We’ve all been there. After typing in a search query, the results just don’t match our expectations. We try a new combination of words, changing our search from a question, cutting it down to just an essential few words, hoping the results will give us information to a burning question. Students also experience the same frustrations, whether they’re conducting research in a science classroom or looking for the perfect picture for the book trailer they are making in English language arts.
But search engines like Google are powerful and often essential resources, and students of all ages can build skills that help them navigate these spaces. A good place to start is by modeling good search behavior.
When visiting a classroom last year to lead a lesson on multimedia creations for a group of elementary school students, we tackled this issue together. As we created videos about our favorite things, one of the students wanted to share how much she loved the Disney movie “Frozen.” The first word they typed into a search engine didn’t give them a perfect result—the keyword “frozen” didn’t give them pictures of Elsa. So instead we brainstormed together, thought about synonyms for their search terms and worked through the challenges of searching in robust online spaces.
A quick search for “snowflake” helped her find a wintery icon to use alongside a recording of her voice talking about her favorite movie. Although she might not have been too worried about copyright violations or a cease and desist letter from Disney, it was an easy segue into talking about permissions and thinking deeply about different ways to represent our ideas with visuals.
These are big topics to talk about at all levels, and ones I spend a lot of time thinking about too. Conversations with Lila Shroff on media literacy and Kristen Mattson on digital citizenship have expanded my view of the roles these concepts play in classrooms, regardless of subject area or grade level.
Teachers can model this process by thinking aloud after conducting a search. They can walk students through their thought processes for picking and choosing between a list of websites in a set of search results. Students can see how teachers make snap judgments to rule out certain search results and how they dig deeper into other search results to evaluate their authority.