Searching online can turn into a daunting task for students. If you’ve ever looked for an answer to a question or tried to find more information on a topic, you know that online search engines are both helpful and frustrating at times. For students to effectively navigate online spaces, they need practice and support to master online searches.
As educators, we search on Google, YouTube, and Pinterest to bring the very best resources to students. (There’s an entire chapter of my book EdTech Essentials dedicated to the idea of curation and how to find the best resources to share with your class.) But how can you set up students for success when they’re on their own and searching online?
To support your students’ online searches, here are five tips you can tailor to your classroom.
1. Share keyword search strategies
It’s easy to think that a search engine is intuitive when we’ve spent so much time on it ourselves. Without putting much thought into it, we know to keep our queries short, that we don’t have to worry about capitalization, and that a search engine will often place advertisements as the first few responses.
To support students with keyword search strategies, model your own thought process or the decisions you make. For example, you might say, “Instead of typing the entire question ‘When was Rosa Parks born?’ type ‘Rosa Parks birthday.’”
2. Brainstorm search terms
In addition to sharing keyword search strategies, you may want to set up students for success by brainstorming search terms. This is especially helpful if students aren’t sure where to start or feel overwhelmed with a big topic.
If your students are researching supporting evidence for a science experiment hypothesis, for instance, you might encourage them to make a list of possible search terms before opening up their web browser.
3. Post common search queries
Sharing a list of common search queries can give students a head start on their online search. If your students are searching for something similar to what their peers are looking for, you might make a class list of common search queries that you post in your learning management system (like Google Classroom or Microsoft Teams) or on an interactive whiteboard for easy access.
If your students are researching animals for a science project, for example, you might make a list of common words, like habitat, geography, weight, length. This strategy can also help students avoid spelling errors, which can lead to unhelpful results and frustration.
4. Model troubleshooting
If you’ve ever had a technology failure in your classroom, like your wireless connection dropping or a projector cable not working, you know there are a few options on how to respond. One that can help students see you as a lifelong learner is to model how you troubleshoot by thinking aloud. This transparency can show students how to tackle a problem that may arise in any part of their online interactions, including navigating a search engine.
You can model troubleshooting by setting yourself up to encounter a problem. For example, you might type in a search query that you know is misspelled and talk to students about how you can double-check your spelling. Or you might model for students how an advanced search (something available on many search engines, including YouTube) can help you when the “right” responses haven’t come up in your search.
5. Try voice-to-text options
The final tip on the list encourages you to introduce a popular way of searching that students may already have experience with: using their voice. If students use a device like Alexa in their home, they’re probably familiar with the concept of asking a device a question out loud in order to get a response. Voice-to-text is a feature built into many online tools and is an accessibility feature you can enable on digital keyboards, too.
Voice-to-text search options are available on many websites and mobile apps. Students might see a pop-up that will require them to grant the tool permission to use their device’s microphone. If your students like using a voice-to-text option, you may want to share a few reminders, including the importance of getting close to the microphone if they’re in a noisy classroom.
Helping students with online searches might seem challenging at first, especially if this is a skill they’ve had only a little practice trying out. This school year, sharing keyword search strategies, brainstorming search terms, posting common search queries, modeling troubleshooting, and even exploring voice-to-text options can help students strengthen their navigation skills.