7 ways to teach digital literacy skills

indiana jones digital literacyFostering digital literacy skills is one of the most difficult tasks for educators. Evaluating and analyzing online resources for accuracy is something that many adults struggle with – we’ve all been bamboozled before, haven’t we? But digital literacy is more than just determining if something is true or false – it’s intelligently and responsibly navigating online, it’s putting countless pieces together to form a puzzle, it’s determining what’s important and evaluating bias, etc – the list goes on. So, as an educator, how do we reinforce these crucial skills in our classrooms?

Here’s 7 ways to teach digital literacy – ranging from daily activities and lessons to year-long (and longer!) projects.

1. A Google A Day – This is a daily research game that challenges you with random questions, and then it times you to see how long it takes to find the answers. It’s incredibly fun, and you can make it competitive (in a friendly way, of course). I blogged about it here - basically, it’s an awesome way for students to practice research and evaluation skills online. Kick off each class with it, do it once a week – but keep at it. It’s fantastic guided practice for students. Eventually they’ll stop typing entire sentences into search engines – hooray for efficiency!

2. Teach a web analysis lesson - I’ve found that a lot of educators are uncomfortable teaching website analysis, because there’s no real “concrete” way to do it. Plus, it’s outside of their “comfort zone,” if you will. Luckily, there are ready-made lesson online. Here’s a lesson for 3rd-5th graders, and here’s a lesson for 6th-8th graders. Lead a lesson with your class, and see where it takes you and the students.

3. Evaluate a fake website - Utilize some trickery in the classroom and send students to a site such as Dog Island, Save the Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus, or the Jackalope Conspiracy. These are fake websites (the students don’t have to know that!) – examine them, and then evaluate them for accuracy. Look for website FAQs, content authors, check the forward links, determine what company hosts the site – look for dead giveaways, and reinforce to students that the a site always needs to “prove” to you that it’s true. Here’s some rubrics to adapt/use  for website analysis:

4. Build a classroom, custom Google search engine - Did you know Google allows you to build a custom search engine? You can continuously update your search engine to include only the sites you and your students wish to use. Go here for directions on how to set it up – but consider how awesome it would be for the students to add sites to the search engine. They woud be controlling their learning, determining which sites are the best for certain projects, and would be constantly evaluating the contributions of others – this builds an awesome sense of community in the classroom.

5. Create a collaborative notes page - Using Google Docs, a wiki, Blogger, etc, have the students add to and modify a “collaborative notes” page. Each week, assign a few students the task of documenting the important concepts and resources in class. At the same time, other students can feel free to modify, edit or enhance the collaborative notes for the benefit of the classroom. It builds community and allows students to evaluate and analyze information in a meaningful way – when learning is more communal, the students will be more motivated.

6.Create a classroom Pinterest page - create a class account, and have students pin websites and resources that benefit the good of the class. Leverage one of the most popular social networks to your advantage, and take a few minutes each day to share what was added and discuss why it’s important. This also constantly reinforces the importance of responsible social media usage.

7. Use the Garfield Randomizer websitethis site is pretty random, but bear with me. This site is like a Garfield comic strip slot machine – it will choose three (3) panels at random, and you determine if the panels chosen makes sense as a complete story. You can “lock” certain panels in place, and then randomize the others until the entire comic strip comes together into something that makes sense. I’ve used this with students before, and it really gets them thinking outside of the box and looking for patterns in the digital comic strip. They’ll oftentimes create awesome and hilarious comic strips – it’s a sweet mini-activity that takes 5-10 minutes, and totally reinforces the evaluation and analytical skills of looking at digital media online. It’s literally solving the puzzle.

8. (Bonus content!): Here’s 15 Google searching lesson plans and a matrix – thanks, Google!

And, don’t forget – how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice! For students’ digital literacy skills to improve, they need to continuously be engaging in activities that allow them to practice these critical thinking skills.

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