Monday, October 28, 2019

How Vocabulary Lists Help Students Conduct Better Searches

Can you identify this mushroom
found in the forest near my house
in Maine?
In chapter five of The Joy of Search Daniel Russell explains the process he used to determine whether or not a plant that he found was poisonous. When I read that chapter a couple of weeks ago I was struck with the reminder that more domain-specific knowledge one has, the deeper the search he or she can conduct. In other words, the greater your vocabulary about a topic, the more ways you have to search for more information about that topic.


One of the things that I often make my students do when they're conducting online research about a topic is to make a list of all of the terms and words they know that are associated with that topic. Google's old Wonder Wheel product was a helpful aid in that process as was the now defunct Wiki Mind Map. In any case, making lists of vocabulary terms can help students recall bits of information that then helps them in formulating and refining search queries.

I made this pre-search checklist a few years ago as a tool to help students think about what they know about a topic before they begin searching online. One of my ninth grade students computer science students used the third part of that checklist, "what are the words or phrases other people would use to describe your topic?" this morning when he was trying to come up with some ideas for a meditation app that he's designing and will eventually build with the MIT App Inventor. His answers and subsequent search took him in slightly new design direction.

So the next time your students seem to be floundering in their online search endeavors, consider having them stop and make a list of vocabulary they know about their central topic.

To learn more about search strategies your students can use, take a look at my on-demand webinar Search Strategies Students Need to Know. And for truly advanced methods, read Daniel Russell's The Joy of Search