CONCEPT MAPS: What information literacy skills are students learning from developing concept maps?

Through the use of concept maps students are learning how to gather information by identifying and using key concepts and their relationships as search vocabulary to find relevant information (Chung & Neuman, 2007, p. 1515).

Students are learning to organise their information through the use of concept maps.  They identify relationships, parts of a task, the purpose and possible sources (Chung & Neuman, 2007, p. 1514).  During the search process students can return to concept maps, add to them or modify them.


FORMULATING QUESTIONS: What is the best way to teach students how to develop their own questions?

Provide students with background knowledge about the topic, as this makes it easier for them to formulate questions (Herring, 2010, p. 221).  Model how to write questions for different topics.  This could be done using a concept map.  Take advantage of natural curiosity, especially when using topics the students have selected themselves, by asking “What would you like to know?”

USING EFFECTIVE RESEARCH STRATEGIES: What other ways can TLs encourage students to develop search strategies?

TLs must gain an awareness of the developmentally appropriate databases available for the research tasks they are going to face (Valenza, 2004, p. 39).

Create research challenges: ask students to explore provocative questions – to compare, evaluate and invent rather than paraphrase (Valenza, 2004, pp. 41-42)

Reward the use of scholarly resources or the use of high-quality sources from reliable databases and journals (Valenza, 2004, p. 42)

Provide scaffolding for students.  Help students develop organisers for data collection and restructuring.  Eg, Venn diagram or matrix for comparing and contrasting data; a timeline or flowchart may aid analysis of an historical event; concept map will help with brainstorming subheadings or arguments supporting a thesis (Valenza, 2004, p. 42).

Create Online Pathfinders. Pathfinders are blueprints for student research. Pathfinders may suggest keywords, databases, special search engines, directories, call numbers, and multimedia resources—any special advice necessary for success on a specific project. Project rubrics should heavily value the suggestions of the pathfinder (Valenza, 2004, p. 42).

Create an Appropriate Search Tool Page for General Student Research on Your Web Site. Make tools easily accessible to stduents. On this page, link students to the more powerful advanced search screens of the search engines you’d like them to use (Valenza, 2004, p. 42).

Ask Students to Annotate Their Works-Cited Lists. Annotations are metacognitive activities that force and value critical thinking and careful selection. In an annotation, the student should consider authors’ credentials, relevance of the source to the project, how it compared to other sources, and how it informed his or her knowledge. Include criteria for evaluating annotations in your rubrics (Valenza, 2004, p. 42).

Use Formative Assessments to Check Student Progress. Collect organizers, outlines, source cards, note cards, tentative thesis statements, and pre-evaluate. It’s too late to assess at the end. Assessing the process throughout the project has the greatest learning value (Valenza, 2004, p. 43).

Teach students how to:

·        Know what s/he is looking for (Valenza, 2004, p. 39)

·        Makes search choices (Valenza, 2004, p. 39) – where to search.  Search tools can be organised into clusters or genres.  Different tools are more effective for different tasks.

·        Recognise holes in research to fill. Immerse students in a topic so they begin to note the experts and books that people cite repeatedly.  They examine others’ bibliographies (Valenza, 2004, pp. 39-40). 

·        Evaluate sources of information – author’s credentials, relevance, timeliness, bias, credibility, accuracy and reliability.  Free hosting services are likely to raise red flags.  Museums, universities and other respected institutions are good (Valenza, 2004, pp. 39-40)

·        Evaluate a works-cited page (Valenza, 2004, p. 39)

·        Use search tool options (Valenza, 2004, p. 39)

·        Use advance search screens for greater searching power.  They allow to limit results by date, field, media format or file format. Using Boolean operators and how to filter problem words (Valenza, 2004, pp. 39-40)

·        Search using the three main types of searching: keywords, subject/topic, and field searching.  Keyword searching: Enclosing phrases in quotation marks to ensure those words stay together, or including and between words that absolutely need to be included in results.  Topic or subject searching is generally the best strategy when a student is searching one broad concept. Searchers can browse through a standardised set of subject terms and subheadings to focus their search as suggested by the structure of the database.  In some cases, keywords may be searched within designated fields of a database.  For instance, looking for a keyword in a title or abstract, might be more meaningful than looking for that same keyword in an article’s full text (Valenza, 2004, pp. 40-41).

