Laura Randazzo’s 9th edition MLA in-text and end-of-text citation activities
- Tracee Orman 8th edition MLA cheet sheet
- The Daring English Teacher’s MLA 8th edition citation powerpoint
12. Teaching your students to take notes
Another important skill to look at when considering how to teach research skills to high school students is whether they know how to take effective notes.
The Crash Course Study Skills note-taking video is great for this. It outlines three note-taking styles – the outline method, the Cornell method, and the mind map method. And it shows students how to use each of the methods.
This can help you start a conversation with your students about which styles of note-taking are most effective for different tasks.
For example, mind maps are great for seeing connections between ideas and brain dumps. The outline method is great for topics that are hierarchical. And the Cornell method is great for topics with lots of specific vocabulary.
Having these types of metacognitive discussions with your students helps them identify study and research strategies. It also helps them to learn which strategies are most effective in different situations.
Teaching research skills to high school students . . .
Doesn’t have to be
The fantastic Crash Course Navigating Digital Information videos are a great way to get started if you are wondering how to teach research skills to high school students.
If you decide to use the videos in your class, you can buy individual worksheets if you have specific skills in mind. Or you can buy the full bundle if you think you’ll end up watching all of the videos.