Understanding and Evaluating Online Searches

In the age of Google and other search engines, this lesson aims to help students navigate how information comes to them through online search tools.
Grade Level


Students will be able to:

  • Understand that popularity and reliability are two key concepts to consider when searching for and choosing online sources
  • Create checklists with criteria for evaluating search results that they can use in their own role as researchers and seekers of information
Essential Questions
  • How can people discern what is a reliable source on the internet among many possible search results?


algorithm (alɡəˌriT͟Həm) (noun) a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer

search algorithm (sərCH alɡəˌriT͟Həm) (noun) the mathematical process by which the search engine calculates a response typed into the search bar

reliability (rəˌlīəˈbilədē) (noun) the quality of being trustworthy

popularity (päpyəˈlerədē) (noun) the state or condition of being liked, admired or supported by many people

Sources: Google Dictionary, merriam-webster.com, en.oxforddictionaries.com


Lesson Overview

In the age of Google and other search engines, this lesson aims to help students navigate how information comes to them through online search tools. Students will evaluate a Google search result, distinguishing between popularity and reliability among the results. In the form of checklists, they will create a tool to independently discern which sources are most legitimate and relevant as they engage in their own research.



1. Put students into small groups and give them copies of the Sample Google Search handout. Ask students to rank results from most to least reliable. As a class, define the term reliability on the board.

2. Have student groups report out their ranking and explain why they ranked certain sources the way they did.

3. Create a t-chart on the board with the headings “Reliable Source” and “Unreliable Source.” Based on students' rankings, place each source from the search examples into the appropriate column.  Document the reasons the students provided for their rankings.

4. Reveal that the handout illustrates how search results actually appear—not in order of reliability but prioritized based on a variety of factors, including popularity, location and search history.

5. Ask students to find a partner and together create a checklist for evaluating search results.

6. Have students share out their checklist items and compile a class list. Distinguish between checklist items that must be checked and checklist items that may be checked (for example, the website may end in .edu or the website must not state an opinion in its title).

7. Checklists might include, but shouldn’t be limited to, the following criteria:

  • What kind of website or page is this? (Personal blogs, discussion forums and advice columns aren’t typically reliable sources.)
  • Is the website connected to an educational institution or organization?
  • Is the website from a fact-checked news source I have heard of such as The Associated Press or the Washington Post?
  • Does the website URL end in .edu, .com, .org, .net or another extension? What does this tell you about the website?
  • Does the title of the website seem to be “clickbait” or include charged or sensational language?
  • Does the page or site have a credible author clearly listed?
  • Does the author cite sources?
  • Is an opinion stated in the title or heading?
  • When was the website or article published?

8. If certain key criteria do not come up in the class discussion, bring up additional checklist items for students to consider and explain their importance.

9. Ask students to reflect in their notebooks on the following questions: Why do you think search results are not organized solely by reliability? Why is having a reliability checklist important? How has this activity changed the way you will approach search results online?


Alignment to Common Core State Standards


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Identify aspects of a text that reveal an author's point of view or purpose (e.g., loaded language, inclusion or avoidance of particular facts).