A lesson plan to go with articles about getting informed, published January 2007

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language Arts, Social Studies, Life Skills
Suggested Time Allowance: 45 minutes-1 hour

Overview of Lesson Plan:
To develop students’ ability to evaluate the credibility of online information sources and improve the accuracy and effectiveness of their research skills.

• copies of January 2007 issue of L.A. Youth (one per student)
• pens/pencils
• paper
• classroom board

Se’s cover story, “News you can use,” tells how he got interested in current events at school, and eventually started reading newspapers, magazines and online commentaries to get the news and decide how he felt about it. Se instinctively turned to mainstream news outlets such as The Los Angeles Times, Time magazine and Yahoo News! When we asked other L.A. Youth writers how they stayed informed, they mentioned other well-known news sources such as the New York Times and foreign news media like the BBC.

But when teens set out to do research online, they don’t usually turn to latimes.com or bbc.com. They usually go to a search engine, type in their topic, and use whatever research pops up without discernment. It’s not unusual for students to search for images online, use them in their papers and student publications, and site the source as “Google.com.” This lesson is designed to give teens some guidelines for their online research.

1. Warm-up: Write the word “credibility” on the board and ask students to discuss what they think it means. What kinds of information seem credible to them and why?

2. Read two articles about getting informed: “News you can use” by Se on pages 10-11, and “Get your news–here’s how” by L.A. Youth writers on page 12

3. Discussion questions: What news sources do Se and the other writers describe? Ask students to call out the answers and write them on the board. Here is a list in case you need to do some prompting.

Se’s sources: Los Angeles Times; Time magazine; Se’s history teacher; CNN; Yahoo News Opinion commentaries

Other writers’ sources:
New York Times; InStyle magazine; BBC World News; CNN; Los Angeles Times; Wonkette; National Public Radio (NPR); MSN; Happynews.com; KPFK radio; NBC Nightly News; 60 Minutes; Channel 11 Fox News

The following questions will give you and the class an opportunity to discuss the differences among newspapers, wire services, and sites which simply aggregate or provide links to news sources (such as Google or Yahoo News)

1. Alana describes creating a Google home page that she could make her own customized news page. Where does the news come from?

2. What is the difference between a Web site such as latimes.com and a political blog such as Wonkette.com? What are differences and similarities between, for examples, the Los Angeles Times White House correspondent and the editor of Wonkette.com?

3. Why would the BBC, the New York Times and the L.A. Times each publish different articles about the same news event? Why wouldn’t they all just publish the same article?

Specific things that teens can look for to help them determine a site’s credibility:

1. Where does the information come from? If you don’t know who the author is, it’s hard to decide if it’s credible. And don’t necessarily be impressed by titles. The fact that someone has the title “Dr.” in front of his name doesn’t mean he knows what he’s talking about. Credible Web sites will tell you where the information came from. Reporters will tell you who they interviewed. Academics will offer links to reputable journals and research. If it’s the author’s opinion, that will be clearly stated. Often this information can be found in the “About us” or “Who we are” part of the site. If there is none, that could be a warning sign.

2. Is the site up-to-date? Particularly if it’s a news site, there should be daily updates. The world changes fast.

3. Does the site get things right? Misspellings, facts that don’t sound right, or misspelled company references (like “Greenpeas” instead of “Greenpeace”) can be clues that something is wrong. The site might be a joke site or the work of amateurs.
4. Assignment. Ask students to investigate a Web site they often use and write about whether it’s credible. Ask them to answer each of the questions above.

Students will be evaluated on their participation in discussion and their individual written work.

Extension Activity:
Susan Beck, the Collection Development Coordinator at the New Mexico State University Library, put together a great Web page called “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or, Why it’s a good idea to evaluate Web sources.” It offers a way for Web visitors to evaluate the authority, accuracy, objectivity, currency and in-depth coverage of a Web site, with lots of example Web sites that students can use to investigate. http://lib.nmsu.edu/instruction/eval.html