Teaching Students How to Identify Credible Sources
Teachers can guide students toward a clear understanding of the factors that make a particular source of information reliable or not.
Growing up in the early 1990s, I caught the tail end of the age of encyclopedias. If my teacher gave me a research assignment on the causes of the Cold War, I’d pull volume C off the shelf, flip through the index to find the right page, and read through pages of small-font text until I found my answers. Because the Encyclopedia Britannica employed a team of full-time editors, the information I sifted through could largely be trusted.
In 2012, when I gave my students the same research assignment, they turned to Wikipedia, where all of the information they needed was on a single webpage in front of them. At the bottom of the Wikipedia page were sources and links directing them to mostly trusted information.
How Do We Know What’s Accurate?
Today, in 2023, students can write their prompt into ChatGPT, and in seconds, the artificial intelligence (AI) will compile all of the information they need, pulling from potentially thousands of sources across the internet without citing a single one of them. The information is just given, and while it’s wild and impressive that this technology can complete this task, it makes no promises that the information is valid or reliable. You just have to trust that the program is accurate.
But what if the information is inaccurate? What if the AI pulls from biased sources? What if it leaves out key points? What if the sources it pulls from are written by people without the authority to write and speak on the subject? My guess is that the immediate effect will be a bunch of essays that get flagged for using AI to write them or at least get marked down for missing key points and not citing sources.
However, the much bigger problem is the growing threat of misinformation. With the advent of social media, the internet has already become a massive source of misinformation and disinformation. With tools like ChatGPT and Microsoft’s Bing AI chatbot, this problem will likely only grow more and more serious. This is why it’s so essential for educators to incorporate the skill of critically evaluating sources into every research assignment they give. One of the best ways to teach this vital skill is by using the CRAAP Test, first developed by the Meriam Library at California State University, Chico.
What is the CRAAP Test?
The CRAAP Test is a litmus test to determine whether a source is... well, you know—whether it’s any good or not. The acronym stands for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose. Teachers can teach students how to evaluate a source by considering the questions associated with each word in the acronym.
Currency: Is the information timely? Is it out-of-date? Does it matter for what you’re researching? Has the information been updated since it was published?
Relevance: Is the source directly related to your topic? Who is the intended audience? Does it meet the needs of your work?
Authority: Is the author qualified to write on this topic? What are their credentials that make them an expert?
Accuracy: Is the information supported by evidence? Can you find the information from more than one source? Is the writing professional?
Purpose: What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain, or persuade? Is the information presented as fact or opinion?
6 Ways to Teach Students to Use the CRAAP Test
There are a number of ways to teach students how to use the CRAAP Test. You can get started by using one that I created and simply print it out, or you can use a slide show to review each letter of the acronym and instruct students to use it each time they’re selecting a source. However, I think the best learning often happens by doing.
Try the following activities to have students practice the CRAAP Test before using it authentically in their work.
1. Source Showdown. Create a bracket-style competition where sources go head-to-head, and students have students use the CRAAP Test to determine which source is more reliable. Each round, students can debate their choices and defend their reasoning, advancing the winner to the next round.
2. Interactive Game. Create an interactive game using an online platform such as Kahoot or Quizlet where students use the CRAAP Test to evaluate sources. Use a mix of credible and noncredible sources to keep it interesting!
3. Source Scavenger Hunt. Create a scavenger hunt for students where they use Google to search for sources related to a specific topic. Have students use the CRAAP Test to evaluate each source they find and award points for each credible source that they identify.
4. CRAAP Race. Create a list of sources, and have students work in groups to evaluate them. The first group to correctly evaluate all the sources wins.
5. CRAAP Poster. Have students work in groups to create a poster that explains the criteria of the CRAAP Test. They can create the posters digitally or on poster boards and, after presenting them, hang them on the walls of your classroom to use as a reference throughout the school year.
6. Debate. Assign students a controversial topic, and have them find sources to support their argument. Before the debate, have students evaluate each other’s sources using the CRAAP Test and challenge each other on the credibility of their sources during the debate.
When a Protocol Becomes Practice
Like any good teaching protocol, the objective is for students to become so well-versed in it that they no longer need the specific method when their time in the classroom is complete. When students aren’t writing research papers or finding evidence for a class project, they’ll still know what to look for when evaluating a source. They’ll understand that not everything they see on social media, in the news, or generated from AI is valid or helpful. Through using this litmus test, they’ll always know how to identify what’s valuable information and what isn’t.