How many of us have created a lesson plan that centers around our students' Internet search capabilities? Our students are so tech savvy, we tell ourselves, we can send them off to search the Internet for information that will enhance their skills in finding and analyzing information, create a more dynamic lesson plan and engage them in the process of asynchronous learning.
What we often forget is that the search itself is a skill.
A friend recently pointed out that, before assigning projects to our students that require a search, educators should step back a bit and help the students develop the skills that will help them organize their searches and think through the search process in a critical and systematic way. Internet searching much be built on a shared vocabulary that enables students to make optimum use of this vital tool.
These days, when I give my students an assignment that involves a search, I teach them the following "tricks of the trade."
Quotation Marks: Putting quotation marks around a search phrase allows you to search for an exact word or set of words -- a name, a quote, song lyrics, etc. If your search involves broader parameters ("how to make raisins" or "timeline of hieroglyphic writings," leave the quotation marks off.
Dashes: Dashes exclude information. If the search is for something specific but an unrelated subject continues to intrude, putting that unwanted subject in the search box with a dash in front of it will exclude any results that include that word/phrase from the search. (When searching for "Kennedy Presidency" you can exclude the Bay of Pigs incident with a dash before "Bay of Pigs").
Site: adding a URL address in the "site" field will search for a specific word or phrase only on that specific site.
Country Codes: You can use an Internet country code to look up a news story. Students who want to look up a story that comes from Israel can add "IL" to their search and find stories reported in Israeli media.
.Gov or .org: if you want to look for authoritative sites, type in ".gov" for government sites or "org" for organizational sites.
Advanced Search: If your students aren't going to remember all of the shortcuts for the simple google search box, direct them to the Advanced Google Search where they'll see all of these options spelled out in a more organized way.
There's nothing wrong with assigning your students to search for their information -- it's a great way to encourage students to develop their research skills and take responsibility for their own learning. By helping them along you'll create more efficient learners who can then put these skills to use in other situations -- an important goal of any educational activity.