Five Ways to Teach Research Skills to Elementary School Children

Search engines can streamline the process of teaching basic research to elementary schoolchildren who require expert guidance on how to navigate the Web — and the earlier, the better.

Elementary school is when kids first begin to learn how to learn. Kids start using search engines quite early on, making elementary school the perfect time to teach research skills that become a foundation for a lifetime of learning.

The base skill for all schoolchildren is the ability to sift content for relevance and accuracy. Here are five ways teachers can help improve this skill in elementary-age children.

1. Define the task

What exactly must be researched? It’s very easy to get lost if children do not know precisely what they are looking for. In elementary school the subjects may be relatively simple, but they still must be defined accurately to aid in the search.

Teachers should talk with students about what they will be looking for and how to get specific results. The more specific they can get, the easier it will be to come up with search terms.

2. Discover keywords

Elementary school students may not fully grasp the concept of keywords, so they’ll need to be instructed in this foundational aspect of search technology. Search engines perform well only if correct keywords are used, and students need to learn how to come up with those words to get the results they need.

Keywords are typically based upon the most common approach to discussing a subject. Often, it will take some trial and error to discover just what keyword combination yields the desired results. Teachers can create a whole lesson around keywords, including what they are, how they work and how to find them.

3. Use appropriate tools

Google and Bing are probably the most popular search engines, but they may not be the best for teaching research skills to young people. Teacher Mary Beth Hertz recommends one of the more popular search engines for students, Sweet Search, whose results are screened by experts. Using something like Sweet Search may make it easier to teach research skills by weeding out a lot of the chaff that so often comes up on the more popular engines.

4. Teach about source hierarchy and evaluation

Elementary students can comprehend the tiers of legitimacy related to information-gathering. Teachers can explain about primary sources, original research and the reliability of information found on the Web. Kids can learn about how information travels from research papers to news sources to blogs and so on.

By going through examples, teachers can demonstrate the way various information sources find their information and present it to the public, and how to determine which information is best to use for their projects.

Children may not need to cite abstracts from scientific research papers, but they can learn to seek information more intelligently.

5. Take notes and compile information

The complexity of note-taking skills will depend on the students’ grade level, but even kids in the younger grades can learn to take pencil to paper and record the most important pieces of information they gather. The better they get at finding quality sources, the easier the note-taking will become.

Students should also learn how to cite their sources appropriately.

Setting up a lifelong skill

Learning research skills at a young age will give students a skill that will serve them over a lifetime. This skill will not only be useful in school, but in their everyday lives as they attempt to absorb ever-increasing amounts of information. Teachers will do their students a great service in teaching these skills.

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