·        Think about a query.  When a student learns how to construct a query, he or she knows how to formally pose a question to a search box, making use of its syntax, or special language (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

·        Recognise quality work.  Plan, use mind tools, be persistent, fussy, recognise when to consult an information professional (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

·        Devise a plan, which includes time management – allowing enough time to refine, organise, analyse, draft, conclude etc (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

·        Look for information patterns – categorise information, compare, timeline, thesis, debate, presentation requirements (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

·        Recognise suspicious URLs.  Free hosting services such as AOL and personal sites should raise red flags and inspire questions.  “K12” in a URL may tell you that the source may be the product of someone else’s sixth grade class (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

·        Track down the source of the material. “Follow the breadcrumbs” (Valenza, 2004, p. 41)

READING FOR INFORMATION: What are the best ways to teach students to be critical readers (i.e. not just users) of websites?

Emphasise with students the need to evaluate web sources anytime they are reading on the web.  Employ a web evaluation model such as RTU (Readability, Trustworthiness, Usefulness) by Baildon & Baildon (2008).

What should we be advising students to look for on websites e.g. the difference between opinion and evidence based information?

As above, teach the use of a web evaluation model such as RTU (Readability, Trustworthiness, Usefulness) by Baildon & Baildon (2008) across the school.  This will assist students in being able to assess the authority, reliability, currency, bias and authenticity of a site, which is important when the Web contains misinformation (Kuiper et al., 2005, p. 293; Barcalow, 2003).  Comparing the information a site provides with the information provided by other sources is one important way to determine trustworthiness through RTU (Zhang & Duke, 2011, p. 137; Pozen, 2002). 

Students need to be advised to look at the menus, links and search capabilities of websites for information and to verify the sources of the information (Kuiper, Volman & Terwel, 2008).  They can be advised to look at author credentials, URLs, sponsorship of site, and bibliographies to assess quality of site and sources of information (Valenza, 2004, pp. 42-43).

The modality of terms used will assist in identifying opinion, fact, bias, or balance.  Is an argument built, is it an exposition, report etc.  Knowledge of text types will assist in this area too.

Devising a plan, a concept map or providing some other organising structure or scaffold will assist students in critical reading as they will be able to evaluate the usefulness of sites or information in regard to their research needs (Baildon & Baildon, 2008; Harris, 2010, para. 2).


REFLECTING ON WEB USE: How can we teach our students to be reflective web learners?

Incorporate reflection activities into inquiry based pedagogy and other searches.  Share search techniques among students who participated in the same activity/search (Kuiper, Volman & Terwel, 2008).

What should students be asking themselves after they have completed web searches?

·        Did I find the information I was looking for?

·        Did it take a long time or a short time?

·        How else could I have found the information?

·        What was a more effective way to conduct my search?


How can we encourage students to learn from their own searching?

Through reflection on what worked and what didn’t.  During planning, get them to identify what strategies they will use, reminding them to reflect on what worked/didn’t work during previous research activities.



Baildon, R., & Baildon, M. (2008). Guiding Independence: Developing a Research Tool to Support Student Decision Making in Selecting Online Information Sources. Reading Teacher, 61(8), 636-647. doi:10.1598/RT.61.8.5 Retrieved from Charles Sturt University Library.

Barcalow, T. (2003). CARS checklist. In Evaluating websites.  Retrieved on August 19, 2013 from 

Chung, J. S. & Neuman, D. (2007).  High School Students’ Information Seeking and Use for Class Projects.  Journal of the American society for information science and technology, 58(10):1503–1517.  Retrieved from Charles Sturt University Library.

Harris, R. (2010). Evaluating internet research sources.  In Virtual salt.  Retrieved on August 19, 2013 from

Herring, J. E. (2010). School students, question formulation and issues of transfer: a constructivist grounded analysis. Libri: International Journal Of Libraries & Information Services, 60(3), 218-229. doi:10.1515/libr.2010.019.  Retrieved from Charles Sturt University Library.

Kuiper, E., Volman, M. & Terwel, J. (2008). Students’ use of Web literacy skills and strategies: searching, reading and evaluating Web information.  Information Research, 13(3). Retrieved on October 1, 2013 from

Kuiper, E., Volman, M., & Terwel, J. (2005). The Web as an Information Resource in K-12 Education: Strategies for Supporting Students in Searching and Processing Information. Review Of Educational Research, 75(3), 285-328.  Retrieved from Charles Sturt University.

Pozen, V. (2002). Teaching  web information.  In An educator’s guide to credibility and web evaluation.  Retrieved on August 20, 2013 from

Valenza, J. (2004). Thinking and behaving info-fluently. Learning & leading with technology, 32(3), 38-43.  Retrieved on October 1, 2013 from  

Zhang, Z., & Duke, N. K. (2011). The impact of instruction in the WWDOT framework on students’ disposition and ability to evaluate websites as sources of information. Elementary School Journal, 112(1), 132-154.  Retrieved from Charles Sturt University Library.

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