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How do we teach information literacy to our pupils?

Librarian Emma Minter explains how Bryanston teaches research and referencing skills in order to help pupils think critically and develop informed views…

Curiosity and discovery are vital for innovation, research and development, and invention. The School’s Guiding Principles value a commitment to “Thinking differently and intelligently breaking convention.”

Our pupils are encouraged to become independent learners to enable them to make informed decisions and to become confident in their future higher education and career choices. An important element of my role as School Librarian is to work with teachers to embed information literacy in the curriculum. A definition helps to clarify the purpose of information literacy: ‘Information literacy is the ability to think critically and make balanced judgements about any information we find and use. It empowers us as citizens to develop informed views and to engage fully with society’ (CILIP, 2018). 

Teaching pupils the skills to become information literate, to consider and question how, where and when information has been produced, by whom and for what purpose, requires tenacity, perseverance, an investigative approach and the opportunity to put these skills into practice.  

Our pupils are taught research and referencing skills through a number of routes depending on their year group and course options. This academic year has seen the introduction of a ‘D Enquiry Project’ by our D (Year 9) Coordinator, Ms Boothman, and our Head of Teaching and Learning, Mr Ings. The project is accessible to the whole year group via an Extra-Curricular Activity (ECA) on rotation each term to ensure that all D pupils have the opportunity to produce a project on a subject or interest of their own. So far this has ranged from writing a screenplay of a favourite book, to researching independent musicians, designing a skate park and researching World War Two artefacts. A presentation and guide on how to research and evaluate information, acknowledge sources and the importance of academic honesty are all included as an introduction to information literacy at this early stage in their academic careers. Developing from this introduction to project work, pupils may consider taking the Higher Project Qualification (HPQ) when they embark on their C year (Year 10).

Teacher of History Ms Smith taught the HPQ as an ECA to some of our C pupils last year, starting with a small group, and this year we’ve seen more interest in this option. This HPQ group meets regularly each week in the Library and we work collaboratively to deliver sessions on brainstorming a research question, how to scan and skim for factual information, research skills, citing and referencing. We also provide guidance on writing an essay as this can be their first encounter with structuring a lengthy written piece of work and presenting their project to an audience. This is a rewarding and engaging process for all involved as pupils have expressed their enthusiasm and realised how much they can achieve and learn through this experience.

Since 2014 I have delivered research skills, academic honesty and citing and referencing workshops to IB Extended Essay pupils in A3 and A2 (lower and upper sixth). This is in collaboration with the IB and Extended Essay Coordinators, (formerly Ms Duncker and Dr Hogarth) and this academic year with Ms Strange and Mrs de Steiger Khandwala. IB requirements for the Extended Essay have very clear criteria that have to be met and pupils have access to a wealth of excellent resources to ensure that they are equipped to answer their research questions in depth. Our subject libraries contain a large selection of relevant books for wider reading that our Heads of Department and I have selected. If we need to obtain specific texts to support a piece of research, then we add them to the Library Catalogue. We are now supporting IB Career-related Programme and the Reflective Project which involves identifying, researching and writing about an ethical dilemma.  

When AS levels were phased out, a number of enrichment programmes were introduced for our A3 pupils. The Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) is offered as an option by Mr Leigh and Ms Smith. The class is given the opportunity to access research skills and guidance on academic honesty. Pupils may choose a topic of interest, develop a question and research to culminate in an essay of 5,000 words, a production log and an oral presentation. 

In all of these examples of project-based qualifications, the aim is to provide a learner-centred approach. Many subjects incorporate this approach and encourage the pupil to take responsibility for their learning. “Students are expected to go beyond simple fact-finding to meaningful interpretation and deep understanding. Guided Inquiry.” (Kuhlthau, 2010, p. 24)

I provide guidance on searching the internet, how to seek out relevant information and how to check the reliability of sources. I am grateful to the Middlesex University Librarians as I have used their free activities, ‘Types of Sources’ and ‘Evaluation of Sources,’ with our pupils and they provide a game approach to learning about information literacy. (Middlesex University London, 2019)

‘Kahoot’ and other similar free quiz sites are useful when teaching pupils about information literacy and plagiarism in an enjoyable way. I demonstrate how to search the excellent subscription resources that we have access to e.g. The Day for current affairs, FT free for secondary schools, JSTOR journals archive, MASSOLIT video lectures, Gale: Global Issues/Science in Context, Drama Online etc. I take time to explain the publishing and editorial processes that these products have undergone, and the academic convention of peer reviewed publications that adds credibility and authoritativeness to secondary sources of information.

The key to teaching information literacy is to work collaboratively with colleagues across the school and to have a positive attitude towards trying project-based qualifications when the opportunity arises. The appeal to pupils is evident as they enjoy selecting a topic of their own choice and researching and writing an in-depth essay which can be a challenging prospect. Knowing what to include, how to present an argument and developing their own voice are all skills that they will continue to use whatever route they take into further education and employment.

You can follow our School Librarian Emma Minter on Twitter @BryLibrary.


Bryanston School, 2020. Our Guiding Principles. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 24 February 2020].

CILIP, 2018. News & Press: Academic Research. What is information literacy?. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 23 February 2020].

Kuhlthau, C. C., 2010. Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century. School Libraries Worldwide, January, 16(1), pp. 17-28.

Middlesex University London, 2019. Games and activities used in our teaching: Home. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 24 February 2020]. ​​​​​