Digital literacy: setting students on the path to success

digital literacy

With the internet at our fingertips, we have access to information on absolutely any topic imaginable. It’s an invaluable tool for learners of a second language, who can access materials in their L2 that students twenty or thirty years ago could only dream of. 

But without digital literacy, the internet can be a difficult – and sometimes unsafe – space for students to explore. Fake news is rife, and misinformation is thrown at us every day, especially on social media. Many people find it hard to evaluate what’s real and what’s not in their mother tongue, so you can imagine how much more complicated it is for language learners to know which information is trustworthy.

Educators have a responsibility to send students out into the online world with the skills and knowledge to be able to navigate online successfully. To do this, we need to make sure that students are aware of the dangers the internet poses and how to evaluate the information they find and decide whether or not it is reliable. This is where digital literacy skills come into play.

How does digital literacy help your students?

Digital Literacy encompasses a whole host of skills, which include how to stay safe online, how to create and share information securely, as well as how to understand privacy issues and online permissions. 

The skill set also encompasses Information Literacy, which means knowing how to search for and evaluate information online using credible sources. Developing this understanding of the internet is essential today and will only grow in importance as our students progress through school and university and then embark on their careers. 

How can you use webquests to help students develop digital literacy?

Webquests are mini online challenges that require students to go online and – using a variety of sources – find information in order to complete an objective. Students often love webquests, because they involve a range of creative and critical skills – and they get to go online in a relatively free way.

Here are a few fun and educational webquest activities you can use with your students. Note that with low levels, it may be beneficial to have these discussions in the students’ mother tongue.

  • Show students a variety of websites from reliable and less credible sources. These could include online newspapers, blogs, and social media posts. Ask students if they have heard of these websites and to think about who owns/writes for them.
  • Give students a soundbite – a small piece of information about something that is reported to have happened recently. Tell them to look for this information online and to find at least five other references to it in different publications. Cross-checking is important and can really help you decide if something is true.
  • Discuss what makes a website trustworthy and provide students with strategies for spotting false information. Use the following checklist as a guide:

1. Examine the layout. Does it look like a professional website? Use of fonts, layouts, and the number of pictures versus text can all be things to pay attention to.

2. Check the language. If there are grammatical or spelling errors, the piece probably hasn’t been edited. Of course, this is very difficult for students to pick up on in their L2. 

3. Look closely at the images. If in doubt, do a reverse image search by copying and pasting the image address into Google Images. Sometimes, people use images from different stories because it “proves” a point they want to illustrate. 

4. Check the URL, especially if the article is from a social media link. If it takes you to a well-known news site, make sure that the URL is exactly the same. It should have no additional letters or numbers in the address.

5. Look for the author of the article. People who write false information usually avoid giving their name.

6. Look for the date the article was written. If it was a long time ago, the information may have changed since then. 

  • Work on critical thinking skills. Have students analyze a website to see if they can identify the facts and check them against other websites. Encourage them to consider what the rest of the information is – is it the author’s opinion? If so, does that conflict with anything else the student has read or knows about the topic?

To read more about fostering critical thinking in your lessons, read How to get teenagers to think critically.

  • Discuss the concept of “clickbait”. Ask students to find links to articles on social media and to click on them, and see whether the article really says what the original headline claimed.

Test your students’ new digital skills with a graded Reader webquest

Once your learners are trained in information literacy, why not test their skills with this WebQuest based on the graded Reader Little Women. Suitable for elementary learners, they’ll have the chance to put their critical thinking skills into use as they complete the collaborative tasks.

Download the student worksheets now!

Download the teacher instructions now!

There are also a number of other activities to celebrate the release of the new Little Women film. Discover them here.

How do you make sure your learners are using appropriate digital literacy skills when they go online? Let us know in the comments below.

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