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An inquirED Blog

Civic Literacy: More Important than Ever in a Digital World

We are flooded with conflicting messages every time we turn on our laptops. How do we prepare our students to cope with this complexity?

Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for a link to the webinar recording of our conversation with Sam Wineburg. This blog post and the associated webinar are sponsored by the inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.


Sam Wineburg, Founder and Executive Director of the Stanford History Education Group and Stanford's Ph.D. program in History Education, joined us to discuss how we can help students navigate through the complex and contradictory messages they encounter every day in the digital world. Read below for a summary of three key ideas.

Make a Lateral Move

During the webinar, Wineburg discussed lateral reading, a strategy that he and his SHEG colleagues promote as a critical tool to enable students to quickly dismiss unhelpful or biased information. Traditionally, students were taught to read and evaluate a piece of content on the internet vertically, investigating traits like accuracy, relevancy, and presentation to determine the source’s worth. But, according to Wineburg, that's not what skilled users of the internet do. Instead, they use a lateral reading strategy.

Leave the Page

Lateral reading is based on the acknowledgment that the "web" is not just a metaphor - it is a literal web of connected nodes. The way that you understand the placement of a node on a web is to understand its relationship to other nodes. So, when skilled fact-checkers engage in lateral reading (before deciding whether or not they should read a source closely), they open up multiple tabs, reading across the internet to determine the validity of a source. “To learn about an unfamiliar site, they leave it," Wineburg said, "they use the web to read the web."

Be a Judicious Clicker

As professional fact-checkers open up browser tabs, they are also engaging in something that Wineburg calls "click restraint," skipping over the first results to gain a broader perspective. "They sit back and survey the results," Wineburg said, "in order to understand the information neighborhood."


  • Stanford History Education Group (SHEG): The Stanford History Education Group’s Reading Like a Historian curriculum and Beyond the Bubble assessments have been downloaded more than 9 million times. SHEG's current work focuses on how young people evaluate online content. SHEG has created a Civic Online Reasoning curriculum to help students develop the skills needed to navigate our current digital landscape.

  • Civic Online Reasoning: One of SHEG’s core projects, the goal of the Civic Online Reasoning curriculum is to help middle and high school students become more skilled evaluators of online content.

  • Why we need a new approach to teaching digital literacy: Article from the Phi Delta Kappan, co-written by webinar guest Sam Wineburg, describing how students should turn to the power of the web to determine its trustworthiness.

  • Digital Hacks: Resources from Sam Wineburg –with the following disclaimer: “This advice does not guarantee foolproof web searching. It does make the promise that if you follow it, you will make fewer bonehead errors and arrive at better, more reliable information.”

  • From Digital Native to Digital Expert: To suss out the credibility of digital information, students should go beyond checklists and act more like fact-checkers

View the webinar recording below:


About our Panelist

Sam Wineburg is the founder and Executive Director of the Stanford History Education Group and Stanford's Ph.D. program in History Education. He also oversees the M.A. program for future history teachers. His scholarship has been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the New Yorker, and on NPR and C-SPAN. In 2003 his book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, received the Frederic W. Ness Award from the Association of American Colleges and Universities for the most important contribution to "improvement of Liberal Education and understanding the Liberal Arts."

About inquirED

inquirED was founded by teachers with the mission of bringing inquiry-based social studies to every classroom. Inquiry Journeys, inquirED’s elementary social studies curriculum, is used in schools and districts across the country to help students develop deep social studies content knowledge and build the inquiry skills that are essential for a thriving democracy.

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