Evaluating Reliable Sources

This lesson, part of the Digital Literacy series, addresses the importance of locating and verifying reliable sources when working with online information.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Locate reliable sources online
  • Evaluate digital sources for reliability and bias
  • Identify common reasoning errors when approaching digital information
Essential Questions
  • What makes an online source reliable?
  • How do we identify bias and avoid thinking errors when evaluating online information?
  • Three websites about school lunch
  • Choosing Reliable Sources worksheet
  • Screenshot of a school lunch webpage
  • Screenshots of image search results (or printouts of the screenshot, if desired)


reliable [ri-lahy-uh-buhl] (adjective) trustworthy; containing true and legitimate information

evaluate [ih-val-yoo-eyt] (verb) to judge or determine the reliability of information

online [on-lahyn] (adjective) found on the internet

reasoning [ree-zuh-ning] (noun) the act of thinking through


Series Overview

As technology advances and the social landscape shifts, it is crucial for students to become digitally literate citizens. In this series, elementary students will learn the ins and outs of media literacy, from choosing reliable sources and understanding online searches to navigating online security and participating in digital communities. More lessons in this series are listed under "Related Resources."


Lesson Overview

This lesson addresses the importance of locating and verifying reliable sources when working with online information. Students will compare and contrast different sources on the same topic and think about what makes one source more reliable than another. They will then work collaboratively to develop a checklist of questions for source evaluation.

Students will also zero in on the significance of evaluating sources for bias. They will learn to identify the author’s or designer’s purpose in online information and use this skill to search out biased viewpoints. Students will react to sources presented online and identify common reasoning errors in reactions to digital information.



Compare and Contrast

1. Explain to your students that you are going to have them look at two to three different websites about school lunches and consider the information presented. Explain that all of these sites came from a basic search of the words “school lunch.” Give them printouts or screenshots of two to three of the following webpages:

2. Give students 10 minutes to scan the information on the printouts or screenshots you have shown them.

3. Have students work in partnerships or small groups to complete the Choosing Reliable Sources Venn diagram worksheet comparing and contrasting the sources they have reviewed. Where the circles don’t overlap, students should write details that tell how the webpages are different. Where the circles overlap, they should write details that tell how the webpages are alike. Encourage students to think about the information conveyed through photographs and other images as well as text. If your students are unaccustomed to working with Venn diagrams, you can do this activity as a whole group.

If students need help finding similarities and differences, you can use the following questions to aid their work:

  • When was each page created or updated?
  • What is similar or different about the images on each page?
  • What is the main idea or reason behind each page?
  • What seems to be the author’s purpose on each page?


Develop a Checklist 

1. Bring your students together. Explain that different sources online present different information, even about the same topics. As students work with online information, they should think about which sources are the most reliable.

2. Provide students with a definition of the term reliable. Write “Our Reliability Checklist” on the board, and have students offer ideas for questions they might ask themselves when evaluating the reliability of a source. If your students have trouble getting started, you can model questions for them:

  • Who wrote this source?
  • What was the purpose of the author who wrote this source?
  • What other sources does this source reference?
  • Does this source say the same things as other sources?
  • Does this source echo what I know from personal experience?

3. You can keep this checklist posted in your classroom or type it up for students to put in notebooks or on their walls at home.

4. Have students answer the questions for the websites they reviewed and choose which of the two or three sources is most reliable. You can do this as a class or in small groups.


Kids React 

1. Finally, perform an online image search for the words “school lunch,” and project the results or create handouts with the images from the search results. Have students focus their attention on one image at a time. Ask them to make a face or display thumbs up, down or in the middle to convey their emotional reaction to the image. Chart their reactions.

2. As a class, discuss the assumptions they might have been making when reacting to these images. Some examples of assumptions are below:

  • All school lunches are disgusting.
  • All school lunches are nutritious.
  • Kids are usually smiling when they eat school lunch.
  • Kids only like junk food.
  • Schools are always racially diverse.
  • American kids are less healthy than kids in other countries.

3. Referring back to the chart of student reactions, have kids write in their notebooks or journals about some of the assumptions a person might find themselves making based on a simple online image search.


Alignment to Common Core State Standards

Determine the main idea of a text and explain how it is supported by key details; summarize the text.

Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.

Integrate information from two texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.

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