Three Lessons in Using Context Clues in Online Research

Two things that happened in my life last week that prompted me to create the handout that’s included a bit later in this blog post. First, I started watching Inventing Anna on Netflix last week. Second, I got an email from someone pretending (fairly poorly) to be an attorney.

If you’re not familiar with it, Inventing Anna is a miniseries based on the story of convicted fraudster Anna Sorokin. While watching the series it is hard not to think, “how did they miss all those clues?” and “didn’t anyone do any fact-checking?”

On Thursday I got an email from someone claiming to be an attorney. She claimed that I violated her client’s intellectual property. Her story was full of holes right from the start. With a little use of context clues I was able to quickly unravel the scam she was trying to run. I made a short video about how I did it.

Three Lessons in Using Context Clues in Online Research

Both the Anna Sorokin story and the email I got from an “attorney” are good examples of why it’s important for students to learn how to conduct good online research using a variety of tools and the context in which they find clues during the research process.

I wrote out three detailed lessons that you can teach from three real-life research scenarios that I’ve encountered in the last seven months. It would make for a very long email if I tried to include all of the details. So instead of doing that I put them into a PDF that you can access below and into a Google Doc you can view here.

The lessons in the document:

  • The Case of Two Derek Lowes
    • A lesson that uses some context clues and a little Google search to find the flaw in a Wikipedia article.
  • Unraveling an Email and Copyright Scam
    • This lesson is based on using the flaws in an email and on a website’s About page to determine that the email was a scam intended to get me to add a nefarious link to my website. The full text of the email is included in the lesson. Here’s a video overview of the flaws in the scam.
  • What Car is in Front of the Lyon’s Den?
    • This is a lesson in which students use a local history resource and use context clues to determine the make and model of a car parked in a specific historical photograph.

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