Last month, the Creative Cloud blog featured some daunting statistics regarding the enormity of the Internet. According to their calculations, if you printed the Internet it would take 57,00 years to read, weigh 1.2 billion pounds, and cover half of Long Island. While it’s difficult to precisely define the scope of the web, there is no doubt that we live in an age of information abundance. For students today, the skill of locating information has become as important as the skill of memorizing information.
Our fourth Digital Literacy topic, effective search strategies, divides this vast and complex concept into two manageable, fundamental lessons: choosing words and choosing tools. While many students (and teachers) simplistically and mistakenly equate search skills with computer skills, the first steps in finding information efficiently and effectively are to have a strong command of language and employ a search strategy.
Search Box Strategy
The 21st Century Information Fluency Project suggests that “using a search strategy is the difference between browsing the Internet and searching the Internet. One systematic approach is called the Search Box Strategy. When you enter something in the search box, see what you get, and continue the process until you find what you are after.”
Image Source: Information Fluency
Keywords are Key
When using a Search Box Strategy, it is important to note that not all search terms are created equal. As Information Fluency explains, four categories of words comprise most search tasks:
- Keywords that are effective “as is”
- Intermediate words that represent important ideas but probably are not effective “as is”
- Words that have little effect on the outcome
- Stop words that are ignored by a search engine
Identifying “as is” keywords is often difficult and vocabulary plays an important role in this process. Younger children may prefer to use “natural language” queries, but I strongly encourage middle school students to scan snippets and identity the “nyms” that can improve their vocabulary and search strategy skills. These interactive Question to Query exercises can help learners improve their ability to select the most effective keywords when performing a search:
Although homework and in-class exercises provide students ample “opportunities” to search, much of this type of practice is unguided. Trial and error can be effective but is inefficient and often frustrating. Resources such as the 21st Century Information Fluency Project, Internet Search Challenge Blog, and Boolify provide structured, intentional practice with corrective feedback. Incorporating these search activities into the curriculum can improve any student’s skills and make navigating the near-endless depths of the Internet a productive, enjoyable experience.