Do your students suck at researching topics? Do they just copy and paste from Wikipedia? Can they find accurate information on their own or do they all just end up at Wikipedia and cite Google Search as a source? Can they use text features or find an actual book?
Research Skills Have Changed
Once upon a time the librarian at your school would teach everyone how to use the card catalog, the index and the location of the set of encyclopedias. Those days are gone, but don’t forget-if you are lucky enough to still have a librarian at your school-they can be a wonderful resource for research materials.
We don’t have a librarian in our school anymore and we’ve noticed the difficulty students have with doing research. It’s challenging to find material at their reading level and they really have no idea where to start to look for materials.
Our school library is very small and outdated, so our first line of attack in research usually starts online, but we noticed students don’t really know how to search for school related topics. We needed to teach students some basics of Google Search to help speed up their efficiency and accuracy of information.
Small, Manageable Research Tasks Help Students Develop Research Skills
We created small tasks to help students get better at finding exact information. In our classroom we often call these challenged scavenger hunts. We create a question of the day and ask students to try to find the information. This question is a clear, simple, “find one piece of information” type question. Most of the time the answer to this question can be found without entering any web pages because it’s shown in the snippet.
A Google a Day: Students can try out Google’s challenge. There’s a new one all the time! Basically it challenges students to locate information as part of a contest.
Scavenger Hunts: We’ve created some challenges for students to use their search skills as well as mapping, books and atlases. These activities can be used a standalone activity or one for your early finishers. We’ve even used these all year long because a few students were determined to get every single answer! You can read a more detailed post about Research Skills: Scavenger Hunts.
Canadian Geography Scavenger Hunt: This scavenger hunt focuses on geographical locations, lakes, mountains, parks, cities and so much more from all across Canada. Students are asked to locate information that correlates with a specific letter. For example, if the letter is E, it might say, name a capital city. The answer would be Edmonton. Some of the questions only have a specific answer, but many have several. A suggested answer key is included.
Alberta Scavenger Hunt: This scavenger hunt focuses on geographical features of Alberta including locations, lakes, mountains, provincial parks, cities and so much more from all across the province. Students are asked to locate information that correlates with a specific letter. For example, if the letter is C, it might say, name a city. The possible answers might be Calgary, Canmore or Cochrane. Some of the questions only have a specific answer, but many have several. A suggested answer key is included.
British Columbia Scavenger Hunt: This scavenger hunt focuses on geographical features of BC including locations, lakes, mountains, provincial parks, cities and so much more from all across Beautiful BC. Students are asked to locate information that correlates with a specific letter. For example, if the letter is V, it might say, name a city. The possible answers might be Victoria or Vancouver. Some of the questions only have a specific answer, but many have several. A suggested answer key is included so you won’t have to do all the searching yourself.
Quick Fact Sheets: Quick fact worksheets are not meant for deep, thought-provoking research. They are just meant as a quick activity that can be done to help learn about finding specific information quickly.
This is the perfect activity to leave for a supply teacher!
Canada: Quick Fact Research Activity– This activity has students search for specific information about Canada such as city populations, natural resources, cities, and national symbols.
It’s a great way to start learning about Canada without the pressure of learning everything all at once and it can be broken down into small, manageable parts for students who struggle with working for long periods of time. We use this activity specifically to teach students how to select keywords when researching online.
Alberta: A Quick Fact Research Activity– This activity has students search for specific information about Alberta such as city populations, natural resources, cities, and provincial emblems.
This is a great way to start learning about Alberta. In fact, we usually use this activity early in the year when we are just starting to learn about Alberta in our social studies program. We work through a few of the questions together as a class before letting students try to find the rest of the information on their own so we can model how to find keywords.
Collaborative Research Activities Take the Pressure Off
When students know they don’t have to complete a huge project, they are more likely to contribute without feeling the pressure of lots of work. They can learn from their peers while feeling like they are included because they have one little bit of information to find and share.
All students can contribute to collaborative researches. Students with reading difficulties can use programs like Google Read Write to have the text on web sites read to them. Students who read in different languages can read the information in their native language so they understand the concepts. Students who have difficulty completing work will have a much smaller amount to get done so they won’t feel as overwhelmed. Students with a thirst for learning can learn as much as they want at the pace they want.
Collaborative research is great for differentiating!
Collaborative Research-Whole Class: One of our favourite ways to do research is to have the whole class work together to collect the information. This can be done a few different ways.
Give the whole class one question or a set of questions. For example if you are researching the Cree people of Alberta.
One group of students might research where they lived in the past and where they live now. One group might research some of the different Cree words they can find. Another group might research clothing from the past and how these traditions are honoured currently. Yet another group might learn about food for the Cree people in the past and compare it to our modern day choices for food.
So, while each group is doing their own research, they are all researching the same topic. Often, one group will come across information for another group. We encourage students to share where they found the information so the other group can gather it against the information they’ve already found.
We give each of the groups a giant piece of chart paper where they write down the facts they’ve found. They are encouraged to keep all the links they use information from on a shared Google Document. We use these links to teach students how to write bibliographies, but once they know how, they include their own with their research.
When all the charts are completed, we hang them up across the classroom. Students use these facts to do a short writing task where they turn the facts into complete sentences and paragraphs.
This whole activity takes about a day from start to finish with all the teaching, but once we’ve taught it a few times, students can often get this done in just a few hours. And when they are pros, they can even do this with a supply teacher!
Collaborative Research- Jigsaw Method: When we are sure students can actually do some basic research, we usually switch over to a jigsaw method. The premise is that each group researches and presents information about one part of a much larger topic.
The project we usually do with our class, is studying Indigenous people of Canada in the past. We assign each group a different Indigenous group and they work for a few weeks researching everything about that group including: food, clothing, shelters, customs, languages and where they lived in the past. Each group creates a presentation that all the other groups learn from, so it’s important that students find and present accurate information.
If you are looking for this project for your students, you can find it in our store. It comes complete with everything you need to do the project, except for the actual books and online resources. It does contain some background information for teachers to use as a frame of reference.
Google Search Tools You Need to Know and Teach
The Omnibox: This is where you type your search topic. Yes, you can type a question and often this will get you a result. It can be the exact question from the challenge: What is the capital city of Alberta? You can also use keywords: Alberta capital city. You can ask for a calculation: 2+2= (and yes, it will give you the answer).
Did you know you can do basic math operations in the Omnibox? Maybe you don’t want to teach this to your students.
- addition +
- subtraction –
- multiplication *
- division /
You can also use it to do basic conversions like 28 f = (type that into the Omnibox and see what happens).
Students can search for definitions of words by typing (definition: research). The best part of this feature is you can listen to the word and learn to pronounce it. We use this all the time for our English Language Learners. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.
Search Tools: By clicking on the search tools, researchers can organize materials by date, country, language and all kinds of other preferences to find materials that are more suited.
Some of the choices are: by date or language.
When you are searching through images you can search by type (clip art, blackline, photograph), colour, usage rights and size. They can even search for items that were posted in the last year, month or day-showing that you can find newer information or older information if you need to check your facts over time.
Snippets: Teach students to read through the snippets on the first page of searches to see if they are close. If they are not, they will need to refine their search terms. If they are, show them how ads appear differently than web pages. Show students how businesses appear differently that organizations. This information can help students narrow down their search.
Types of Media: Students can search for all kinds of different information when they are searching online. They should remember they can get information from maps, images and videos when they are doing their research as well as articles, blog posts and web sites. Sometimes students forget they can learn things from pictures and photographs.
What skills do you think students need to practice when searching online? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. We love to hear from you!