Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Have Students Make Lists Before Starting Web Search

This is an excerpt from a book that I have been working on for the last fifteen months. I'm getting close to finishing it. 

Our students have become accustomed to entering a search into Google as soon as they are confronted by a question to which they don’t have an answer on the tips of their tongues. However, if they’re forced to take a few minutes before they search, they often find that they already know the answer. This is why a pre-search checklist should include listing what you already know about a topic. This list can be generated from memory or from notebooks (physical and digital). Not only does this process refresh students' memories, it also saves time in the long-run because they aren't spending time searching for information that they already have.

The additional benefit of having students list what they already know about a topic before searching is that it can help them more quickly determine if a resource they find during their research does or does not have value to them. For example, let’s say we have a student who is researching the differing motivations for independence of colonists in the north and south. If that student has already created a list of ten basic causes of the American Revolution and then lands on a webpage that is essentially a primer on the American Revolution, that student doesn’t need to spend more than a minute on the page to determine that nothing new is going to be revealed to him through the page he has just landed on.

Creating a list of the terms that another person might use to describe the same research topic is the final task to complete on the pre-search checklist. Creating this list can break students out of their own little circles of thought. A thesaurus is a handy aid in making this list. Brainstorming and playing a word association game with a classmate or two will also help students develop alternative search terms and phrases.

Once students have begun the search process and have bookmarked a few resources, ask them to stop and identify the terms in those resources that are new to them. If they cannot find anything that is new to them, it might be time to move to more challenging resources. If they do find new terms, ask your students to add those terms to their lists of terms to use in subsequent searches.

Implementation Tips:
It can be a lot of fun to have elementary school students brainstorm lists of words to describe an object, person, place, experience, or problem. So rather than having them turn to a thesaurus for alternative words, turn this part of the search process into a group brainstorming activity. You might be surprised at what they come up with.

Search Engine Optimization specialists often consult keyword banks to discover the words that people are using to find products and services online. One such resource is Have your middle school or high school students enter their search terms in and they’ll find long lists of related keywords that are used in similar searches.