Remember lugging around 10-pound encyclopedias whenever you had to write a school report? Today, many tweens and teens Google their topics and accept whatever search results come up. Or they try to get away with doing "research" on Wikipedia, which is not entirely accurate. The whole point of doing reports for school is for kids to learn how to track down information using a variety of sources, determine their significance and credibility, and summarize the information accurately. These skills are the cornerstones of information literacy.
Here are some ways you can help your kid find reliable sources for school reports, both on- and offline. Kids should always fact-check using key media-literacy steps.
- Know your domains. Every website has to register a domain that indicates what kind of agency it is. The most common are ".com" (businesses that profit from their sites), ".net" (networks that are often private), ".org" (nonprofits such as Common Sense Media that don't profit from their sites), ".gov" (government sites that are obligated to publish public information), and ".edu" (university sites that publish peer-reviewed studies). All of these can provide information for research reports, but in general, ".gov" and ".edu" sites will offer objective data based on research.
- Check university websites. Many large universities have well-funded research centers and laboratories that create reliable, peer-reviewed research.
- Google and Wikipedia. These aren't necessarily poor sources, but they need to be cross-referenced. And they're not enough to support an entire school research report.
- The library. Your local librarian is trained to help you find the best resources on your topic.
- Meta search engines. Google Scholar (a free search engine that indexes scholarly literature such as academic papers) and Gale and LexisNexis Academic (both subscription-based services available at libraries and other institutions) search a huge range of topics for print and web articles, academic papers, and even multimedia sources.
- People. Grandparents, historians, longtime neighborhood residents, and the like can be great sources of (not always entirely accurate but usually colorful) information.
- Books. Book-report books, biographies, science books, and nonfiction books all are great sources for research papers.