Welcome to part three of a six-part series focusing on the world of inquiry in teaching and learning.

You can find a narrated slide show version of this web page at Vimeo (on the right)

Exploration involves collecting resources, interviewing experts, and experimenting with ideas.

Data is located and relevant resources are evaluated. One piece of information may lead to new questions and areas of interest. Questions may be refined, restated, or new queries may emerge.

Encourage students to explore unusual aspects of a common topic. For instance "I’ve seen many images of WWII in Europe, but I never really thought about the war impacting Australia. I’m going to refocus my inquiry." What did Darwin Australia look like before this photo was taken? Why was Darwin attacked? How does this event fit on my WWII timeline?

Carol Kuhlthau has found that during exploration students often encounter inconsistent or incompatible information. This can lead to confusion and doubt. Lacking confidence, they may become discouraged or even threatened by the information they find.

The key is providing students with a set of strategies to deal with problems encountered when exploring and evaluating information. Encourage students to seek guidance from teachers, parents, and other adults with inquiry experience.

Let’s explore six elements of the exploration phase of inquiry including digital citizenship, information sources, search tools and strategies, information evaluation, and primary sources.

Digital Citizenship

Many of today's most powerful resources are available through the Internet. However before giving students to chance to freely explore resources, they need to understand their rights and responsibilities as digital citizens.

The 21st century learner needs more than traditional information search skills to be safe, and successful. Today's student need to understand online safety, privacy issues, and more.

Digital Citizenship. Ask students to think about their role as a digital citizen. What are their rights and responsibilities?

Connected Culture. Ask students to think about their online connections and interactions. What are the positive and negative aspects of online social interaction?

Media and advertising. Ask students to explore the persuasive messages they see everyday. How do they impact consumer and lifestyle choices? Where do media fit as an information source? How do marketers define what's "cool" and compare this to the things you, your friends, and your family values.

Design an activity that combines mathematics with advertising. What's the best deal? Why are they trying to sell me a particular product in a particular way? When companies advertise special buying deals such as low interest rates and free shipping are these really good deals? Why or why not? Design examples.

Stereotyping, Hate Propaganda, and Harmful Media Messages. Your students need to be able to define and provide examples of stereotyping in the media. How do stereotypes impact individuals and society? How does the way popular culture and conditions in our society influence our perceptions of groups of people?

Privacy. As students explore information, it's important for them to understand the importance of online privacy.

Misconceptions. We live in a global society however most of our information about the world comes from mainstream Western sources. Sensational news stories related to natural disasters, war, and protests can fuel misconceptions about people living in developing countries. How do different news organizations differ in their representation of world events? Why is it important to explore multiple sources of information? How does political reporting and media ownership impact news reporting? How do "sound bites" and news commentators impact public opinion?

Information Sources

Different information sources are useful in addressing various types of questions. Ask students to think about the kinds of information they are seeking. Are they looking for facts, research studies, news articles, personal reflections, or opinions? Where can this type of information be found? Do you want information generated by the general public, a scholar, or a government official?

Kinds of Information. Demonstrate the different types of information available for students. Traditional print materials include books, newspapers, periodicals, reports, press releases, and leaflets. Internet resources include websites, databases, blogs, social networks, and media (audio, video, animation). Also, consider primary research materials such as observations, surveys, and interviews.

Search Engine Results.Many students go right to Google. Talk about the importance of looking at the authority of the websites found. For instance, when looking for information about flu on Google skip the ads at the top. The CDC government website would be better than Wikipedia. Most search engines will provide wikipedia articles near the top of search results. Ask students to describe the purpose of wikipedia and how it should and should not be used.

Databases. Students have access to a wealth of information through the electronic databases available at the local, state, and national level. However they are often overlooked. These subscription databases may require password and initial instruction, however they contain quality information worth the investment of time.

Consider an inquiry focusing on a particular database. For instance, a current events project might use SIRS Discoverer or a social issues project might focus on use of Opposing Viewpoints.

Planning for Exploration. Ask students to create a plan for identifying information sources. What resources best fit the research questions? What key words will be used for searching?

Use the following questions as students explore:

Ask students to create a search strategy. Use NoodleQuest as a look for planning.

Search Tools and Strategies

Prior to locating resources, ask students to think about their questions and plan for their search.

General Search Tools. Talk with students about their process of searching the web. Ask them about search tools they use. Introduce Google and Bing. Then, make comparisons with other search tools like Sweet Search. It's designed specifically for students. Also explore meta search tools such as Dogpile, Mamma, and Metacrawler that use from the most popular search tools. Directories like Internet Public Library and Kidsclick.

