What IS this document I’m looking at?

The CRAAP test has been a standby strategy for teaching information literacy for a long time. Besides the fact that K-12 students love the fact that they get to say the word “CRAAP,” it has offered a reliable template for students and teachers to use to tease out resource reliability. But as our online lives get more complicated and sources aren’t as easy to identify, much less define, the CRAAP test hasn’t been working as well for me and my students this year. The election highlighted how opinion, truth, and facts are  complicated. Emotions are running high in all camps, and more and more of us are sharing things without a thorough look/see. “Filter bubbles” (see: https://www.ted.com/talks/eli_pariser_beware_online_filter_bubbles) allow us to stay well inside our own world view, which can then increase the unwillingness to dig deeper to understand the source and intent of any piece of information.

So, early this school year it became apparent that my fall-back lessons using CRAAP and other source evaluation tools were not working. While CRAAP answers the questions that apply to resource awareness, it wasn’t helping students look at their own reactions to what they were reading, and critically figure out what and how it might apply to their investigations. Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy, and Purpose skimmed the surface of the resource. (“Yes, this was written in 2016 (check!), and it’s about my topic (check!), it’s got a .org (check!) and it looks accurate to me (check!) and finally.. (almost done!) the purpose of this site is to inform me about (check!)”). When students were asked to think deeper about the questions that CRAAP asked and required to write longer analysis, they balked. Most students were unwilling to take the time to dig deeper. They continued to rely on the same rules of thumb that we’d been teaching through the years and that allowed them to check off items. It was time to think differently.
I struggled with ways to re-create a new acronym to add in the elements I thought have been missing… to no avail. I tried:

How does this capture my: Attention
What does it want me to think: Think
What does it want me to do: Action
Where does it come from: Source/Host
Who created this: Authorship
What facts or evidence does it give: create a list of notes

Too long – not quite what I wanted, I thought they should check for:

Pay Attention! (Is this clickbait? Blazing headlines?)
How do you feel now? (How does this information want me to react?)
Do this! (Once I’ve reacted… what does it want me to do?)
Sponsors (Who ARE these people?)
Facts (Can they back it up with facts?)

While it was fun trying to squeeze an interesting acronym together, the focus of these questions was on student feeling instead of critically looking at a document or site and discerning intent, perspective, or authority, and it still allowed for the check-off mentality.

In the middle of this thinking, I was delightfully and wonderfully pleased to receive a serendipitous email from my colleague, Nathan Libecap (Casa Grande High School) with the subject line: “AWESOME.” He sent a single link to an e-book titled Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers by Michael Caulfield of Washington State University in Vancouver, Washington. Caulfield discusses “4 moves and a habit” that one can use to mitigate that reflexive re-tweeting and look closer at our information. He too felt that the roads we’ve been taking to help students understand their information was much longer than it needed to be. He covers a wide variety of strategies and includes excellent activities that can be added to classroom use–and they are incredibly fun to do. The ideas made such good sense that I fiddled around with them and I created a little graphic that I’ve posted in the library and plan on using with my next library and information resources class. Here they are:

Check for previous fact checking work already done (e.g. Snopes)

Swim upstream to the source – Trace the claim to the source

Read laterally (check your article against other sources – use TABS to read across the web)

If you’re getting lost…

Circle around – go back to what you know… and start again from there.

Caulfield also points out that an important piece of source evaluation strategy is to retrain our natural habit to respond to things quickly, utilizing the emotion of the moment. Feeling angry, excited, pleased, or other emotions can incite one to pass along a piece of information that is not true. Instead, we should consider adopting a new habit: stop for a moment and check emotions before taking any action. Taking one of the strategies from the cyberbullying world, I added:


to the bulletin board display. Students who have participated in health class lessons on online etiquette know this phrase too “take a moment to think before you post.” In this information literacy context, when reading news, tweets, click-bait, and even academic materials, that might contain un-verified claims or particular biases that seem so shareable,“taking 5” can go a long way to stopping these claims. Checking out what others have discovered, swimming downstream to the real source of the information, and double-checking who these people are before passing it along or adding it to a project paper or presentation will go a long way to keeping facts in the forefront.

More often than not students just want to get an answer and add it to their work. Equally often we all want to pass on those bits that intrigue or infuriate us to our friends. Making a habit of taking only 5 minutes to double-check facts, stories, and/or authorship will go a long way to creating a slightly more sane information world. What I like about these 4 moves is how quickly they can be accomplished and how easily they can be incorporated into a larger evaluation and information literacy instruction framework.  I look forward to thinking about these strategies in the coming school year.

Author: Connie Williams

NBCTeacher Librarian and author of “Understanding Government Information: a Teaching Strategy Toolkit for grades 7-12”. Member of the CA State Library Services Board, and History Room Librarian at the Petaluma Regional Library [Sonoma County Library]. She welcomes all conversation.. give a holler!

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

1 reply

  1. Thanks for this post – I too had used the CRAP or CRAAP acronym for quite a while and was not comfortable with it for middle school students.

    We now use the phrase “Take it APART” which seems to work well for not only websites and books but also potential “fake news” posts on facebook etc. We also focus on the “How do you know?” question.

    “Take it APART” asks:
    A- Authority
    P – Purpose and Perspective
    A – Accuracy
    R – Relevance
    T – Time

    Here’s a link to a pdf:

    Idea by Tim Staal, Tokyo International Schoo – graphics by Matt Broughton, Yokohama International School.

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