Information Literacy

Online Study Guide







Futurists and other social scientists tell us that we're living in a new age: the age of information. Success in this new period will be measured not by what we know, but rather how efficiently we can access information from a plethora of information resources including traditional print materials and new electronic resources. The task has been playfully described as attempting to get a drink of water from a fire hose. This online lesson takes a look at ways teachers can support information literacy among K-12 students.


  • Students will be able to describe at least five skills that schools of the information age must cultivate to develop an information savvy population.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the library and classroom resources necessary for K-12 schools in the information age.
  • Students will explore processes for solving information problems.
  • Students will understand issues related to copyright.


Read materials in this online lesson and follow links to other World Wide Web sites.

Assess two of the following web sites based on information from Part 4 of this module:

  1. Health Hazards of Tobacco: Some Facts

    Secondhand Smoke: The Big Lie

    Feline Reactions to Bearded Men

    The Dangers of Bread

    Welcome to the White House

    American Medical Association

    The T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project

    Women Against Gun Control

    Ban Dihydrogen Monoxide

    Voluntary Human Extinction Movement

Go to Part 2- Schools at the Cross Roads

Go to Lesson Contents



Part 2: Schools at the Cross Roads

"Today's students are flooded with information options...can they distinguish treasure from trash?"


Joyce Kasman Valenza, wrote an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer in March 1998 titled, Schools at the Cross Roads- Information Literacy.

Valenza says that, "Today's students are flooded with information options. They pound away with confidence (at computers) but often this confidence does not extend to the process that must accompany the pounding. Can they distinguish treasure from trash? Can they make sense of the information they retrieve? Can they communicate their conclusions?"

Going on, Valenza points out the problems in most student research activities. "Student Internet explorations often are premature; their expectations of instant gratification unreasonable. In fact, they may grossly underestimate the research process, often forgetting the human side of the information picture: the planning, the processing, the thinking, the skills that we label information literacy. And computer literacy is not information literacy."

Valenza defines information literacy as, "... the ability to access, evaluate and use information from multiple formats -- books, newspapers, videos, CD-ROMs, or the Web. When we discuss information literacy, we are discussing the application of problem-solving skills in situations students face in all their subject areas."


Go to Part 3- Defining An Information Literate Person

Go to Lesson Contents



Part 3: Defining An Information Literate Person

"An information literate person is one who recognizes that accurate and complete information is the basis for intelligent decision making..."


Christina Doyle described what it means to be information-literate in her 1992 Final Report to the National Forum on Information Literacy.

An information literate person is one who:

  • recognizes that accurate and complete information is the basis for intelligent decision making;
  • recognizes the need for information;
  • formulates questions based on information needs;
  • identifies potential sources of information;
  • develops successful search strategies;
  • accesses sources of information including computer-based and other technologies;
  • evaluates information;
  • organizes information for practical application;
  • integrates new information into an existing body of knowledge;
  • uses information in critical thinking and problem solving.

The US Secretary of Labor's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS Report), included information competency among its five essential workplace competencies for the 21st century.

Apart from workplace needs and scholarly research activities, Velenza and others point out practical questions that students of the information age will explore:

-Which car should I buy and how much should I pay for it?


-What background information can I find on a community offering me a job?

-Which political candidate will best represent me?

-How can I convince our city council that we need to limit development and have more open space?


Kathy Schrock, a school librarian, provides more important insights about this topic in an Information Literacy Primer, she wrote for the the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Go to Part 4- Promoting Information Literacy in the Classroom

Go to Lesson Contents



Part 4: Promoting Information Literacy in the Classroom













School research projects can be training grounds for real-life information explorations...



How to Begin

Ideas are assembled below to help plan and design information literacy activities for K-12 students. Begin by taking a look at a K-12 scope and sequence with ideas and lessons for information literacy. These materials were assembled by the 21st Century Literacies Project, a joint venture of UCLA and Pacific Bell. You'll see important information literacy skills for each grade along with suggested teaching activities.

