SPECIALIZED SEARCHES

It will certainly help some students when working on research to know they can "specialize" their search. This approach, though, is probably most helpful for the teacher who is struggling with the huge amounts of time traditional searches seem to take. Before having students work on a project that involves Internet searching, try identifying topic-specific search tools and sites. Have students use these as starting points. Better yet, create your own list of topic-specific tools and sites.

You're going to be doing an interdisciplinary unit with some other teachers at your school. The unifying theme will be the environment. You need to gather some Web resources, and you want to rely on others who have already put together lists of environmental resources on the Web. Find one or two topic-specific lists.

1. Start by considering organizations you know of that might organize information about this topic.
2. Guess their Web addresses, or look them up in Yahoo!
3. When you find their site, look for a page that has a list of Web resources.
4. Record your path. What steps did you follow to find the Web sites?

Curriculum Challenge
You are teaching a unit on oceans and water, and you're under the gun! You need to find some Internet resources related to the topic, and neither you nor your students have time to do a lot of searching. Your goal is to find someone who has done the work for you. Start by brainstorming educational and other organizations that might provide access to information about oceans and water. See if you can guess their Web addresses, or look them up in Yahoo! When you find a site, look for links to other Web resources.

Think Before You Click
Now try to find resources related to a topic that you're interested in. Before even sitting down at the computer, take the time to brainstorm subject headings, keywords, and real-world sources of information. What's your topic? _________________________
1. Consider subject headings.
Under what subject headings would your topic appear in a library or other reference tool?
2. Brainstorm keywords and phrases.
What kinds of words are used within your topic? Try to think of several synonyms for each word.
3. Identify real-world sources of information.
What places/resources would you normally turn to for information about this topic? Companies, Government agencies, Professional organizations, Publications/Media
4. Record how you got there.
Keep track of how you located all your resources. These paths can be very helpful in planning future searches.

•Web Directories:
What Web directories did you use? Which subject headings did you follow?

•Keyword Searches:
Which search tool(s) did you use? What phrase/variations did you use for your search? Did you use natural language or Boolean logic?

•Specialized Searches:
Did you find a specialized search tool for this topic? How did you find it? What was the name of the guide or the hotlist you found? How did you find it?
5. Start your own topic-specific list.
Find some great resources related to your topic? Note URLs here so you can add them to your bookmarks.
6. Rate the strategies.
Rate each of the three search strategies on how effective they were for your topic.
#1 most effective strategy_________________________
#2 runner-up ____________________________________
#3 third place goes to ____________________________


WEB DIRECTORIES

Taking the Web directory approach to searching can be a great way to help students organize their thinking and help them understand how information is structured. Try creating a hierarchical fill-in-the blank chart. Have students "map out" a topic. Ask students: What are the categories within which your topic lies? What kinds of sub-categories would we find under the topic? When students are ready, do a Web directory search with them as a whole class. (Try connecting your computer to a TV to turn it into a great presentation tool that the whole class can use at the same time.) Ask students to relate Web directories to other kinds of information access tools like telephone books, an index in a book, etc.

As You Search
• Think about subject headings and sub-categories.
• Consider all headings, and pick the best place to start.
• Keep track of your path; consider alternate paths.
• Notice how sites organize information. Advantage: resources are organized by people, not software.
• Try using a keyword search.

Starting Points
Use these sites as places to begin your search.
• Yahoo! www.yahoo.com
• Excite www.excite.com
• WebCrawler www.webcrawler.com
• AltaVista www.altavista.com
• Education World http://db.education-world.com/perl/browse
• Education Index Subject Listing www.educationindex.com/education_resources.html
• KidsClick! http://sunsite.berkeley.edu/KidsClick!/!

KEYWORD SEARCHES

The keyword search approach can help students understand how best to structure questions, and it can help them clarify their thinking. Before you do keyword searches, have students write the same question five different ways. Discuss which forms of the question are the clearest. Discuss the value of comprehensive questions. Discuss the value of concise questions.

Have students work in pairs. One student can play the role of the "expert" on a particular topic, while the other student asks a question. The "expert" should respond with a question that prompts the other student to offer clarifying information. Have students look at posters, ads, brochures, and talk about relevant and irrelevant information. Talk about the importance of "filtering" information. When students have spent some time thinking about the processes involved, have them do keyword searches in teams and report on their results. Have them talk about why they may have gotten unrelated information. Ask students where else they use these same skills.

As You Search,
• Think about key words.
• Use a natural language query (type as you would ask).
• Scan and filter results, starting with titles and descriptions; also look at the URL for each result.
• Look for the search tool's "refine" feature.
• Try reordering or slightly modifying your search, or try a Boolean search.
• Look for sites that organize information. Advantage: the search engine scans whole Web sites, not just site descriptions.

• Try using a keyword search.

Starting Points

Use these sites as places to begin your search.
• AltaVista www.altavista.com
• Excite www.excite.com
• HotBot http://www.hotbot.com/Default.asp
• Lycos www.lycos.com
• Northern Light Search www.northernlight.com
• Ask Jeeves! www.askjeeves.com
• Ask Jeeves for Kids www.ajkids.com
• Dogpile www.dogpile.com/info.dogpl/
• NBCi nbci.msnbc.com/nbci.asp
• Google www.google.com
You will also note that many of the sites listed under Web Directories also contain Keyword Searches (Yahoo, Excite, WebCrawler, StudyWeb, Education World, KidsClick!).

SEARCHING WITH YOUR STUDENTS
You've learned some great strategies for finding resources on the Internet, which should come in handy as you plan lessons and prepare to use the Web with your students. Would these same strategies work when students are searching the Web?

You should carefully consider whether you want to spend valuable class time on Internet searching, which can be very time-consuming. However, students can gain many valuable skills when conducting searches — critical thinking, logic, and information "filtering," for example. If you do have your students do their own Internet searches, consider these strategies.


This lesson plan was excerpted from a technology workshop for educators from Tom Snyder Productions. Visit the Web site and learn more.

Refine your technology skills this summer with the Summer Institute course from Tom Snyder Productions.