Evaluating Online Information…The 5 W’s

As I have previously posted, explicit instruction is essential for supporting our students’ online non-fiction reading skills. Traditional reading strategies are simply not sufficient when navigating the internet. One of the important skills students need is the ability to evaluate and critique the information they locate. I appreciate Will Richardson’s perspective in his article, Creating Student Editors, that we must see our student readers as editors. As he states,

It’s no longer sufficient to be able to simply make sense of the words, sounds and images we ‘read’. We have to get behind those words and images. We have to do the work of the editors whom we have relied on for most of our lives but who in many cases have been eliminated from the publishing process on the Read/Write web.

What skills do our editors require? Amongst others, they need to be able to question content, identify authors and publishers, locate supporting information and utilize online text features.

When thinking about what this would look like in my own classroom I wanted a reference or tool that students would ultimately be able to internalize as part of their reading repertoire. I put together a set of questions based on the 5 W’s that I can post in the class and simplify to create individual bookmarks. These can be kept with the iPads, at the computer stations and with students.


I plan on introducing these 5 W’s through modeling with think-alouds. While some of the W’s will be easily answered, a number of them will require their own lessons and extended practice – namely determining audience, identifying, defining & utilizing online text features, and recognizing bias.

As the students start to take ownership they can work in partners or small groups:

  • groups can be assigned a W and become close readers or experts in that area for an assigned site
  • partners/groups can choose a site and answer the 5 W’s
  • partners/groups can present a site they evaluated to the class by annotating a screen shot with an app such as Skitch, creating a video screen capture, or…the list goes on.

The end goal is for students to routinely ask themselves these questions as they conduct their own research.

And, as we work through this as a class I anticipate some changes and adaptations to the 5 W questions as I’m sure  students will come up with essential questions I haven’t even considered!



Richardson, W., (2008). Creating student editors. District Administration. December, p. 80.