Practical exercises for teaching source criticism

There is no doubt that today it is more important than ever for young people to think critically about the sources of the information they receive. However, the question is how to take a purely didactic approach to teaching critical thinking. Here are some useful tips for practicing source criticism in the classroom.

Integrate source criticism into all subjects

Because it is a skill that should be practiced continuously, source criticism is a difficult subject to schedule, and should instead be integrated into teaching. This can be done in various ways, such as always applying a source-critical perspective. Source-criticism is about more than simply questioning sources. It is also about challenging perspectives and recognizing the influence of contemporary perceptions on the interpretation of history.

For example, the Kristianstad Regional Museum has an exhibit, Source Criticism and History, that allows students to see how our own perspectives affect our interpretation of history, as well as seeing how those perspectives have changed over time. Among other things, they highlight the story of "The Fisherman from Barum," a 9,000-year-old skeleton found in Barum in the 1930s. The skeleton was buried together with a bone chisel and a flint-edged bone tip. Therefore, it was assumed that it was a hunter's grave and thus a man. A later osteological analysis of the skeleton revealed that the hunter was a woman who also gave birth to several children.

There are several historical timeframes that can be interpreted from different perspectives. The Regional Museum's website contains material that touches on different epochs, from the Stone Age to industrialization. 

The Stockholm source also has student material related to historical source criticism, including the voting rights demonstration of 1902. 

Learn more about source criticism


Get help from the school librarian

At Gunnesboskolan in Lund, students work on general subjects, but they include source criticism in their work, and involve the school librarian. Dividing the various sources of criticism among Swedish, English, SO, and NO creates a ‘red thread’ that lets students learn about source criticism from many quarters, including different subjects and several adults—both educators and the school librarian. By integrating the school librarian, the work team benefits from his or her specialized expertise in precisely evaluating sources and reference materials.

Students also work with specific exercises, both within Swedish and SO. One exercise asks students to assess several articles about begging. They check sources, and formulate words to define their evaluation. This exercise results in a questionnaire with review questions, where their source-critical thinking is evaluated, and also a research paper. A movie about working methods at the Gunnesboskolan can be found here. 

Starting from the students' everyday life

One exercise that is relevant to students’ everyday lives is evaluating the news. In 2017, a study of how high school students read news was conducted. The study showed that the students are more source-critical and media conscious than expected.

The method used in the study also serves as an exercise for students in the class. The first step is to divide the class into smaller groups and give the groups access to social media. Then they get to study the social platforms they use, such as Facebook or Snapchat, and report the latest news that has been shared. The group then evaluates the news and grades it based on a number of criteria, such as its sender, its purpose, supporting evidence, and whether there are any additional sources that confirm the news story.

Finally, the groups report their grades to the class, displaying the news on a screen and discussing which reports were the most difficult to categorize, the most and least credible, and explaining the basis for their evaluation. A full description of the exercise and a link to a teacher guide can be found at Mediekompass.

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?

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