Internet Search Assignment

Overview | Do Internet search engines point us to the information that we need or confuse us with irrelevant or questionable information? How can Internet users improve their searches to find reliable information? What are some ways to perform effective searches? In this lesson, students conduct Web searches on open-ended questions, and draw on their experiences to develop guides to searching effectively and finding reliable information online.

Materials | Computers with Internet access

Warm-Up | Invite students to share anecdotes about times when they used an Internet search engine to look for information and found something they were not expecting, or when they could not find what they were looking for.

After several students have shared, ask for a show of hands of students who have experienced frustration using an Internet search engine. Then ask: How often do you use search engines? Which ones do you use most? Why? What are the most common problems you face when searching? Do you consider yourself a skilled searcher? Do you have any search strategies? Do you search the Internet more for personal reasons and entertainment, or more for school? Do you believe that improving your Internet searching skills will benefit you academically? Socially? Personally?

Give students the following search assignment, from The New York Times article “Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet”: “Which day [will] the vice president’s birthday fall on the next year?” (Alternatively, give students a multistep question that relates to your subject matter. For example, a geography teacher might ask “How many miles away is Shanghai?”) Tell students to type this question into Google, Bing or any other favorite search engine, and have them share the top results in real time. Did the answer appear? If not, what’s the next step to take to get this question answered?

Ask: What information do you need to be able to answer the question? Ideas might include the name of the vice president, the date of his birthday, and a copy of next year’s calendar. Have them try to find this information and keep working until they can answer the question. (You may want to add a competitive component to this activity, rewarding the student who finds out the right answer the fastest.)

When one or more students have found the answer, have one student take the class through the steps he or she took to find the answer; if possible, do this on a screen so that everyone can watch. Along the way, ask probing questions. What key words did you type into the search engine? Why did you choose these words? Which results did you click on? Why did you choose those sources over the others on the page? How many steps did it take? Are you sure the sources are reliable and that the answers are correct? How can you tell? How would you verify the information? If time permits, play around by using different key words and clicking on different results, to see how the search for the answer to the question changes.

To end this activity, ask: What did you notice about the search to find the answer to this question? Did this exercise give help you understand something new about Internet searching? If so, what?

Related | Tell students that they are going to read a New York Times article, “Helping Children Find What They Need on the Internet,” that describes how search engine developers are drawing on young people’s search frustrations to improve their products:

When considering children, search engines had long focused on filtering out explicit material from results. But now, because increasing numbers of children are using search as a starting point for homework, exploration or entertainment, more engineers are looking to children for guidance on how to improve their tools.

Search engines are typically developed to be easy for everyone to use. Google, for example, uses the Arial typeface because it considers it more legible than other typefaces. But advocates for children and researchers say that more can be done technologically to make it easier for young people to retrieve information. What is at stake, they say, are the means to succeed in a new digital age.

Read the article with your class, using the questions below.

Questions | For discussion and reading comprehension:

  1. What problems does the article mention that children run into when they use search engines?
  2. What suggestions have been offered for how search engines can improve their product to lessen children’s problems searching?
  3. Do you search using keywords or questions? How does the article characterize these two types of searching?
  4. Have you tried using images or videos to search? How does the article characterize this type of searching?
  5. What advice would you give to Internet search engine developers for how they should improve their product? Do you think any of the improvements mentioned in the article are particularly promising? Why?



Activity | Before class, ask teachers of several different subjects for questions that they have asked or will ask students to research on the Internet. Alternatively, collect from students their own research questions – for another class or for a personal project, like I-Search. Be sure that the questions are sufficiently open-ended so that they cannot be answered definitively with a quick, simple search – they might contain an element of opinion or interpretation, rather than just be a matter of simple fact.

Put the class into pairs, and provide each pair with the following multipart task:

  • Seek to answer your assigned question by conducting an Internet search.
  • You must use different search engines and strategies, and keep track of how the search “goes” using the various resources and methods.
  • Once you find an answer that you are confident in, do another search to verify the information.
  • When you are finished, evaluate the reliability of all of the Internet resources that you used.
  • Prepare to tell the story of your search, including what worked and what didn’t, anything surprising that happened, things that would be good for other searchers to know, “lessons learned,” etc.

Provide pairs with the following resources to research their assigned topics. Let them know that these are starting points, and that they may use additional resources.

Search Engines, Metasearch Engines and Subject Directories:

Choosing Effective Search Words:

Evaluating Source Reliability:

When pairs have completed their research, bring the class together and invite pairs to share their stories. Then tell them that they will use their notes to create a page for a class guide, in booklet or wiki form, on how to use Internet search engines effectively for research, to be made available to the school community to help other students. As much as possible, the tips and guidance in the guide should be illustrated with the students’ stories and examples.

Tell students that their booklet/wiki entries should or might include the following, among other types of guidance and insight:

  • Ways and examples of using keywords and Boolean logic effectively.
  • Ineffective examples of keyword searches that result in too much, too little or useless information.
  • Examples of how to sequence searches and why.
  • Sites they find that answer their question and how they can tell whether these pages are reliable.
  • Any information they found that was questionable or incorrect, where they found it, and how they discovered that it was wrong.
  • Why it is important to scroll past the top result to pages listed farther down the page or on a later page in order to find complete answers to the question.
  • How using different search engines yielded different results.