News Search. News and current event search tools are useful in providing up-to-date information.

Talk to students about the value and use of news articles.

Ask students to compare three different articles on the same topic and compare the content. Talk about how news from different parts of the world might differ. Also discuss how different new organizations have different perspectives and philosophies about news. Talk about some of the general news providers such as Reuters that provides new to many news group.

Ask students to compare the front page of two newspapers from different parts of the world. Use Newseum.

Analytical Search. Editorials, opinions, critiques, and reviews can all be useful in study projects. However it's important that students are aware of the difference between fact and opinion.

Talk to students about analytical writing including editorials and opinion columns.

Ask students to read a cell phone use example and art example of an editorial and identify the fact and opinion in the article.

Scholarly Search. Sometimes you want access to scholarly information including research and reports. Do a Google Patent search and trace the history of an invention such as the football, diaper, or popcorn popcorn popper. Use government websites such as PubMed to explore biomedical topics.

Book Search. Many books are now available online. Use Archive for public domain books. At Google Books students can read and preview books and magazines such as Life.

People Search. Student projects sometimes involve the search for people. For instance, read the biographical entry and acceptance speech for a Nobel Prize winner.

Multimedia Search. Sometimes it's useful to search for images, sounds, or video. For instance, when trying to identify a fossil or bird, a search of images would be helpful. To understand the activities at a protest, seeing a video might provide insights.

Map Search. Exploration of maps can provide interesting insights into places around the world. For instance, examine the wind farm off the coast of Denmark in Google Maps. Do you see the row of wind turbines in the water? Zoom in to see each turbine.

Hidden Web. Google and other general search tools will locate websites containing information on a topic. However much of the in-depth information needed to address essential questions will only be found on the invisible web or what is sometimes called the "deep web."

Search Strategies

In the past Boolean Searching was a critical part of online searching. Today many of these elements are already built into the search tool. However they are still useful when using the advanced search options.

Show Searching Effectively Using AND, OR, NOT, Advanced Boolean Searching, and Truncation on your class whiteboard. Provide examples and practice Boolean Searching as a group. Talk about those situations where it would be particularly useful.

Today, it’s most important to learn to use the Advanced search options available in many search engines such as Google. I’m looking for information about pendulum, but not the Edgar Allen Poe’s story.

Model Identification of Key Words. Model the process of identifying key words. Show how to select key words in a question and create additional key words that might be useful in searching. Ask students to list questions, key words, and possible resources. Use Leslie Preddy's worksheets for ideas (PDF 1) (PDF 2) (PDF 3) (PDF 4).

Review Search Strategies. Ask students to think about the tools and approaches they use for conducting information searches. Are they effective or ineffective? Why?

Information Evaluation

Regardless of whether information is found in a newspaper article, nonfiction book, or website, students need to carefully evaluate the information they find.

To track student use of the Internet, ask students to keep a log of the website they use. Explore Leslie Preddy's Internet Log (PDF) for ideas.

Evaluation Tools

Use online resources to help students learn about website evaluation. Then, ask students to critically evaluate the information they identify. They should describe their process of evaluation and how they determine whether a website is trustworthy.

Use the following resources to design activities:

Evaluation Tips

Provide students with tips for evaluating websites. For instance, they should find the ABOUT page to learn who created the information and they think about who sponsors the website and their perspective.

Match Sources to Questions. After students have identified their questions (or been given questions), students brainstorm where they would go for information. Provide students with a list of possible sources. Ask students to compare their list to the master list of options. Discuss the pros and cons of different source. Ask students to prioritize sources.

Best Source for Job. Brainstorm all the possible resources related to a topic. Discuss the pros and cons of each resource. Divide the class into groups. Each member is assigned one type of resource to locate and find two pieces of information. As a group, they discuss the pros and cons of each resource and the information they found.

Using Information Sources. Ask students to skim and scan for information using various sources. For instance, ask them to gather information from a chart comparing cell phone costs and plans.

