Tips for Evaluating Content

What are a child’s barriers to effectively evaluating online material and how can children overcome those barriers to effectively evaluate the content which they find? Once children know how to access media and analyze messages by learning to encode and decode them, they must learn to evaluate these same messages so that they are more media literate.

Livingstone and Bober (2005) state that “Given the enormous variation in nature and quality of information available online, a crucial skill that all users must acquire is that of determining the quality and worth of the information they find.” (page 10) They go on to say that, “… editorial standards are much more variably applied to online texts (as opposed to print media), placing greater demands on children to evaluate the quality and reliability of such texts themselves.” (Livingstone and Bober, p. 10) In fact, they say, “Our qualitative work provided a range of examples in which children were unclear or confused about when online information is trustworthy and how to discriminate between different kinds of websites – which could be commercially-motivated, politically-biased or simply of poor quality.” (Livingstone and Bober, p. 10)

Yang and Nathanson (2004) identify other clear barriers when evaluating media. Said they, “…users need to understand and remember the relationships among web pages and need to continually assess the relevance of information to their initial search goals. As a result, children who have difficulty storing information in memory and inferring relationships among pieces of information may have difficulty evaluating web pages.” (page 5) They also state that “…children may have trouble identifying relevant content and ignoring peripheral content.” (Yang and Nathanson, p.5)

Effective evaluation, then, must have controls in identifying credible sources, controlling the effects of dynamic content (i.e. links, pop-ups, and graphics), and limiting advertisement distraction. (Yang and Nathanson, 2004) Yang and Nathanson (2004) provide the following tools to help children better evaluate media:

1. Teach children to keep “search strategies…efficient”. (p. 22)

Teachers can provide site lists for children to aid them in more easily obtaining information for that which they are looking. One Pennsylvania school district, and likely many others, provides links to a variety of helpful sights for children. (See Waynesboro Area School District)  Teachers can teach children how to get to this site, or similar sites, and then bookmark it or set it as a homepage for future use.

 2. Teach children to be “diligent in assessing the entire site for credibility cues such as dated information and active links”. ( p. 22)

A great resource to aid teachers in teaching these concepts can be found here.
3. Teach children to “notice and disregard irrelevant information such as advertising”. (p. 23)
 Teachers can begin by teaching children how to use a pop-up blocker. This simple step can eliminate at least some extraneous material, thus helping children focus on pertinent information more effectively. This seems to be one of the few steps that is useful for childrent, as according to Ali et al. (2009), young children are only slightly aware of advertisements (even when they have a cue like price), because they are not yet cognitively aware enough to be able to distinguish content from advertising. Improvement in this area is slow as a child ages, but reaches full potential at adulthood. (Ali et al, 2009)



Ali, M., Blades, M., Oates, C., & Blumberg, F. (2009). Young children’s ability to recognize advertisements in web page designs. British Journal of Developmental Psychology (2009), 71-83. Accessed from the British Psychological Society on 12 Nov 2010 at

 Evaluating Websites. Project Look Smart. Accessed 12 Nov 2010 at

Livingstone, S., & Bober, M. (2005). Taking Up Online Opportunities? Children’s Uses of the Internet For Education, Communication and Participation. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1-34. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Waynesboro Elementary Schools Instructional Web Resources. Waynesboro Area School District. Accessed 12 Nov 2010 at

Yang, M., Eastin, M., & Nathanson, A. (2004). Quiet Riot: How do children access and see the noise as Internet literacy?. Conference Papers — International Communication Association, 1. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

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