Thinking Critically about Research Sources

Unit Plan

Phil Coogan
Adapted by Linda Scott
2 weeks

California Language Arts Content Standards
Standards Addressed in this Unit
Writing Strategies
Research and Technology
1.3 Use clear research questions and suitable research methods (e.g., library, electronic media, personal interview) to elicit and present evidence from primary and secondary sources.
1.5 Synthesize information from multiple sources and identify complexities and discrepancies in the information and the different perspectives found in each medium.
Listening and Speaking: Speaking Application
2.2 Deliver expository presentations:
  1. Convey information and ideas from primary and secondary sources accurately and coherently.
  2. Make distinctions between the relative value and significance of specific data, facts, and ideas.

Teacher Background Reading


Smiley Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:
  1. Have the class brainstorm a variety of possible topics for research which are recorded on the board by the teacher and each recorded on a separate card by a student helper. During this phase the teacher acts as an arbiter to ensure that the topics serve the overall purpose of her/his unit.

    The topics for research may differ depending upon what level this unit is being used at. The possible topics may well be decided by the focus of a thematic unit. At higher levels teachers may wish to focus the research more directly on English language, literature or media-related topics.

    For guidance on how to build online Research Modules which will challenge your students to make up their own minds while supplying them with rich information to support such thinking, visit the Online Module Maker.

  2. Once the final list of (no more than 5-8) topics has been decided, the teacher either:
    • assigns selected groups of three students to each topic.
    • places the cards around the room and allows students to self-select groups based upon interest. (This may entail splitting larger groups up and modifying topics to prevent repetition).
  3. Groups then decide upon three key questions they want answered and submit these to the teacher for approval to ensure that they are not so specific or closed that the research process is invalidated or so broad as to be unmanageable.
  4. Once research questions are approved, the class is introduced to the methods of research each group must use to find answers to their questions.
    In each group of three:
    • one member must use a traditional secondary source, eg. book, article, tape or video
    • one member must use the World Wide Web and Four Ways to Search the Internet.
    • one member is responsible for collating and organizing the presentation to the class.

    If the teacher wishes to expose the group to both methods, an alternative is to ensure each group member takes responsibility for one question and uses both methods for that question.

    Teachers may wish to include primary sources in the research, eg. interviews with experts; letter writing, emailing or faxing.

    The Research Evaluation Checklist is, however, only designed for the evaluation of web-based or print-based sources.

  5. Students conduct their research individually in their own time and in class time.
  6. Back in groups, students compare the answers they each got to their question(s). As a group they evaluate all sources by subjecting it to the Resource Evaluation Checklist.

    Teachers wishing to focus exclusively on the critical evaluation of web-based resources, or provide self-direction evaluation tools for students in years 12-13, will find these sites valuable.

  7. Students then report back to the class explaining:
    • Their research topic and questions.
    • A brief summary of the answers to those questions.
    • A comment on which sources scored high and which scored low on the Resource Evaluation Checklist, along with any generalisations they are able to make about sources of information.


As the key skills which are the focus are designed to be incorporated into a large unit, it is not appropriate to use a standards-based rubric for this activity. However, students could self assess using the self assessment resource.


Information Literacies Curriculum
A rich site with many resources on information literacy. Be sure to explore the link on Lessons by Grade Level.

Books, articles, news reports, videotapes, World Wide Web, Resource Evaluation Checklist etc.