Search for Clues. Start by examining the page itself. Look at the web address (URL). What kind of domain (.edu, .gov, .org, .net, .com) is it? This doesn't always help, but it may provide an indication of the sponsor. Is it a government site, school resource, museum, commercial or private web project? Try to determine who published the page. Is it an individual or an agency? Can you find a name attached to the page? Look at the core page for the entire website (everything between the http:// and the first /) and see who sponsored the site and how information was selected. You might also try truncating the website address to see each level between slashes.
Sometimes you can answer these questions by reading the creation information at the bottom of the main page. Look for a name, organization, or email address. If you can't find the answer there, see if you can locate a page that tells "about the website." Sometimes there's a "contact us" page. The author of the page and the webmaster may or may not be the same person.
For information about the content of the page, look for a link to an author biography, philosophy, or background information.
Another hint about the quality of the website is the copyright date. When was the page originally posted? When was the last time the page was updated? This information is generally at the bottom of each page or at least the first page of the website.
Look for Sponsors. Does the site use banner sponsors? What do they sell? Is a well-known organization a sponsor? Consider whether the site's sponsors could impact the perspective to the website. In most cases, a company wants the information at their site to reflect positively on them.
Ask Questions. If you still can't determine the quality of the information, consider emailing the webmaster and asking about the site's content. Students will be amazed at the range of answers that will be provided. Some webmasters post anything that's given to them, while others are experts in a content area field.
Track Backward and Forward. Another way to learn more about a website is to see "who links to them" and "who they link to." Use a search engine to search for the "URL" or author of the website in question. Does it appear on a "favorites" list? If so, whose list? Is this list credible? If the site has won an award, what's the criteria for the award and how is the award given? You can also track forward. In other words, look at the links that are used by the web developer of your site. Do they go to good or poor quality sites? Is this website cited in subject guides such as About.com or Librarian's Index?
Cross-Check Data. In addition to the act of evaluating a single page, students also need to learn to cross-check information. In other words, there should be three independent resources confirming each pieces of questionable data. This cross-checking can be done different ways. For example, if students are creating a graphic organizer, they could star each item that has been doubled or triple checked. Consider using a variety of information formats including encyclopedia, magazine articles, videos, experts, and web pages.

Evaluation Criteria

Students need to learn to evaluate the quality of information they find on the web as well as other information resources such as books, magazines, DVD, and television. Ask students to be skeptical of everything they find. Encourage them to compare and contrast different information resources. Consider the following ideas:

Authority. Who says? Know the author.

Objectivity. Is the information biased? Think about perspective. 

Authenticity. Is the information authentic? Know the source.

Reliability. Is this information accurate? Consider the origin of the information. 

Timeliness. Is the information current? Consider the currency and timeliness of the information. 

Relevance. Is the information helpful? Think about whether you need this information.

Efficiency. Is this information worth the effort? Think about the organization and speed of information access.

Criteria for Evaluation

SWATConsider designing a set of criteria that fits the needs of your students. For instance, a media specialist in Ohio (Pete Hildebrandt) created the SWAT approach for his students (download the PowerPoint overview). Use a website like the American Museum of Natural History Ology pages to model this idea.

Evaluation Lessons

Many online lessons can help students learn more about website evaluation.

Fact, Fiction and Fake

Some people post inaccurate information on the web. Students need to be aware of misinformation and fake websites. Do you believe everything you read? How gullible are you? There are people who believe that we never walked on the moon and that the Holocaust never happened, so be careful when you read a web page. The truth is out there, but so is the lie. Look for what Wikipedia calls the "verifiability" of information. You should be able to check the material you find against other reliable sources. Content that is likely to be challenged should contain multiple sources of evidence that have been carefully cited.

There are dozens of fictional websites, fake pages, and hoaxes you can use to teacher students about this issue. The Anti-Alien Agency is an example of a fake website designed to go with a fiction book called Spaceheadz.

Use Snopes to check for the latest online rumors. Use the following fake websites to discuss the problem of fake websites:

Use the following questions to see if students can spot a fake website:

Use the following resources to review skills identifying fact and opinion.

Evaluation Activities

Before asking students to evaluate websites as part of a larger project, develop guided activities where you can model issues related to website accuracy and reliability.

Currency Focus. Look for current and dated information on social studies, science, or health topics that have changed recently such as the number of planets. Go to the Wikipedia: Current Event page to see a list of those articles that are currently changing as the event unfolds. 

Controversy Focus. Look for controversial topics and identify websites with particular views. Read the "about" pages of websites. Can you determine why particular views might be presented in this website? Go to the Wikipedia: List of controversial issues as a starting point for this topic. They provide a list of pages where the neutrality of content has been challenged and editing wars have been waged. Check out the current topics. How would you determine the neutrality of articles? Also, examine the issue of Conflict of Interest. Read Wikipedia's Conflict of Interest page to understand this issue.

