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Technology in the Classroom: Developing Search Skills

Janelle Cox

Long gone are the days when your students needed an encyclopedia to help them with their research project. Today, students have the opportunity to use technology in the classroom, specifically the Internet, to help them in their endeavor. While this is an easy and convenient way to search, it does present a few obstacles. Way back when, when your only option to find information was from the library, you knew that your resources were legitimate. Unfortunately, today when you use technology in the classroom via the Internet to search for information, you have the challenge of figuring out what is creditable information and what is not. How can we teach our students to improve their searchers and find reliable information? Helping students develop their Internet search skills when they are young is a great tool to have in their back pocket and is something that they can carry with them for years to come. Here are a few technology in the classroom resource skills your students need, and how you can teach them.

Technology in the Classroom: Draw On Student Experiences

Whether your students are new to searching the Internet, or have some prior experience, the best way to get the conversation going is to ask a few questions. Invite students to share their thoughts. Here are a few prompts to help you get the discussion started.

  • How often do you use search engines?
  • Which ones do you use the most and why?
  • How many times have you searched for information and found something you weren’t expecting?
  • Do you search the Internet for personal reasons or mainly for school?
  • Do you have any search strategies?

Teach Students to Check their Sources

Being able to know how to check your sources is an invaluable skill that students need to have. The future of education lies in the knowledge of technology. If you want your students to have a leg up in the tech world, then this is a skill to have.

While the majority of (older) students know that they should not believe everything that they read on the Internet, there still are a lot of children that do not evaluate their sources. Teach children to ask themselves a few questions every time they come to a webpage. Is the information current? Does it come from a trusted expert? Does the site ask for too much personal information? Does it have correct grammar?

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Challenge students to search the Internet and use these questions as benchmarks to see if a website they found is a reliable site. Have students find a few sites that are unreliable as well, then compare the two. This exercise will help them understand what a reliable source looks like and what an unreliable sources look like.

Another trick that you can teach your students is to enter “.org” or “.edu” into the search engine before they enter their search term. This will only show the creditable sites so they won’t have to weed out the unreliable resources. 

Teach Students How to Ask the Right Questions

In addition to knowing how to check their sources, students also need to know how to refine their search queries so they will get better search results. Oftentimes when searching, children will enter in a broad search term and then comb through several pages of unrelated content in search of what they are looking for. Challenge students to be specific in terms of what they are looking for. Instead of searching the Internet with a broad term like “Planets,” ask students to enter in a specific term like “Planets in order of size.” Discuss how specificity can help narrow their search so they can find their information they are looking for even quicker. For a quick exercise, challenge students to search with a broad term as well as a specific term then compare the two. Did they find the results were quicker when they were more specific?

Teach Students to be Patient

Using technology such as the Internet means you will get information fast. Have you ever asked someone a question and their response was “Google it”? Today’s children are used to asking a question and getting an immediate response. So when children come to a roadblock when looking for information, many of them tend to throw in the towel a little too early. To help these students learn a little bit of patience when searching, challenge them to search for a term where they will need a variety of resources to find the information. For example, “Who is a better singer, Justin Bieber or Nick Jonas?” “Which world war had more casualties?” Ask students to find a variety of sources to find their answers.

Sharing Versus Plagiarizing

Another important skill students need to develop is utilizing social network sites to gather and share information. A lot of children do not understand the difference between sharing information and plagiarizing it. They just think they can share anything without any consequences. Talk to your students about when it’s a good time to use social media to find information. A great topic to start with is “September 11 2001.” This is a period in history where many people have a lot of knowledge on, or knows somebody that was effected by the disaster.  Ask students, “How do you think people from your social media accounts can contribute to your research? “How might you share this information?”

What about Wikipedia?

Many students think that Wikipedia is just as good as an encyclopedia. Unfortunately, if students want to use this site, then they will have to do a little more digging. Explain to students that they need to research the information given on the site even further to see if the information is legit. They can do this by asking themselves the questions listed above and analyzing all of the sources in the article. It’s important that students know that they should always check the original source for reliability.

Developing Internet search skills is an important 21st-century skill. Students must hone their search skills by learning how to identifying their information and cross-checking it with other reliable sources. Students should always keep in mind that anyone can write an article online and it’s up to them to figure out if they are credible source or not.

Do you think it’s beneficial to educate students on Internet search skills? What do you think are the essential skills students need to develop in order to keep up with 21st century skills? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below, we would love to hear them.

Janelle Cox is an education writer who uses her experience and knowledge to provide creative and original writing in the field of education. Janelle holds a Master's of Science in Education from the State University of New York College at Buffalo. She is also the Elementary Education Expert for About.com, as well as a contributing writer to TeachHUB.com and TeachHUB Magazine. You can follow her at Twitter @Empoweringk6ed, or on Facebook at Empowering K6 Educators.