The activities in this section take an estimated 2 hours (plus 25 min for Extension Activity)
Information may be shared by friends, family, or celebrities, and while we may recognize the person who shared it with us, we may not know anything about the original source. It’s not always clear who has produced the content or for what reason, and whether it can be trusted.
In this lesson, students will review the motives behind producing content before looking at a variety of different sources and the information they produce. Students will learn about how the internet has made it harder to identify the source and how to use lateral reading skills when evaluating sources. In the Extension Activity, students expand these skills by learning how to evaluate expertise.
By the end of these activities, students will be able to:
explain common motive for producing content;
describe different sources of information and the motive behind their content;
demonstrate lateral reading skills to evaluate sources;
analyze why it is important to evaluate sources.
advocacy, agenda, business, domain knowledge, expertise, lobby group, news organization, reference source, research institute, social movement, think tank
A Note on Formats and File Types
For the various activities, you will find different file types, including Google Forms, Word files, and Google Docs. The content is nearly identical, but some changes were made to adapt to each format. All versions can be modified and incorporated into your current teaching methods and platforms.
Note: The Google Forms option allows students to check their work and view a walkthrough of the technique after submitting their answers. To access background information and tips for using Google Forms, please download this support document.
STARTER: The motive behind the content (15-20 min)
Through a class discussion, brainstorm different reasons why people, groups or organizations produce content or information.
To influence (or persuade)
To mislead/confuse (disinformation)
Using Slide Deck 2 , ask students to determine the purpose of the content in the examples (slides 3-14)
Is it always easy to determine the motive behind the content we see online?
Why is it important to know the motive behind the content?
What could be the consequences if you thought a video was trying to inform you when actually trying to persuade or mislead you?
FUNDAMENTALS: Sources and Motivations (30 min)
Explain to students that there are a variety of sources that produce content. Using Slide Deck 2, review some of the common types of sources (slides 15-20). At the end, ask students which sources they would find most trustworthy, and for what types of information, and why.
Academic/Research Institutions (universities, research institutes, think-tanks)
Private (businesses, lobby/advocacy groups, community groups/non-profit organizations, individuals, professional associations, social movements)
Teacher note: Review the concept of advocacy. Advocacy is an activity by an individual or group that aims to influence decisions within political, economic, and social institutions. Lobby groups, social movements, think-tanks and many community groups often advocate for their cause or interests.
Independently or in pairs, have students complete Activity 2.1. For each example, students should decide the type of source it is (word bank #1) and the motive behind the content they produce (word bank #2). Students can look up unfamiliar sources using the web or visiting the website listed.
Teacher note: The responses for Activity 2.1 will be used for comparison in the Consolidation activity, so it is not necessary to review for accuracy immediately afterwards.
As a class, discuss the challenges when evaluating sources.
What connections can you draw between sources and motivations?
Which sources were familiar to you and which were not?
For any unfamiliar sources, was it easy to determine the type of source by looking at their name or by visiting their website?
Do you think you can completely trust how a source describes itself and its activities? (Consider an example where the source says it is “the most reliable news network” or a restaurant that says that it serves “the best burgers in town.”)
Why would a source try to make themselves sound more legitimate, trustworthy or neutral than they really are?
SKILLS: Investigate the Source (45-50 min)
Review the concept of a reliable source. It is a source that you can rely on or trust because it has a reputation for accuracy and honesty.Reliable media sources have journalistic standards, hire professional journalists, and correct mistakes.
Ask students to identify information on the Wikipedia article that suggests that it might be a reliable or trustworthy source (e.g., daily newspaper, founded in 1845, owned by a well-known news media group called Post Media Network).
When demonstrating the Wikipedia trick, hover over the blue underlined words “Broadsheet” (box on the right), “Postmedia Network” and “Ottawa” to show students that it reveals background information or definitions. This is a helpful tool for unfamiliar terms.
Point out to students that the Ottawa Citizen’s political alignment or media bias is considered “centre-right,” which means that its editorial position or commentary tends to be more conservative. However, when we are doing a quick check to determine if a source is reliable, this is not as relevant (this will be explained more in the next video).
Explain to students that it can be difficult to tell whether a source is reliable. Some sources are highly credible news organizations and others produce outright false and misleading information. However, many sources fall somewhere in between these two extremes.
Why is it more important to evaluate the source’s “agenda” rather than their “bias”?
How should we evaluate information from sources that aim to influence or persuade?
What should we do if we are unsure about the quality of the source?
Ask students to practice the Wikipedia trick with the examples in the ‘Practice Source Investigation’ Google Forms or Activity 2.3.
Teacher Note: The Google Forms option allows students to check their work and view a walkthrough of the technique after submitting their answers.To access background information and tips for using Google Forms, please download this support document.
CONSOLIDATION (20-25 min)
Ask students to use Wikipedia to research the sources listed on Activity 2.1 and have them update their answers as needed. Debrief as a class:
Were your original source types and motivations correct? Which ones did you have to update?
Is it easier and faster to evaluate sources using information you found on Wikipedia compared to looking at the source yourself?
Ask students to consolidate their learning by filling out Activity 2.4.
What would you say to a friend to convince them why it was important to investigate sources who produce or share information?
What is the best strategy to help you evaluate whether an unfamiliar source is trustworthy?
Practice the Wikipedia trick at home. When you come across an unfamiliar source, check for a Wikipedia entry and answer the questions below.
oIs this source what you thought it was?
oDoes the information you found about the source make it more or less trustworthy?
EXTENSION: Evaluating Expertise (20-25 min)
Review the concept of domain knowledge.
Domain knowledge is the deep understanding of a specific topic or specialized discipline.
People who have domain knowledge are often considered specialists or experts in the field.
Watch the “Evaluate Expertise with Mike Caulfield” video to get a better understanding of domain knowledge and the important service that journalists provide when summarizing the views of numerous experts.
Ask students to answer the questions and assess expertise using the examples on the ‘Practice Evaluating Expertise’ Google Form or Activity 2.5.
What is domain knowledge?
Provide two examples of domain knowledge and two examples where it does not apply.
How do journalists help us evaluate the views of experts?