How to make source criticism exciting and engaging

Source criticism is on the agenda today in many classrooms. Students are encouraged to develop a critical approach as they learn to navigate today's digital media landscape. Without source criticism, the risk of being misinformed, with all of negative consequences that implies, is ever-present. The challenge for educators is to find ways to make source criticism exciting and engaging so that it becomes a practical tool in students’ everyday lives, rather than a topic that passes by in a single lesson.

Introduce source criticism with examples

Explaining why source criticism is needed, including concrete examples from the real world, may be an effective way to introduce this important subject. Websites, such as “Lead Stories” and “Snopes,” work to reveal fake news by investigating articles whose authors intentionally work to mislead readers, often to earn advertising money.

These fact-checkers’ pages feature spectacular news items that have gone viral in social media, but have later been revealed as scams. These articles can be used as an eye-opening discussion tool to foster an understanding of the importance of source criticism. While fake news may represent an extreme situation, it is nevertheless a telling example of the type of lies that regularly circulate, affecting us all.

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Link source criticism to everyday problems

In order to prevent being deceived by false or misleading communication, source criticism is an approach that everyone should adopt in daily life. It’s not just about evaluating news sources, but rather all digital information. Connecting source criticism to everyday situations helps us see how it affects us all. For example, scammers commonly send out “phishing” e-mails, that pretend to come from banks or other legitimate businesses. These e-mails often request the receiver to click an embedded link, whose sole purpose is to lead you to a fraudulent website and access your personal information.

Discuss how these emails are intentionally designed to deceive. Identify the clues that they are false: For example, context—do banks send links via e-mail and ask you to click? Are there verbal and visual signals that the e-mails are false? What might be the personal consequences of neglecting source criticism and clicking on a fraudulent link? What might happen if passwords or account details are revealed? Might you lose money?  Considering consequences from a personal perspective encourages interest in source criticism.

Integrate source criticism into teaching

Once students have understood why it is important to have a source-critical approach, critical thinking skills can be added to the curriculum. As with so much else, source criticism is best learned live—it can be integrated into all subjects, and will become a natural element in teaching and study. This integration makes source-critical thinking more relevant, and keeps it top-of-mind for all students.

Download our checklist “Investigate an online source with five simple questions"

It is more important than ever to review sources critically. Our checklist helps you determine whether an online source is trustworthy. You will learn:

  • What are common warning signs?
  • How do you develop a source critical approach?
  • How and where can you fact check an article?

Fill out the form and get the checklist with five simple questions to help you investigate an online source.