How many times a day do you use Google to find the answer to something? If you are anything like us, with a laptop, iPad and iPhone, or often all three, within arm’s reach all day long, the answer is OFTEN. Using these tools effectively is one aspect of online reading comprehension that we have been exploring with our class. In doing so, we discovered that while our students are comfortable using Google, they don’t really know what each element is called, nor do they stop to think about what they might find on a website before clicking the hyperlink. There are hints in search engine results and web addresses students are missing simply because they have not thought critically about what is appearing on the screen. In order to teach our students how to become proficient at using these tools and reading these texts we felt the need to establish a common vocabulary in our classroom.
How did we teach this?
We titled the exercise ‘How to read a web address’ and you can see the activity here. How to read a web address – Exercises One and Two. In hindsight, it should have been titled ‘How to read search engine results’ because a URL (green font) is only one dimension of a search engine result, the others being the search result heading (blue font) and the snippet (black font). The exercise had two parts. Firstly, students were asked to individually predict what various elements of search engines, search results and web addresses were called. The second part of the exercise required students to work collaboratively and use the internet to discover the terms other people used for the same elements. By showing students the range of predictions they had made, we were able to emphasise the importance of establishing a common language for our class in subsequent lessons. In the follow up lesson we provided the class with these three vocabulary lists Class Vocabulary List – Search Engines, Search Results and Web Addresses which were compiled by us using the results students found when completing the second exercise. While the vocabulary may not be 100% accurate according to technology industry experts, we were satisfied that the terms selected were suitable for a class of 13 and 14-year-old students. The vocabulary list was entered into the website ‘Quizlet’ and the lesson concluded with students playing the revision games to consolidate their knowledge and understanding of these terms. You can access the quiz here:
What did we learn?
- Students know how to use search engines but not what each element of the interface was called. This is a bit like driving a car, knowing what each of the pedals does, but not what each is called. Students can manage without knowing their names, but talking about them in class will prove difficult.
- Students were not in the habit of deconstructing a web address to predict the type of information available. Again, they did not know what each part of the web address was called.
- The student groups took disparate approaches to using the internet to research names for each element, some being more successful than others, which provided us with further insight about how students use the internet to answer research questions. Look out for a subsequent blog post on observations here.
We hope that the creation of this vocabulary and the activities the class has conducted so far will encourage students to LOOK closely and THINK critically as they use the internet to find the answers to research questions.