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Laptop Work-10.jpgGoogle can’t find Robert E. Lee.” I had assigned my  middle school students with a civil war research topic, and I remember her face as she brought me the news: According to Google, there was no one named Robert E. Lee that had been involved with the Civil War. 

She was Crestfallen. Truly an earnest student, she was genuinely concerned that this obscure Lee character was going to ruin her chances of a good grade.

And I was simply unprepared for the reality of what my students needed that day. They didn’t need time to research on the internet. They needed instruction on what that was in the first place. 

Since my students seemed to speak the jargon and because I knew they spent hours and hours online, I mistakenly believed that they understood the basics of internet research, and I was wrong. In a Snapchat world, students need specific and rigorous instruction on how to practice the myriad of technical and critical thinking skills necessary to conduct true research online.

Instead of expecting Google to be a newsfeed of curated stories desiged around what they want to see (like Snapchat or Intagram), here are some examples of how to teach practical research skills in a world of sketchy sources:

1. Assess. 

Ask them: 

  • How could you search for ‘Saturn’ without getting search results about the car?
  • How do you evaluate for source credibility? 
  • How do you give credit to the source in your assignment? 

Collaborate with your media center and librarian staff to create an age-appropriate assessment, or simply ask the questions above and take the temperature yourself. This is going to be an ongoing and lifelong skill for your students, so take it slow and be thorough. 

2. Use Google. 

You know your students are going to, so you might as well be one step ahead.

Fortunately, they have created a fantastic resource of lesson plans at all levels.  They are aligned with grade level standards and are as cut-print-go as you could possibly want. 

Examples include using search terms for success and evaluating sources

3. Use Plenty of Non-Examples

The good news is there are no shortage of non-examples for you to use as guideposts.

Compare sketchy & reliable sources, search results with and without correctly-used operators, and spend some time just evaluating and comparing websites. 

4. For early elementary, do it together. 

There are less available resources for early elementary research techniques, but here are a few guidelines to help you on your way. From a proposed lesson for second graders, this advice reminds educators to use not only multiple sources but multiple platforms (library books, videos, magazine articles) when conducting research.

Choose a topic together and practice the basic steps using, a classroom alternative to Google designed with your kids in mind. 

Ensure that your students will not come to you convinced that Google hasn’t heard of Robert E. Lee, or that you won’t be reading a plagarized report. 

Creating the next generation of critical thinkers and good internet citizens starts with you, and it starts a lifelong process. Enjoy the journey! What has worked for you? 


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