As librarians, one of our key missions is to equip students with the skills necessary to locate and synthesize the information. We want to teach our students to access high-quality resources and use databases to conduct research.
I find many of my students lack the ability to conduct simple searches on Google to find the answers they are seeking. I’ve watched my middle schoolers repeatedly type in the question (verbatim, including the question mark), expecting to find everything they could possibly need to know to answer their question in the top three or four results. More than anything, I want to teach my students research skills they will actually apply and use regularly. Thankfully, Google Search Education has a wealth of resources to help students develop the skills to conduct more effective searches.
Google Search Education has as collection of Search Literacy Lesson Plans on topics including picking the right search terms, narrowing a search to get the best results, and evaluating the credibility of sources. Each topic has available lesson plans for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Detailed lesson plans, presentation slides, and other links and resources are included for each of these lessons. All of these lessons are licensed under Creative Commons allowing for sharing and adaptation with proper attribution.
An exercise that I have adapted from this collection, and taught a number of times over the last several years, is the beginner-level lesson on picking the right search terms.
- Start by imagining that you are making a quiz on the “Percy Jackson” series by Rick Riordan (Disney/Hyperion). One of the questions for your quiz is, “What food does Tyson like best?” Show students the results for that search, which has lots of hits about Tyson chicken but nothing about Percy Jackson.
- Explain to students that in order to become better searchers, it’s helpful to understand how a search works. The video “How Search Works” by Matt Cutts gives a great overview.
- After watching this short video, discuss how conducting a search is different from talking to a person. Instead of using a complete question, we need to identify key terms for our search. Work through the original question, getting rid of unnecessary words and adding essential terms. Show students the difference in results when using the search terms: Tyson favorite food Percy Jackson.
- Have students work in small groups to work through developing search terms for several other search questions.
- Challenge students to take what they learned in this lesson and share it with their parents. Re-teaching a concept is a great way to make learning stick, and it’s a bonus to encourage students to share newly acquired knowledge with their parents.
The Google a Day Challenges are another great resource available through Google Search Education. These questions require students to conduct a series of searches or use a variety of Google tools to arrive at the answer. These questions would be great to use as warm up activities at the start of class or as an early finisher assignment.
I opted to print these questions on cards and have students work in small groups to search for the answers. Groups worked together to answer as many of the Google a Day Challenge questions as possible in a 20 minute period.
This activity was a big hit, and students wanted to complete more of the challenge questions on their own time, just for fun. One problem we ran into is that a number of educators have blogged about these challenges and included the questions and answers in their postings. Which means if students typed in the question, they would actually be linked directly to the answers. After discovering this, I made a few questions of my own. You could easily use these ideas to create a number of questions requiring students to conduct several searches and use different tools, like Google Translate or Google’s Currency Converter, to arrive at their answer.
• Quelle est la population de la plus grande ville de France?
Create a question such as this one that requires students to use Google Translate. Translation will show this question is asking, “What is the population of the largest city in France?” Then, students will have to search to find the name of the city and its population.
• After a trip around the world, you return home with 52 British Pound Sterling, 5300 Serbian Dinar, and 120 Euro. How much would this convert to in U.S. Dollars?
Make a question that requires students to use Google Currency Converter to convert all currency to U.S. Dollars, then add for the total.
• A famous athlete said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.” What team did they play for in 1990?
Come up with a question that requires students to to find the name of a famous person from a quote or accomplishment, then search for another piece of information about that person.
• In the city that is at the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers is one of the world’s largest churches. What type of church is it?
Use reverse design to come up with questions. I recently traveled to Belgrade, Serbia and visited the Temple of Saint Sava, one of the ten largest church buildings in the world. Use what you know or have experienced to create interesting and complex questions.
In addition to lessons plans and Google a Day Challenges, Google Search Education also has a power searching portal and training opportunities (live and archived) for educators. It is essential that we meet our students where they are and help them develop the necessary skills to access information; Google Search Education is one such tool to achieve this goal.
Tiffany Whitehead, the Mighty Little Librarian, is the school librarian at Central Middle in Baton Rouge, LA. She is the past president of ISTE’s Librarians Network and was recognized as one of ISTE’s 2014 Emerging Leaders. Tiffany is National Board Certified in Library Media and was a 2014 Library Journal Mover & Shaker. She presents regularly at state and national conferences, sharing her passion for learning, libraries, and technology.