My 6th graders are about to embark on a journey for the next few weeks. While it may seem like an exaggeration, I tell them that “research is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do.”  Even as an adult, I find this statement is only a slight exaggeration.  They will be completing their first research project with me and I am really excited about it.

Research is one of the hardest skills to teach, and, in the past, my efforts have had limited success.  This year, I have rethought my approach and have broken the process down into (hopefully) easily digestible steps.

I asked them how many of them had done a research project before, and fewer than half raised their hands. I was expecting this, mostly because of the school’s lack of resources for facilitating research (no library and no functional computer lab before this year). I told them that we would be taking it step by step to make the process easier for them.

My students will be creating Google sites about their topic that they chose, so I explained how important it is to make sure that their website is factual and contains accurate information.

After we used Schoology to post our research questions and topics, installed our Diigo toolbars and learned how to bookmark sites, we spent a class period learning how to evaluate sites.  I provided them with four sites and gave them a chance to review the sites for about 5 minutes, deciding which ones were real and which ones were fake. This is the page for the activity.

After they had a chance to view the sites, we grouped together and, using the criteria, explored whether each site was real or fake.

  • is it a blog?
  • can anyone post here?
  • is it an educational or government site?
  • who is the author?
  • can I find this information anywhere else on the web?

Sometimes, we made it through all of the criteria, but when we searched the web, we found that the site was fake or the information was false.  Students suggested that we “Google” to see if we could find more information about the topic. Each time I pulled up one of the sites, they easily moved through the steps, scrolling down to find the author and, in the case of the Tree Octopus, we discussed ‘gut’ feelings and that they can be a valid reason to mistrust a site.

Using the criteria list, my students created an acronym to help them remember the criteria for evaluating sites. They came up with one that, to an outsider, might not make a lot of sense, but I know will be helpful to them. The beauty of it is that it was created by them, for them.

Anyone post?
Who is the author?
Information somewhere else?

I am excited by their engagement in the lesson and I believe that this activity, and my deliberate attempt to move slowly through the research project will ensure successful websites and a successful research process. 

I will keep you posted…..



  1. Reply

    Great post Mary Beth on such an important student skill. I have always enjoyed teaching kids about evaluating what's quality information and what's not. Especially with some of the bogus sites like the Tree Octopus and DHMO. Students don't realize that the skill of discerning between good information and poor information is something we ALWAYS should be doing when we're online, even if a school project isn't the focal point. As an adult, I do this whether I'm shopping for a plane ticket, trying to figure out who has the best deal on a new gadget I want to buy, or trying to understand a current events news story.

    So yes! It is one of the hardest things you'll ever do. It's still hard for me!

  2. Elaine Carboni


    Every year, part of our curriculum is to teach 8th graders how to write a research paper and I've struggled on how to make it more meaningful. Kids hated everything about and couldn't understand why it took so much work. Your idea of creating a Google site has given me an alternate way of making this important task something I know they will not balk at and will give me a new and fresh approach. I've learned so much myself and have shared as well with my collagues. Looking forward to following your progress. Thanks!

  3. peterpappas


    Hi Mary Beth,

    Great post ! The title caught my eye on my Twitter stream. I thought you and your readers might like to know about a new online tool that can be useful in teaching the research process.

    Google Labs has just posted the "Books Ngram Viewer" – a free online research tool that allows you to quickly analyze the frequency of names, words and phrases -and when they appeared in the digitized books.

    I think Books Ngram Viewer is a great tool to introduce the research method – form hypothesis, gather and analyze data, revise hypothesis (as needed), draw conclusions, assess research methods. Working in teams students can easily pose research questions, run the data, revise and assess their research strategy. Students can quickly make and test predictions. They can then present and defend their conclusions to other classroom groups.

    You can find my Ngram Viewer "how-to" at "How To Quantify Culture? Explore 500 Billion Published Words With Google's Ngram Viewer"

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