SWAT. Develop your own approach or use the SWAT approach. Provide students with examples. For instance, after conducting a SWAT you determine that the Louisiana Coastal Wetlands: A Resource At Risk page is a good source of information, however it was posted in 1995. We need to determine what has changed in nearly 20 years.

Primary Sources

A primary source is a piece of information created from direct experience and often used for understanding history. These sources include actual records and artifacts that have survived from the past such as diaries, letters, photographs, articles of clothing, or coins. Students need to be able to locate, evaluate, and use primary source materials. Go to the escrapbooking Primary Sources page for lots of examples.

Introduce the Historical and Cultural Contexts interactive on a whiteboard. Then ask students to work their way through the materials on their own.


Sometimes it's helpful for students to collect their own information. This primary research can be used as a basis for comparison or evidence. Interviews are an effective research technique for gathering information from individuals or groups. Students might compare interviews at a national oral history website with their own interviews Explore existing oral history websites.

Use Leslie Preddy's Interview: Helpful Hint (PDF 1) and (PDF 2)

Ask student to read an article about spina bifida that incorporates quotations from a classmate. Talk about how elements of an interview can be woven into an article.


Involve students in conducting surveys.

Examine Leslie Preddy's student example (PDF).

Explore online tools for conducting polls and surveys:


Facilitate Inquiry

Encourage your students to be skeptical of what they find on the Internet.

Use guiding questions to facilitate the exploration stage:

  1. What does this problem involve?
  2. What information do I have?
  3. What information is not needed or useful? Why?
  4. What additional information is needed? Where can it be found?
  5. What are the facts of the situation? How are these facts connected?
  6. How have I tackled similar problems in the past?
  7. How can I break down the problem into smaller pieces, fewer numbers, or chunks?
  8. Can I use a chart, graph, time line, drawing, or other visual to help visualize and organize thinking?
  9. What strategies will I use? What's my plan?
  10. What tools will I use? Calculator, online tools?
  11. What are my guesses? What's the range of solutions? What's the wrong answer? What guesses am I rejecting?
  12. What information do I need to solve this problem?
  13. How do I know what I know?
  14. What structure do we need to visualize our thinking? Would a concept map, chart, graph, help me visualized?
  15. How do I simplify and attack a complex problem?
  16. What's the relevant and irrelevant data?

Exploring leads back to questioning. Questions may be refined, restated, or new queries may emerge. Encourage inquirers to be risk-takers. Ask:

Learn More



As you develop assignments related to inquiry, consider the information standards that can be addressed.

(Common Core Standards for Literacy Across the Curriculum Grades 6-8)

Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including domain-specific vocabulary.

Distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text. Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.

Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.

Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of using different mediums (e.g., print or digital text, video, multimedia) to present a particular topic or idea. Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.

(Standards for the 21st Century Learner)

Find, evaluate, and select appropriate sources to answer questions.

Evaluate information found in selected sources on the basis of accuracy, validity, appropriateness for needs, importance, and social and cultural context.

Demonstrate confidence and self direction by making independent choices in the selection of resources and information.

Demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.

Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy of all information.

Display emotional resilience by persisting in information searching despite challenges.

Respect copyright/intellectual property rights of creators and producers.

Solicit and respect diverse perspectives while searching for information, collaborating with others, and participating as a member of the community.

Seek information for personal learning in a variety of formats and genres.

Use social networks and information tools to gather and share information.

Display curiosity by pursuing interests through multiple resources.

(National Educational Technology Standards for Students)

Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks.

Websites to Explore

Explore the following online resources to learn more..


Kuhlthau, Carol (2004). Seeking Meaning: A Process Approach to Library and Information Services. 2nd Edition. Available through Libraries Unlimited.

Professional Development Activity

sharePick ONE of the following four activities. Then, share your ideas on the group Graphic Inquiry Ning. Look for the assignment forum related to "EXPLORATION".

  1. Discuss how you would integrate a digital citizenship activity into your classroom. Consider the following areas: cyberbullying, social networking, media and advertising, privacy and online safety, or global misconceptions.
  2. Design an activity that combines a subject area standard with a lesson in evaluating sources. Focus on a specific criteria for your lesson such as the importance of currency or point of view. Involve students in evaluating websites or comparing the content found in two or more websites.
  3. Design a lesson involving student data collection such as a survey or interview.
  4. Investigate a subscription database service available to your students. How could it be used as part of an inquiry?

Add your posting as a REPLY at the bottom of the forum page. It's fine to attach a document or link to a Google Doc if you wish.

After sharing you ideas, be sure to come back and provide feedback for at least one of your peers. I'll be sharing my ideas, suggestions, and comments too!

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