In the wake of 2017’s false news stories, educators are left wondering how can I teach my students to be smarter than the internet?

While it might seem like a silly question, the answers have serious repercussions for how we understand online resources. For many years, it seemed that information available on the web was universally considered above-board, accurate, or at least on track for repurposing. Students, especially at impressionable ages, were using online data without great regard for context, when the content was published, and who was publishing it. In his article for Scholastic, educator John Depasquale cited a Stanford study that reported over 80 percent of middle school students were unable to tell the difference between a news story and a sponsored advertisement.

This discovery has massive repercussions, and shows the significance of media literacy in today’s web-obsessed culture. The Media Literacy Project is a foundation dedicated to educating youth on understanding media, recognizing bias, understanding the persuasive techniques used by content creators, and more. In order to be truly media literate, students have to think critically about each piece of media they’re exposed to, and understand how to read the context.

The Media Literacy Project has many tools available online to help students understand the difference between real and fake news, advertising and genuine affinity, and much more, but here are a few steps you can take easily in your own classroom to empower students while they interact online:

Go online often, with caution

It used to be that keeping kids in school offline was deemed the best way to keep them focused on their studies, but today, students must learn how to go online to complete their education. Rather than avoiding the internet, bring your class online, but illustrate to them how you exercise caution online. You can explain what website you’re using, and why you picked that one, or how you found the particular site you like to use for information. Allowing young people to use the internet frequently will ensure they are comfortable with the web, so that they are able to move beyond its function to ask real questions about how and why they use it.

Ask questions before, during, and after you read

As adults, most of us understand that not all sites are created equally. CNN.com will report a story about the health risk of sugar very differently than a theoretical site called “candyindustry.com”, but many students will not intuitively know the difference. Encourage them to ask themselves questions about their online experience, like why did I choose to search those keywords? Why did I pick this site to learn information? Who wrote this article? When did they write it? What prompted them to write it? Not only will encouraging questions help with their media literacy, but students will also hone their overall critical thinking skills. Development of critical thinking is crucial to extended education and will continue to serve your students well.

Check the source

Sources are one of the key places to draw information about the nature of media content. From the author of the article, to the type of web address you are on, you can teach your students a lot about sources. Give them an exercise to help them understand the differences between .org, .edu, .com, .net and more! Many websites offer fun activities to help differentiate sources that can be useful for your classroom. Encourage them to do this at home with their parents, as well. Finding ways to involve family with online literacy will benefit students more than if they are only doing it in the classroom.

Draw your own conclusions

Most importantly, make sure your students are learning to think for themselves. Online literacy is a lifelong commitment, so encourage them to think about their web interactions outside of the classroom. They can benefit from learning appropriate web sourcing for personal reasons too, whether they want to find a craft tutorial online or play a video game. At the end of the day, they will have to draw their own conclusions about how they think about media, and why they use the forums, sites, and platforms they use.

Media literacy is more than just ‘Googling’ whatever your students need to know! Educating your class to advocate for themselves will help them develop their critical thinking, research, and online skill set, which will benefit them throughout their education and beyond. In the comments, what tools do you use for your class’ media education?