We have all been there. After entering the search query, the results did not match our expectations. We tried new word combinations and changed the search from a question to a few basic words, hoping that the results could provide us with information about an urgent problem. Students will experience the same frustration, whether they are doing research in a science class or looking for the perfect picture for the trailer for the English language art book they are making.

But search engines like Google are powerful and often essential resources, and students of all ages can develop skills to help them navigate these spaces. A good starting point is to model good search behavior.

When we visited the classroom last year and offered a multimedia creation class for a group of elementary school students, we solved this problem together. When we made a video about our favorite things, one of the students wanted to share how much she liked the Disney movie “Frozen”. The first word they entered in the search engine did not give them a perfect result-the keyword “frozen” did not provide them with a picture of Elsa. Therefore, we brainstormed together, considered synonyms for their search terms, and solved the challenge of searching in a powerful online space.

A quick search for “snowflake” helped her find a winter icon to use with her to talk about the sound of her favorite movie. Although she may not be too worried about copyright infringement or Disney’s stop and termination letter, it’s easy to start talking about licensing and thinking deeply about different ways of visually presenting our ideas.

These are important topics to be discussed at all levels, and they are also topics that I have spent a lot of time thinking about.dialogue Lila Shroff on media literacy with Christine Mattson on digital citizenship Expanded my views on the role these concepts play in the classroom, regardless of subject area or grade level.


Teachers can simulate this process by thinking aloud after conducting a search. They can guide students through the thought process of picking and choosing between a list of websites in a set of search results. Students can see how teachers can quickly judge to exclude certain search results, and how they can dig deeper into other search results to assess their authority.

For example, you might say: I noticed that this source may be unreliable because…Or I think this is a trustworthy source because… The dialogue with the second-grade students feels different from the dialogue with the 10th-grade students, but they are all based on the same goals. Supporting students to navigate in the digital space is an essential practice. When you pull current affairs articles on the screen from a trusted source, you might think aloud and point out a few reasons why you came back to this resource.

Model behavior

The “All About Me” project is usually a good search activity for professors, because students are happy to share their favorite things with classmates. You usually quickly think of your favorite food, movie, or place to go, but deciding what visual effects to use to indicate that simple things like guacamole, Jurassic Park, or National Park can create obstacles.

When sharing this activity with this group of students — or modeling the process of the teacher and me attending a webinar — I will discuss the process and “think out loud”, just like when I might share observations or reading I want to know the same as reading aloud to students. They watched me say aloud in my quick demo: “I don’t want to type guacamole, but try to search for avocado” or “I don’t like the picture selection that appears when searching. For national parks-I want to type mountain or travel on foot.”


After modeling for students, let them develop their own hot issues. This might include a set of questions related to their own curiosity, or a set of trivia questions that you share with the group. Students can work in pairs to write down key words or phrases that may lead them to answer questions. Encourage students to list more keywords and phrases they may need to revisit to find answers.

(Technical tip: You may want to introduce graphic organizers or encourage students to work in collaborative documents to organize their keyword search ideas.)

collect information

After students brainstorm their keywords and visit online resources, show them how you will gather information while reading. It is important to simulate how you browse or read pages on the Internet to collect information and record what you find. You can revisit your previous thinking and modeling, and show students how you can view a list of dozens of search results. Let students see your thought process when you check the website name or react instinctively based on text snippets or previews.

After students spend time collecting information, have them get together again to share their thoughts and discuss any obstacles they encountered while searching for information. In my “Everything About Me” example, one of the obstacles students faced was how specific their search terms became. We discussed that sometimes you need to narrow your search, and sometimes you need to expand your search.

You can put this activity in a research question of a specific content, or give students the flexibility to research their passionate topics. For this activity, dialogue and thinking around search are more important than finding the “correct answer” to the question. Encourage students to reflect throughout the process, ask some questions that don’t seem to be correct, and use various keywords when searching for answers to questions.

Ed. Note: This article contains strategies that you can find in the quick reference guide of Pam Allyn and Monica Burns”Involve students in reading all types of texts.

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