5 Fab Ideas for Effective Online Research


Over the past few days, UWCSEA has been lucky enough to have Apple Guru Kathleen Ferenz visit our school. She has been a fabulous resource for me personallyas a Digital Literacy Coach, but also for the groups of teachers she has worked with.

One of Kathleen’s many strengths is in Literacy, and she has given us lots of handy hints to do with helping students make sense of online texts, research techniques and some strategies for developing effective research skills.

Many of her ideas come from this great article ‘Making Sense of Online Text‘ which is extremely relevant today, even though it was written in 2004!

 Please know that the following Fab Ideas for Effective Online Research are Kathleen’s – I am merely sharing them around.

1. Start with images

The right search words are the keys to unlocking the information you are searching for. Kathleen recommended showing students a photo of the sort of thing they would be searching for online to elicit keywords. By way of example, she showed an image of a volcano, and then asked students to think of the keywords that might describe the image. She then used the words the students gave as a starting point for a search.

2. Narrow search by Reading Level

A neat little addition to the ‘more tools’ section of the Google search results is the ability to search by reading level. I’m not sure how, but I had missed this gem.

3. Scaffold

Our Grade 6 students have been researching about the UWC movement and the other UWC schools around the world. They worked collaboratively on Google Docs to find information under various categories, with the view to making a Keynote presentation later on.

Although the teachers took care to direct students to retain the URL of their sources etc, the Google Docs quickly became a receptacle for work that had been copied and pasted. Kathleen got the students to set up a table in Pages to help summarize and organise their data. This helped bridge the gap between the ‘research’ and the Keynote.

Too often, students are not provided with enough scaffolding, and as a result, the finished product lacks a depth of understanding. This scaffold will help our students be more successful in their presentation.


4. Summarize & Transform

As part of the scaffolding process, students were asked to summarize their findings into bullet points, which was a great start of course. Where I think Kathleen really raised the bar was when she asked the kids to transform their notes into audio form. The process of transforming written text into a different form (in this case, audio) really made them think about what they had learned, and what was important. It helped put the notes into their own words and moved them away from copying. 

Throughout her time at UWCSEA, Kathleen used the technique of transforming text. Occasionally it was creating/finding an image that represented a particular word, sometimes it was a movie recording, sometimes audio. I will definitely be adding this technique to my research toolbox.

5. Search Stories

How do you assess a student’s search skills? When Kathleen asked this question to a group of teachers, it certainly made them stop and think. Typically, the skills of searching and synthesizing are seldom assessed, and instead, the quality of a summative task/presentation becomes the assessment.

 Using screen capture tools (e.g. Quicktime player) or a specially created video tool to help with the process, students can record their screen and show the process they use to search for relevant information. Google calls these ‘Search Stories‘ (see amusing example here).

[Although this post is primarily about researching, it would be remiss of me not to mention that Search Stories could be used as a basis for literacy – developing storylines, uncovering the plot with each new search category, character development…]

 I would like to thank Kathleen for all her support, ideas and above all, her warmth! I hope you find these ideas as useful as we have.

Image credits:
Kathleen Coaching by Keri-Lee Beasley
Volcano Erupting ( BY NC SD ) by kahunapulej
UWCSEA by Keri-Lee Beasley
Singapore map via Google Maps      

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