As a result of the civil war in Syria, more than 4 million people have fled Syria since the conflict started. This situation, along with war and injustice in other countries such as Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan and many more, has resulted in a global refugee crisis. As refugees seek to move to safer places, countries struggle with managing the flow of people and the issues that arise when new communities are introduced to existing ones.
With trending hashtags such as #RefugeeCrisis #SyrianRefugees and #RefugeesWelcome and a U.S. presidential election on the horizon, there is no doubt that students encounter such devastating stories on social media and the news, and multiple views about how countries should (or shouldn’t) help refugees. I decided that I have a duty to help my students understand and critically engage on such topics, as they do impact our lives.
However, I am also wary that I need to help my students learn how to identify biases and different perspectives when reading, researching, and engaging with such topics. The media and news contain a lot of information that needs to be questioned and analyzed before helping students to form their own opinions about the issues at hand.
Here are some steps I used to guide students through a research project:
- First, I asked my students to form groups of 3-4 people.
- Next, students were required to select a topic of focus related to refugees and immigration. Here are some of the suggested topics: area/region study, country study, causes, aid missions, personal stories, response to crisis, etc.
- Once they had chosen their topics and done a bit of research, they needed to select a few websites to assess the information, biases, and perspectives that are presented.
Some questions to consider when analyzing the resources
- What is the overall goal/mission of the article or resource? Who is presenting and sponsoring the information?
- What is the information presented trying to convince you of?
- How is the information being presented to you (data, opinion, facts), and where did the information come from? Are you able to easily verify the source of the information?
- Are there commercials/advertisements on the website? How do these additions help to drive the website’s main mission or show a possible bias?
- Are there any organizations/companies that are linked to this site? What stakes do they have in presenting this information?
- Does any of the information presented on the site contain discriminatory/stereotypical messages? If so, what language or images are used as evidence of discrimination and stereotyping?
4. Students were asked to present their findings to the rest of the class in order to learn from each other’s analysis and perspectives on assessing research material.
This activity not only teaches students to research and analyze sources on their own, but it also teaches them to assess the information that is given to them. In a world where much information is manipulated and/or changing, students begin to see the importance of engaging critically with informational texts.
To see students learning how to analyze primary and secondary sources, watch Reading & Writing in the Disciplines, “Identifying Evidence From Multiple Sources.” Watch another lesson that guides students on how to write about a complex cause and/or issue in “Making Writing Explicit in Social Studies.”
Share how you are teaching students to analyze web sources in the comments below.