Using Inquiry to Teach About Sources


I love information, that’s why I became a Teacher-Librarian.  I love seeking out information and sharing it with my students and colleagues.  I have no preference for print or digital, as I find both sources to provide the information I seek.  I do admit that I am learning more towards digital sources though, as the reference section of my school library is lacking in some areas, particularly reference materials such as encyclopedias and yearbooks.  These materials were weeded earlier this year as they were very dated (1990s to 2003), so online sources, particularly the databases subscribed to by our District, have been our reference section.  There is value in having print sources available, but due to budget restraints and the inability to keep these sources current, they will probably not be replaced in my library.

If our main source of information is digital, then learning digital literacy skills is a necessity for my students.  Early in the year, I begin with digital citizenship lessons that focus on safety, privacy and respect. A great resource for lessons are Common Sense Media and Media Smarts.  Check out this blog I wrote earlier this year with some videos I have used with my students.  Once my students understand their online responsibilities, we begin the process of learning how to properly search for information.

Once students understand how Google searches for information from their own index, we have a discussion about the function of a search engine, the information contained in each result, and the most popular search engines – Google, Yahoo, and Bing.  We then discuss why keywords were used in the video, and not an entire question.  I demonstrate to the students the difference in results when using an entire question versus the keyword, and the differences in the number of results.  Students then work independently completing searches for questions and keywords we have created as a class. [A great resource for learning about questioning is the Right Question Institute.]

I use these lessons as an introduction to our independent inquiry projects using the Scholastic Inquiry Process.   It is much easier to teach information skills in the context of a project rather than as independent, separate lessons.  Our inquiry project always begins with lessons on questioning.  We begin by choosing a topic, and then brainstorm a list of questions.   Once our list is complete, we divide the questions into categories based on question topic.  The goal is for students to understand that one topic contains many different subtopics, and it is impossible to answer all of our questions in one inquiry project.  Students begin to understand that categorizing questions is a method used for narrowing down a topic, which can help create a focus question for an inquiry project.  After we have completed this process as a class, students choose their own topic and do this process independently.  Step 1 of the process is the most difficult and time consuming.  Once students have developed their question, we begin the process of searching for information, online and in books from our library.

Using Online Sources

It is always interesting to begin teaching students to do online searches.  Many persist in using questions rather than keywords, despite instructions otherwise.  They also think the answer will magically appear on the results page.  We are just entering Step 2 of the inquiry process where we begin our search for information.  Step 2 begins with requiring students to break their questions down into keywords, as keywords generally provide more accurate search results.  This is my first time working on independent inquiry projects with a large variety of students so I have the privilege trying different strategies to see what works best.  Our next steps will be to determine the reliability of websites and information.

This week, I began this process with the Grade 4 class when I asked about the reliability of the following two websites:  Pacific Tree Octopus and Dog Island.  I asked two questions: How do you know if these are real websites?  Where did you check to see if they are real?  I’ve only just posed the questions and not all students have answered in Google Classroom, but two of the students are adamant that Dog Island is a real place.  We shall have an interesting discussion next week when we discuss how to evaluate websites.  Students will use the 5Ws of Website Evaluation from Kathy Schrock, which utilizes a familiar strategy that students can use to determine usefulness of websites.

As Teacher-Librarians, we are responsible for providing a wide variety of reference sources for our staff and our students.  Technology continues to evolve, and the number of digital resources continues to increase.  Print resources are an important part of our libraries, but budgets are restrained and it is expensive to keep print sources current, hence the move towards online databases and resources.   We, TLs, are information specialists and our role is to teach our students, and staff, valuable media literacy skills that allow them to use digital, and print, information successfully.

Read this great article written by Julie Todaro, ALA president, Will Librarians Be the Overseers of the Information Age?, where she discusses the importance of teaching information skills because “the internet is a mile wide, and an inch deep”.


Asselin, M., Branch, J., & Oberg, D., (Eds). Achieving information literacy: Standards for school library programs in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Canadian School Library Association & The Association for Teacher-Librarianship in Canada.

Riedling, Ann, Reference skills for the school library media specialist: Tools and tips, (Third Edition). Linworth.


4 thoughts on “Using Inquiry to Teach About Sources

  1. A good blog post about the key themes, lessons and ideas from our course so far. A good overview of the need for better search strategies and digital literacy. A little more discussion about the course text, perhaps the different research models we’ve been exploring, maybe some exploration of the wikipedia debate? More links to external resources is also helpful for your visitors and peers who will be following these links for more insight and understanding. Overall, a well done blog post.


  2. Pingback: Promotion, Advocacy, Promotion, Advocacy… | A Teacher in Delta

  3. Pingback: The Path to Inquiry | A Teacher in Delta

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