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Building Literacy Skills for the Information Age

Michael Grose Parenting Report, Volume 8 Issue 2, Page 3
Article by Melissa Norfolk
Accredited professional speaker

Who's more confident on the computer you or your kids?! Sure kids are whizzes when it comes to games, downloading music and sending instant messages to friends, but ask them to research a school project and the computer whiz kid comes unstuck!

The internet has become a significant source of information but the copious amounts of material often means searching for a topic doesn't always return correct, up to date and relevant information. To be equipped for the information age children need to learn the literacy of the web - to seek out, comprehend and judge good sources of information online. This is where you can help.

Finding Facts

Children are often overwhelmed by the sheer number of online sources and have difficulty finding the information they need. This is an important skill for children to learn and takes some practice.

A good place to start is to suggest search words they can use and teach children to narrow down and use more specific terms. For example, for an Australian History project terms like "Australia" or "Australian History" are too general. Instead suggest terms such as "Aboriginals", "First Fleet" and "Captain Cook".

Pointing them towards search engines for kids, reliable education websites and online encyclopaedias can also guide their search. Some of these include:

  • Fact Monster
  • Yahooligans
  • SOFWeb
  • MSN Encarta Online

A website's extension can also help to tell you about the reliability and credibility of the site. Sites containing .edu, .gov or .org are normally non commercial, government and education sites. Also, sites containing excessive advertising and pop-up windows are often an indication of poor quality or commercially biased information.

Sorting the Gems from the Junk

Once children have found information on the topic they seek, they often don't understand all of what they have found or how to judge its validity.

The problem is that anyone with a computer and an internet connection can publish on the Web. This means that your child needs to learn how to determine which sites are reliable and which aren't worth their time.

How do you go about doing this? Start by using the 5Ws as your evaluation criteria.


  • Who is the author/publisher? Can they be contacted through an e-mail, phone or mail?
  • What are their credentials? Is he or she an expert in the subject being researched?
  • Is the site created or sponsored by a reputable organisation? Can I confirm that the organisation is a credible, authoritative source of information?


  • What is the site's purpose: to persuade, inform, entertain or advertise?
  • Is the information on the site objective or biased? Does the site present several authoritative viewpoints on the subject and not just one person's opinion?
  • Is the information on the site well written? Are there spelling mistakes or grammatical errors?


  • When was the site created and last updated?
  • Do the links work, or do they lead to error messages? Sites that are not regularly updated are likely to have more "broken links".


  • Where does the site come from? Which country? And what type of organisation? Look closely at the site's address - sometimes the address can provide clues about the source of the site you are viewing. eg .gov, .edu, .org.


  • Why should I use this site?
  • Do the resources on this site meet all my needs? Is the information verifiable, detailed and up to date?
  • Why is this web site a better source than some of the other sites I've already visited?

Activity: Needle in a Haystack

We want our children to learn how to find specific facts and judge whether they are correct.

Brainstorm with your child a list of 5-10 fact questions that have correct and exact answers. What year did the first fleet arrive in Australia? Which countries hosted the last three Olympics? What is the population of China? What is the capital city of Germany?

Have them search for the answers and record which websites they found the answers on.

Once they have found the correct answers, ask them to explain why they selected the web sites they found and how they judged whether it was a trustworthy source of information.

By surfing the internet with your child you can help them strengthen their information skills and enhance the value of time they spend online. By providing them with guidelines, tips and activities children will learn how to effectively use the internet for the valuable resource that it can be.

Internet expert, Melissa Norfolk, speaks to business, school and community groups about effective use of the internet, finding what you need online, internet safety and online marketing.

For more information phone (03) 9816 3488.

Copyright © 2008 Melissa Norfolk Technology Presentations