Reading Activities

The world has never had as much written material as it does today. Sources of information include traditional print materials (books, magazines, pamphlets, billboards) and now electronic resources (web pages, listservs, newsgroups, CDs, video). We are constantly receiving information of one kind or another. The information we receive has a multitude of purposes. Sometimes we're being entertained. At other times we're being told that our lives will be perfect if we have a new car or people will like us more if we use a special toothpaste. Sometimes messages will promote a political cause, or personality. We are aware that some messages promote hatred, racism, sexism and other negative views.

Reading and thinking skills are more important than ever. Librarians suggest that we work with students to consider the following questions when they read, hear, or view information:

  1. Authority- Who is presenting the idea? What are their credentials for writing or speaking on this topic?
  2. Purpose- What's the speaker or author's motivation for presenting this information?
  3. Accuracy- Can the information be verified? Based on what you already know about the subject (or have checked from other sources), does this information seem credible?
  4. Timeliness- How current is the information?
  5. Point of View- Can you perceive of any bias in the information? Are the "cards stacked" to present only one perspective

More materials to support critical thinking and evaluation of information can be found through the following links:


Writing Activities

School research projects can be training grounds for real-life information explorations and the development of these essential competencies. Teachers can support development of information literacy in a number of ways. Four places to begin:

A) Development of Good Questions-

Concentrate on questions that encourage thinking. Traditional questions that ask students to describe the life of Martin Luther King Jr., or do a report on Bolivia's economy don't work well. Students can easily "copy and paste" information from print resources, CD ROMs and the Internet. Better questions ask students to display personal thinking in their responses. Examples based on topics list above could be:

  • Compare and contrast the life of Martin Luther King Jr. with Mahatma Gandhi.
  • How does Bolivia's economy compare to California's?


B) I-Search Papers-

Another strategy that encourages research thinking is the idea of an "I-Search" paper. I-Searches ask students to carry through with research activities and report on both the process and findings through a first person narrative. Sample excerpts from a fifth grader's state report on New York:

"...I drew New York from our class report lottery. I was happy with the choice because my Aunt Becky is from Buffalo, NY...The essential question I came up with for my report was: Why is New York among the top five states in America to live in? In researching the answer to my question, I used the following reference materials: Grolier's Encyclopedia, 1997 Information Almanac, 1996 Microsoft Encarta, Fodor's USA Travel Guide, and the New York State World Wide Web Home Page....I learned that New York City, also known as the "The Big Apple," has international importance housing both the World Trade Center and the United Nations....Based on these points, I think that New York is among the top five states in America because of 1) it's importance as a global trade center, 2) it's natural beauty, and 3) it's historical past as a place that welcomes all people."


C) 500 Mile Project-

Jamie McKenzie feels that students need to learn persistence doing research work. He laments that as a society we're focused almost exclusively on "trivial pursuit" kinds of questions and answers. Most adult questions don't have the simple answers that you'd find on 'Jeopardy' or 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire.' An education preparing students for the world of tomorrow will address "500 Mile Projects." 500 Mile Projects are those that a student studies over an entire semester or school year. McKenzie holds that there are seven steps that students go through in a 500 Mile Project. These steps include:

  • Selecting a topic
  • Developing essential questions related to the topic
  • Methods for storing information about the topic
  • Prospecting for resources that can shed light on essential questions
  • Monitoring information resources over time; checking for changes on a daily/weekly basis
  • Responding to inquiries
  • Creating a product

McKenzie has a web site that teachers may use to guide students through a 500 Mile Project at: miles/persistence.html

Please spend time exploring and understanding the processes of McKenzie's 500 Mile Project.


D) Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz are known among librarians for their work developing "The Big Six." The Big Six represents an approach to teaching information and technology skills. Eisenberg and Berkowitz hold that successful research activities involve:

Task Definition-
What do I have to do?

Information Searching Strategies-

What kind of information do I need to successfully complete my task?

Resource Location-

Where can I find the information I need?

Use of Information-

How can I remember what I need to know?


What can I do to show that I have used my information?


How did I do?

