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Online Research and Keyword Search Techniques

Online Research and Keyword Search Techniques Activity: Research Basics: Where in the World (Wide Web) Is…?

Instructions for Your Students

Looking for info today is way different from the way it was in your dear old granny's day. She probably went to the library and flipped through paper card catalogs looking for books that might be useful. Talk about slow. 

(Actually, let's talk about fast.)

You know what's fast? Researching on the Internet. You can have thousands of search results in a matter of seconds! Of course, then you have to sort through them all, which, once again, sounds... slow. But it doesn't have to be. 

Today you're going to learn few new search techniques that will help make searching online easy, quick, fun, and useful.

Step 1: Chat with your teacher and classmates about the following questions:

  1. How many of you use the Internet to find information?
  2. What kind of information do you look for? What was the last thing you remember searching for online?
  3. What websites do you use when you're doing an online search? 
  4. What do you think of when you hear the word "research"?

Step 2: As a class, brainstorm what kinds of questions you might research on the Internet. 

Remember: Research doesn’t just mean school or academics. Whenever you check on a movie time, for example, you're doing research. Yelping a new restaurant? Research! 

Step 3: Divide into small groups and get a copy of the "Google Search Madness" handout from your teacher. Working together, see how quickly you can find the answers to all of the questions on the handout. 

Step 4: Time's up! Share your answers with your classmates and then follow up by discussing these questions:

  1. Was it easy or hard to find the information that you were looking for?
  2. What kinds of words or phrases did you put into the Google search box? Did you notice any kinds of search terms that worked best? (Full sentences? Single words?)
  3. What kinds of sites did you get information from?
  4. Why did you select the sites that you did? (Force of habit? Someone in the group knew them? Got tired and got overwhelmed? Just picked the first result?)
  5. Did you ever get stuck? What did you do when you got stuck?

Step 5: At this point, you probably have the hang of searching for answers to small questions that have one specific answer. But that's not all search engines are good for. You can also search online for answers to bigger questions, like: 

  • What caused the most recent ice age?
  • Is there any evidence that life once existed on Mars?
  • What are some ways to reuse or recycle household junk?
  • How are 3D movies filmed and created?

Take a few minutes to brainstorm some larger research questions with your class. Your teacher will write down any questions you come up with on the class board. 

When you have a decent list, choose your favorite questions as a class and then divide into groups, having each group search for information related to a different question. 

Step 6: It's almost time to start searching, but first, type in the keywords or phrases you want to start with, press enter (or "search"), and then stop and walk through the following questions with your classmates:

  1. How many results did your search produce?
  2. Does anyone have any "sponsored links"? What do you think those are? (Ads! Companies handed over some moolah to make sure these links would show up at the top of your search page. It's best to skip right past these in most instances and go to the first un-sponsored search result.)
  3. All right. The search is on. You can start scanning through your results now. Go ahead and bookmark any websites that you think are going to provide you with good information on your topic. You'll have about 10 minutes to see what you can find.

Step 7: Take a break from your research for a minute or two and take a look at the search options above the search box. Do you see the headings "Web," "Images," "Videos," "News," "Shopping," and "More"? Mm hm. Google allows you to filter your results by specific categories. Just click one of these links (like "images") and you'll get search results in that category. Cool, huh?

Take another 10 minutes or so to continue your research, this time looking for images, videos, and other items related to your research question. Continue to bookmark anything that seems useful.

Step 8: All right. Stop conducting new searches and review a few of the sites you bookmarked before. Dig through the sites you thought looked good and see what kind of information you can find to help answer your question. 

As you go, take notes on what you're learning about your research question. Your whole group can do this together by creating a single Google doc that is shared with all of your group members. Then you can all type your notes into one document.  

Step 9: Time to stop your research and present your findings to the class. Choose one person from your group to summarize the information you all came up with by reading the key points from your Google doc aloud. 

Step 10: Once each group has had a chance to present its findings, take a few minutes to discuss the following questions as a class:

  1. How did trying to research a big question compare to researching a small question?
  2. Did you have to look through more sites to find helpful information?
  3. Was it harder to know what to type into the Google search box? What kinds of words or phrases worked best for you?
  4. How did you decide which search results to click on and which ones to skip?
  5. How did you decide which sites to bookmark?
  6. When you started reading in depth the websites that you bookmarked, were they useful sites or not so good? If they weren't good, what about the sites tricked you the first time around, so that you were convinced to bookmark them?
  7. Did you ever get stuck? If so, what did you do to get unstuck?
  8. Was it helpful to search only by images or only by videos?

Step 11: Share your group's Google doc with your teacher so s/he can scan see what everyone came up with.