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Online Research and Keyword Search Techniques

Online Research and Keyword Search Techniques Activity: Key(word)s to Your Heart: Google Search Tips

Instructions for Your Students

It’s hard out there for a researcher. Which is exactly what you and everyone else becomes when you sit down to find something on the Internet. At first, research on the Internet may not be easy, but after you learn a few pro tips, you'll have the key(word)s to unlock everything you want to know without wasting time.

Step 1: Let's see if you remember what you learned about online searches in the last lesson. Test your skills by finding the answers to the following questions:

  1. Who won the 1983 Super Bowl? Who did they beat? What was the score? 
  2. List at least 3 different types of headaches.
  3. What are the 5 languages of love?
  4. Who won for Best Actor and Best Actress at the Oscars in 2011? 
  5. What's the first line of the Beatles song "I am the Walrus"?

Step 2: How did it go? At any point did you feel overwhelmed by your search results? What about the research you did during the last class? It can definitely be a bit crazy-making when every search returns thousands of results. 

Can you think of anything you could do to get fewer results when you search for something online? Talk it over with your class and see if anyone has any ideas.

Step 3: Game time! We're going to need volunteers for two roles: researchers and search engines. More than one student can play the researcher role at a time (you can be a research group), but only one person at a time can be the search engine. Here's how it works.

Each search engine starts out blindfolded. Each researcher (or research group) selects an object in the room—without letting the search engine know what the object is.

Researchers give the search engines one keyword or key phrase at a time to describe the object (without using the object’s actual name), until the search engine guesses the object. If you're a researcher, try to limit the number of words per key phrase to 4, max—as in "lives in tropical climate" for "howler monkey." (Not that we expect you to have a howler monkey in your classroom, but you get the idea.) 

Record how many keywords/phrases (i.e., tries) it takes each time for the search engine to guess the object.

Step 4: After 4–5 rounds, end the game and riddle us this: Was there anything that any of the researchers did that made the search engines guess their objects faster or in fewer tries? Talk it over with your classmates.

Step 5: When you're done chatting (after a few minutes), watch the "Searching the Web" video, which will provide some useful tips on keywords and phrases.

Step 6: After the video, your teacher will hand out copies of the "Google Search Pro Tips" worksheet, which gives specific tips on improving the keywords and phrases you enter into the Google search engine. As a class, read through the four tips. You'll see that there's room for a few more. Do you have any you'd like to add?

Step 7: Now flip to the second page of the handout, which lists search scenarios and requires you to come up with good search terms. We're going to have a little competition for this part to see who comes up with the best search results (the keywords/phrases that offer the fewest total results on Google).

Ready? Go ahead and read the scenarios, and then come up with a few search terms you think are good, based on the tips you've learned. Be sure to enter your search terms into Google and record the total number of results you get for each keyword/phrase (probably somewhere in the thousands, if not millions) and the number of websites that look relevant on the first page of your Google results.

After 10 or 12 minutes, your teacher will call time, and have you share your best search term and results for each of the four scenarios. If you have the lowest number of search results, you win!

Good luck.

Step 8: Let's take a minute to see how everyone approached this competition and what techniques brought the best search results. Talk it over with your class using the following questions:

  1. How did you find your best search results?
  2. Which search techniques were most useful? Which is your new favorite technique?
  3. Was it hard to come up with good options for search terms?
  4. What kinds of questions do you think are the hardest to answer using a search engine?

Step 9 (Optional): At this point, you may be pretty curious about how search engines work. If so, check out "How Search Works," a video created by Google. This video isn't only interesting, but also provides some useful info on how Google uses keywords to provide a list of results.