In addition to the handbook or wiki, you might also have students make their own videos, à la the Google ad “Parisian Love,” chronicling their search.

Going Further | Students read the New York Times Magazine article “The Google Alphabet,” by Virginia Heffernan, who writes the column “The Medium,” and keep a tally of the number of advertisements and commercial sites that they see while doing schoolwork on the Internet for one or two days.

Then hold a class discussion on advertising and commercial interests on the Internet. If students are using the Internet to complete their homework, are schools requiring students to expose themselves to corporate advertisements in order to succeed academically? Do any ethical questions arise around the prevalence of corporate advertising in Web searching for academic purposes?

Alternatively or additionally, students develop ideas for the search engines of the future, like ways to use and find images, audio and video, rank results and so on, and “pitch” their ideas to classmates acting as search engine developers.

And for fun, students might try to come up with “Googlewhacks.”

Standards | From McREL, for Grades 6-12:

2. Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs.
3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society and the individual.

Language Arts
1. Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process.
4. Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational texts.

Life Work
2. Uses various information sources, including those of a technical nature, to accomplish specific tasks.


Teaching ideas based on New York Times content.

From The Learning Network
Around the Web

FIT 100

Assignment 1:Searching the Web

(or, Finding what you want, and no more!)

Autumn 2001

Required reading for Assignment 1:

Link to and read the sections on Search Engine Math and Boolean Searching at the Search Engine Watch website.Review the Search Engine Features page to help in your search:

Search Engine Math

Boolean Searching:

Search Engine Features for Searchers:


Many of you have done a fair amount of browsing and searching on the Internet.But have you ever thought about how and where to search in such a way that you get only those sites you want and no more?Constructing a search that does exactly that is very difficult, if not impossible.However, you can learn to search the Web in a way that brings back a smaller set of “hits” (web pages that match your search), and improve the chances that these hits are more relevant than not.

So, what exactly IS a Search Engine?And why do I care?

A search engine is really just a program, or series of programs, that is designed to try and help users find useful information on the Web.A search engine consists of several pieces (these will be covered in lecture).The basic idea is that a search engine takes terms that you enter give to it and tries to match those terms with documents out on the Web that are most relevant.

Seems simple, doesn’t it?Yes, it seems simple… but relevance is hard for a program to determine when it doesn’t “know” the person doing the search.This is an exercise for you to see both the ease and difficulty of searching for information on the web.


·         To use basic search strategies in a search engine and bring back sites with information on a topic.

·         Learn to find the best search method for a particular search engine.

·         To develop systematic and precise search skills.

Online Resources:

Some available search engines (but not the only ones!!!!):


Uses link popularity as a way to rank a web site.If 50 different sites link to one other site, this is a good indicator that it is a relevant page for the topic it covers.


One of the largest search engines around.Allows searches just on images and other formats.Also has a translate feature.


DogPile is a metasearch engine.It runs a search across other search engines to get results.It allows you to specify a search for images or audio files, etc.

Ask Jeeves:

Directs a user to relevant sites by having them ask and answer questions.Pulls links from a database of sites that answer pre-created questions.

Some search engines use a directory structure to organize web sites by subject:


Directory setup.Provides email, news, etc.

List of Search Engines by function:

A useful page to go to lists of search engines.

To Do:

1.      Go to and use the categories to find the site.What is the most logical starting point?

After you have found the UW site, then go back to the start page at Yahoo and try to search for the same thing using the search box at the top of the page.How did you search?Did the UW site come up in the first page of results?

2.      Search for information about the riots that broke out in in December of 1999 over WTO, the World Trade Organization.

How did you construct your search?

Compare several search strategies.Which one appears to be more effective? (look at your top 10 results)

Can you figure out what is happening as the results are returned?Are pages being brought back because they have all of the terms? Or because they have just some of the terms?

3.      Using the list of search engines by function at:

What would be a good engine to use if you were looking for national news?

How about if you are searching for medical information?

A note on copyright and public domain images:

Images and other files and content on the Internet are protected in the same way as print materials and photographs.Use of digital images for purposes of alteration and display on the Internet has limited coverage under the conditions of fair use. [] and [].

Public Domain [] items are those in which the copyright has been lost, has expired, or the author of the work makes no copyright claims to reproductions or enhancements of the work.

If you use an image of a person for reasons of making a profit, you are responsible for obtaining permission from the person or their heirs.If you use a trademark image, you must also get permission.

Copyright in websites:[]

4.      Using the Search Engine Math you read about, construct a search to find sites that contain images in the public domain. Use Google for this first search.

5.      Do that same search across in AltaVista and Dogpile as well.Compare your top 10 hits.Do you get the same results?

·         How are they similar?

·         How are they different?

6.      Try changing the search and see if you get different results.For example, if you did your first search as +public +domain +images, try a search with the phrase “public domain images” instead.

Do your results change?

7.      Do a search for images related to on the web.Alta Vista has a way to just search for image media on the web.Can you locate other search engines with this same feature?

8.      Find an image of the skyline.Which search engine had the best image and what number was it in the rankings?

9.      Now look for images you would like to use in a website of misinformation (Project 1) and save them for manipulation in Adobe Photoshop later on.Remember to FTP all images to your Dante account so you’ll have them for use later.

NOTE:Make sure that any image you select is in the Public Domain OR the copyright policy on the site where you find it states that you are allowed to use it for non-commercial purposes!!!!!

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