Sunday / March 3

Fake News, Rational Myths, and Crap: 3 Ways to Teach Your Students to Sniff It Out

Oscar Wilde once wrote “The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” Imagine what he’d think today with the overwhelming amount of digital information at everyone’s fingertips.

Inside student-led, inquiry-based classrooms, teachers know that building digital literacy and media skills deserves focused attention. While our students may appear fluent (don’t let the fast thumb-typing fool you), most are not. Here are three ways to build these important skills:

1) The URL Study

Research librarians are our best point of contact for accessing credible information. However, our laptops are well, right on our laps! Most of us start (and often end) with online searches. Our students do the same, whether they’re researching something they heard on the playground about the Pacific NW Tree Octopus or Ceva’s Theorem from math class.

URLs are more than a modern-day version of the Dewey decimal system. They hint at the potential veracity of a resource, can signal potential bias, and indicate the perspective from which the information is coming. Some of the best tips for teaching how to read and evaluate a URL can be found on Alan November’s site November Learning. Spend just one class period (best if accomplished early in the school year) dissecting URLs and you will see a big change in how students approach their online research.

2) “How do you know that?”

One of the simplest and most effective ways of helping students evaluate information is asking them directly: “How do you know that?” Unlike many adults, young people don’t easily take offense to this question. They are less likely to think you are second-guessing their claim or disagreeing with them. Of course, how you ask this question is often more important than the phrasing. Projecting authentic curiosity is the key. Here are some alternative ways to phrase this question:

  • “Where did you find that information?”
  • “How did you discover this?”
  • “What brought you to this conclusion?”
  • “Can you remember where you saw that?”
  • “Tell us more.”

At first, students may respond with blank stares or perplexed “I don’t know’s.” But give it time and don’t stop asking. Eventually, students will start to cite their information without prompting and move beyond references to “a YouTube video” to real authors and publications. Of course, backing up our own claims as teachers is a powerful motivator and model as well.

3) The CRAP Test

Molly Beestrum and Kenneth Orenic, librarians at Dominican University, created the CRAP Test (see a version of it below from Experience Inquiry) to help students evaluate websites. It’s a brilliant way to get students to assess the veracity of the sites they find and the information they chose to use from those sites. Students answer questions in each of the four quadrants while looking at a website. The process takes no more than 20 minutes. Students can assign a number (0-5) to each quadrant indicating low or high ratings for each area and then share with others. It’s great to have students research the same sites and compare their assessments and ratings with each other. Here are some sites you can have them look at to get started:

The CRRAP Test

Excerpted from Experience Inquiry by Kimberly Mitchell


  • When was the website created?
  • How recently has the website been updated?
  • Is the information current enough for your topic?


  • Is the content balanced?
  • Does the creator provide references and sources for all data and quotations?



  • Are the author’s credentials and background available and credible?
  • Is the publisher or sponsor listed and reputable?

Purpose / Point of View

  • Is the site’s purpose clearly stated (i.e. the creator/author trying to sell you something or push a particular agenda)?
  • Does the cite offer links to other, competing sources of information and viewpoints?
  • Are the advertisements cleared marked?

Almost fifty years ago, two respected education professors and academics coined the term ‘crap detecting.’ In the radical sixties, this scatological reference was a shock to the system; and precisely their intent. In their seminal book, Teaching as a Subversive Activity, authors Postman and Weingartner wrote:

“One way of looking at the history of the human group is that it has been a continuing struggle against the veneration of ‘crap.’ Our intellectual history is a chronicle of the anguish and suffering of men who tried to help their contemporaries see that some part of the fondest beliefs were misconceptions, faulty assumptions, superstitions, and even outright lies.”

The struggle is real, and continues today. As we shift our pedagogy to inquiry and student-led projects, supporting ‘crap detection’ becomes even more imperative. When we heighten awareness to the myriad of ways we take in information, our students become better thinkers, creators, and communicators.

Written by

Kimberly Lasher Mitchell is an international speaker on inquiry-based instruction and adjunct professor at the University of Washington College of Education in Seattle, Washington. A former teacher, principal, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Director of Teach for All in Argentina, Kimberly is the founder of Inquiry Partners, an organization dedicated to supporting teachers with inquiry-based teaching practices. Her interactive teacher workbook, Experience Inquiry, is forthcoming from Corwin Press.

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