At this time of the year, third grade students are working on an exciting non-fiction writing unit in which they do research using the school’s library books. The difference this year is that Internet research is now included in the project. This gave us, tech teachers, a great opportunity to teach a lesson on safe and useful web searches. In past years, they had only done research using specific websites, so this was actually the first time they were instructed to surf the Internet looking for useful information. Research topics ranged from certain sports to animals, biographies, world cities, space, and even current events.
The tech team came up with the following six different options for students’ research. The options, listed below, were also posted on the Schoolworld website.
Google – Basic Results
Students who used Google were initially sent to the Spanish version of the website, probably because it detected the IP address coming from Mexico. Since we wanted the students to work and look for information in English, we asked them to click on the bottom link:google.com in English. This way, all text and buttons were in English and needed no translation.
The lesson taught students how to use two Google Search features: Safe-search and Basic Reading Level. Third graders followed the next steps to set these up.
Safe Search in Google
Students entered http://www.google.com and clicked on the top-right-side button: Search Settings. A new page appeared and they clicked on the option: Use Strict Filtering under the section SafeSearch Filtering. Then, at the bottom, they clicked on the Save Preferencesbutton.
Basic Reading Level. Students went back to http://www.google.com and clicked on the middle right-side option: Advanced Search. They scrolled down and found the section: Reading level. In there, they selected: show only basic results and then clicked on the button:Advanced Search. Students were then given results they could really understand, but still had the option to move to intermediate and advanced levels if necessary.
Students loved using Google. In most cases, it gave them a variety of websites to research at their own reading level.
Twurdy was another favorite. The results of the search were displayed with different background colors so that students could identify the reading level. Light backgrounds were the easiest to read and dark backgrounds, the hardest.
Boolify was quite popular. Students took its puzzle pieces and filled them in with keywords. The search engine would give results depending on the ANDs and NOTs they used. This was a great opportunity for them to visually understand how Boolean operators such as AND, OR, and NOT work.
Quintura kids was another websearch engine that helped students in more specific searches. Students would type the keyword in the boxprovided, and the site would then display a word cloud with words related to their search. By clicking on any of those words, the search changed and different results appeared.
Kidrex was also a good option. Most of the results that were displayed were at their grade level.
Sweet search has a special section for elementary students (SweetSites) organized by subject and academic level. Another useful section was SweetSearch Biographies, which could be used by categories or by names of people.
Students walked away that day knowing some tools to get to useful websites, being aware that some of those websites may or may not be at their reading level, and no longer believing that the best place to find information in the Internet was Wikipedia.
There might be other websearch engines that you are using that may be useful for elementary students. If you would like to share them, please add them as a comment. I would love to extend this list of search engines!