Teachers at Sonoma County's Monte Rio School worked on adapting and modifying the Big Six for their school's needs and came up with the Monte Rio Big Eight. Please examine the Monte Rio Big Eight as a tool for organizing student research activities.


This online lesson begins the process of figuring out ways educators can promote information literacy in classrooms. Classroom observation, reflective teaching practices and continued study are necessary in developing a repertoire of skills to address the needs presented in this module.



Go to Part 5- Copyright Issues

Go to Lesson Contents


Part 5: Copyright Issues & Plagiarism



Students have ready access to a cornucopia of materials.



Copyright Issues

The Internet offers access to pictures, sounds, movies and text. Students have ready access to a cornucopia of materials. In the same way that students give credit to books, periodicals and encyclopedias, they must also give credit to resources used from the Internet. Librarians at SSU have constructed an online style guide based on the MLA standards. Check it out at

Emerging technologies are giving rise to a host of other issues related to copyright. Please review the Classroom Copyright Chart assembled by Hall Davidson, an education specialist from KCOE television and Orange County Schools to learn about some of our rights and responsibilities.

Further study about copyright issues in educational environments can done at Stanford University Library's Copyright and Fair Use site:


Plagiarism: The Problem and Ways to Deal With It

The angel of the bottomless pit offers students new opportunities for plagiarism through the Internet.

Read about the situation a Kansas high school teacher faced when she discovered that nearly a fifth of her biology students had plagiarized their semester projects from the Internet: Teacher Resigns Over Plagiarism Fight

A well written paper titled "Cybercheating," considers the issue of plagiarism in the 21st century. Found at the paper reviews sites that offer plagiarized materials and shares strategies for coping with the problem. Some of the strategies mentioned here include:

  • Require specific components in the paper. For example, 'The paper must make use of Internet sources, printed book sources, printed journal sources, a personal interview, and a personally conducted survey or graphs, tables, and subsequent appropriate analysis.' (If a student buys a paper and has to work something else in, you'll probably be able to tell.)
  • Require drafts of the paper well in advance of the due date. If the draft looks too perfect (that is, canned), require some additional information. Keep the drafts and let students know that you expect major revisions and improvements between drafts.
  • Require oral reports of student papers. Ask them questions about their research and writing process. (This can be done one-on-one.)

Jamie McKenzie offers seven antidotes to highway robbery on the information super highway. Check out his thoughts at the following web site:


Go to Part 6- World Wide Web Resources

Go to Lesson Contents



Part 6: World Wide Web Resources





World Wide Web Resources




A cool new set of resources to support research-NoodleTools is a suite of interactive tools designed to aid students and professionals with their online research. From selecting a search engine and finding some relevant sources, to citing those sources in MLA style, NoodleTools makes online research easier!



A number of secondary schools and colleges are using Turn It In, a commercial service, to evaluate student research work and combat plagarism. Read about Turn It In and the services they provide here.


Library of Congress

Offering insights into libraries of the future and what they will offer patrons, the Library of Congress has a wealth of online resources for K-12 students and teachers. The American Memory Collection shouldn't be missed with its photos, recordings, and primary source materials.


Excerpts from Jamie McKenzie's Web Site- Research & Problem Solving

Jamie McKenzie is a national authority on the integration of technology in learning. This site offers a look at some of his writing related to information literacy and libraries.


Blue Web'N's Content Area List of Resources
Pacific Bell's Knowledge Network Project has assembled a variety of resources to promote use of the Internet and Information Literacy among K-12 students. The applications span a continuum from Hot Lists (site links) to Web Quests (in-depth activities).


The Big Six Information Problem-Solving Approach to Library and Information Skills

What are skills that students must learn in relation to information literacy? This site offers the "Big Six" from the perspectives of Michael B. Eisenberg and Robert E. Berkowitz.


Ever wondered what the differences are between Internet search engines? FindSpot is a resource that helps people understand differences between directories, search engines, and meta search engines. It also offers helpful tips to make use of these tools and resources.


Go to Lesson Contents


  | General Info | Online Study Guides | Interactive Pages |