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Lateral Reading: Activity

Practice “lateral reading,” a strategy used by professional fact-checkers to investigate the reliability of online sources.

Lateral Reading Teaching Activity

Have students work in groups to evaluate an article on a website. The idea is to choose something that is not immediately recognizable as a reputable source (e.g. the New York Times or an academic journal in your field) or easily identifiable as a non-reputable source (e.g. or a conspiracy theory blog). For example, you might choose a story from a “churnalism” website that repackages news story or academic articles relevant to your field (like this article from or an article from an unfamiliar news source or a popular magazine relevant to your discipline (e.g. Philosophy Now).

Prompt students to look over the article and explore the features of the website to determine whether or not they believe the source is credible—can it be trusted or believed? In addition to determining whether or not the article is credible, have students write down what factors influenced their evaluation of the source. What specific aspects of the article and/or website helped students determine its credibility? Have each group share their criteria for determining credibility and keep track of this criteria on the board to gather a list of credibility markers for the class. (Credibility markers might include the URL of the website [.com, .org], the author’s credentials, citations within the article, currency of the information, etc.)

After this discussion, watch the Lateral Reading video and have students reflect on how the strategies in the video compare to their own evaluation strategies. 

Have students work in their groups once more to apply the lateral reading skills they learned in the video to the same article they previously evaluated. Prompt them to move outside of the website where the article is posted and use Google to find more information about the publication and the information presented in the article. For example, students might find an article that corroborates the story or learn more about the reputation of the author or publication. Ask students to think about how/if lateral reading changed their perspective on the credibility of the source. 

Conclude the activity by asking students to discuss whether or not they would cite the source in a research paper or share it on social media. Use this as an opportunity to talk with students about the sliding scale of credibility and the context of information needs. For example, students might find that the information presented in an article on is credible and appropriate to share with an audience on social media; however, they would probably need to locate the original research article discussed in the article to cite in their own research paper.

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Citizen Literacy was created by Robert Detmering, Amber Willenborg, and Terri Holtze for University of Louisville Libraries and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.