Google Search is a tool that almost every connected learner uses, yet many of us don’t take advantage of its full potential. I learned this lesson a few years ago while my students were searching railroad development to make comparisons between Canada and the United States.
From our classroom in Texas, the results looked very limited. Then, I remembered how to access Google in other countries. The browser was filled with digital exhibits linked to museum pages and higher education resources from Canadian institutions.
This experience gave me the idea to add Google search to our list of study skills to develop throughout the year. Here’s a few of the basics my students and I have practiced.
1. Check Facts Routinely
One of the best ways to get better at searching is to make it an expectation. If you ask my students, they’ll tell you that not a class goes by that we don’t have a fact that needs to be checked or an idea to explore off script.
Try sharing the URL of the search results with Chat (on the Remind app). This way, the students can send the teacher or activity leader the link directly and the content can be displayed on the projector screen. If the class would benefit from the link, the teacher can send it to everyone with Remind.
2. Search Terms
Start small and add words to achieve better results. This means you’ll have to break a complicated problem into smaller chunks. Remember studying all those themes in English and social studies? Put them to work analyzing and sorting out the pieces of your puzzle.
Want to be a ninja? Search “firm and soft terms” as well as “context terms” to learn how to get great results without feeling like you’re throwing spaghetti at the wall.
Use the tabs at the top of the search results to filter the type of content you need. Try searching for sites through images, for example. Click on the image and click “Visit page.” You might find that the sites with quality, engaging images don’t stop at that. This is not precise, but it’s fun.
Have your students find images that interest them and relate to the lesson. They can share them by uploading the images to a shared Google Drive folder via the mobile app. I use this two-minute activity as a formative assessment or an instructional transition. It leads to better discussion than using my slide presentations.
4. Punctuation and Operators
Experimenting with punctuation is usually the first trick people learn to refine their search. Quotation marks, for example, give you results containing exactly the words within the marks. My favorite is the use of an asterisk as a placeholder for an unknown word in a phrase.
Operators are words and punctuation that can narrow your search in specific ways. Sure, you could go to the Advanced Search page, but we’re trying to be ninjas. Plus, I'm pretty sure Google is done with the advance search option. You watch. Everyone will soon be expected to use operators or live with mediocrity.
Common operators include site:, link:, and related:. For example, if a student needs to research the underground railroad, why not carry it beyond the U.S. border into Canada? Include “site:.ca” in the search and Canadian sites will show in the results.
A search ninja would refer to the example above as sites containing the country code top-level domain (.ca). Replace the .com in google.com with the country code.
5. Consider Point of View
If you’re searching through another country’s Google search engine you may have to rethink some of the search terms. What cultural idioms do you need to understand to choose appropriate keywords? Alan November’s example is my favorite. He reminded students that Iran did not call it a “hostage crisis.”
6. Ctrl F
This one’s the star on the list. It’s the keyboard shortcut to search a document in almost any software, including browsers. I used to carve up curriculum documents for my students and save them to pdfs to share on my website. That’s a lot of work on my part, and it’s the wrong kind of work for a teacher.
Make it a classroom routine to search documents online and have students bookmark them or do whatever they do to make retrieval easy. Instead of giving page numbers for every assignment, provide section headings that students can search with the Ctrl F shortcut.
This can work on PDFs, too. Five thousand pages of legal codes are no problem for a search ninja. I’m still amazed at how many people don’t use this shortcut all the time.
For lesson plans and a formal approach to learning about Google Search, go to Basic Search Education. You’ll find all the resources you need to turn your students into search ninjas.