Wednesday, April 04, 2007

On Beyond Google:
Searching in Web Sources

Part 4 in an ongoing series of tips and tricks to help you and your students improve your search techniques.

It's been a while since many of us did any fact-finding research from a non-fiction book, but I'm sure we all remember the process: find a likely book or three, pull 'em from the library shelves, and turn immediately to the back of the book to see if the subtopic or answer you need is listed in the index. If it is, finding your fact is as painless as flipping to the listed page; if not, you've used very little time, and can move on to the next text quickly.

Long texts are often the best texts, especially when you're looking for spot details that are most likely to be presented in the context of a larger overview or discussion. But as the world of information at our fingertips grows exponentially, students learn to skip over any web page that looks too wordy or long, confident that the same information can be found in a more accessible form on another page.

Problem is, many types of facts aren't available in shorter forms. And even when information IS available elsewhere, this behavior often results in students spending more time on Google than on the content you want them to cover in a webquest or other lab activity.

Today, a quick, five-minutes-or-less lesson on how to search within a single web page...that will save you and your students more time than that, the first time you use it!

-----CUT HERE to use the text below as a handout for students!-----

Looking for a single fact in a sea of information? Don't let be so fast to dismiss long, wordy webpages! Instead, try the find in page strategy to jump right to the information you need quickly and painlessly.

To search within a long web page,
  1. Go to the Edit menu at the top of your screen
  2. Select Find in This Page. A small search box will pop up.
  3. In the box, type the ONE word you think would be both...
    • Unique to the paragraph you’re looking for, and
    • Most often used by this kind of source to describe/talk about the information you need

  4. Hit Enter...and your cursor will jump to the FIRST incidence of that word or phrase in the web page! (Hitting enter again will move on to the next incidence of that word, and so on.)

For example: to find info about how giraffes MOVE without having to skim through thirty dense pages, search within that long webpage or online encyclopedia entry about giraffes for the words MOVE or MOVEMENT.

-----CUT HERE to use the text above as a handout for students!-----

A few tips on introducing and using this strategy in the classroom:

1. As with Googling, word selection is crucial to success. Helping students think about which key word or key phrase to search FOR is part of what makes this strategy effective. Using likely keywords in your own worksheet questions or research guide, or even offering synonym lists for certain terms, will help -- both here, and in their initial Google searches.

2. As with books, of course, context matters; just because a word is there doesn't always mean the page will contain the information you need. Reminding students that they are looking for meaning, not words, seems to be a crucial part of this mini-lesson. It is a matter of moments to make sure your lesson includes a reminder to students that it is their reponsibility to read the entire paragraph they've found, to make sure the information they were looking for is there, before dismissing the page as worthless.

Does this strategy work? You betcha! Observation of a seventh graders science class recently taught this skill reveals that students who learn how to use this simple, effective strategy can accomplish as much as 50% more research in the same class period...and are much less likely to waste time on pages that are not informative. It takes less than five minutes to teach this skill, and that time which is returned to the research process fourfold in the first use! As an added bonus, instead of feeling overwhelmed by text, students report feeling more confident about the research process, and empowered by their growing ability to master text. Everybody wins!

Interested in in-class support as you do research with your students? Want an individual training session on integrating Google and other strategies into your class research? Want to bring your students to the lab for an activity? Email or just stop by the computer lab to set up an appointment!

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