Online Research: Effective Practices

The Internet is a vast source of information. We frequently comment that students can access any information they need in today's world but the bigger question is whether they can access it effectively, accurately, and sensitively.

The Big Picture

Alan November has an excellent online resource about effective search practices. A shortened version of his full document can be downloaded here.

Additional Alan November Resources:

Search Techniques

1. Have a search plan.
Make sure that students understand their research question. What is the main question; What types of information is needed; What search tools will help achieve the research goal; How will information and sources be recorded?
  • pgs. 6 - 8 in the Gateways to Knowledge resource list the steps in "Answering the Big Questions".
  • pgs. 39-40 in the Gateways to Knowledge resource lists a teacher planning worksheet to assist in planning research projects.
  • James McKenzie has a Questioning Toolkit to assist teachers and students in asking good questions.
  • is a tool that can be downloaded and allows readers to annotate and make notes on online articles.
  • NoodleQuest is a search strategy wizard that helps students to search internet tools to build their search plan.

2. Utilize search extensions and advanced search techniques.
An effective search will have effective keywords to narrow the topic.
Discuss Booleana terms such as AND, OR, NOT as well as +, -, and "".
An easy search engine to introduce this is Boolify.

Also use search extensions such as .ca, .com, .edu, .org, .gov, .k12 to narrow your results to certain websites.
.org - organization
.com - company
.sch - school (used outside of US)
.k12 - most but not all US schools
.edu - US higher education ( is redirected to
.gov - US government (add country code for outside US)
.ac - academic (higher ed outside US, usually used with country code, i.e. ""
.net - network
Additional country codes

These codes with a search command enables a narrowed focus for your research based on a country or domain in addition to your keyword. In AltaVista, for example, host:command (ie. "swine flu" + would get results specific to Mexico. This is especially powerful in getting pages with specific global perspectives on a topic rather than the 10 most visited pages that Google would return on a basic search.
This search features chartlists all the advanced search tool features available for different websites.

3. Explore different search engines and directories.
There are a variety of different types of search engines that gather information from the internet in different ways. It is important to understand this so that you can choose the right tool for your search.
There are two main types of ways that websites gather information:
  • crawlers (crawler-based results) and directories (human-based results)
  • different search engines also have different indexes and lists of sites that is references from the internet
  • different search engines allow for different search terms (such as Alta-Vista vs. Google)

Additional Resources:

Search Engines Galore

The following are different search engines that you may find useful in your classroom:
Savy Little Searchers: Engines for Kids



Other sites:

These search engines are all compiled in one weblist for you to share with your students at

Complete the following review activity created in SMART Notebook.

Experiment with the different search engines to see the different results you get.

Additional Information Sources

There are many additional types of resources to assist with your research besides search engines. The Gateways to Knowledge book lists many including: