One of the things that I ask students to do before they begin any research activity is to take some time to brainstorm. They might groan about having to do this instead of immediately typing or speaking search phrases, but it is good habit for students to develop. Here are three things students should brainstorm about before searching.
1. Brainstorming a list of alternative search terms and phrases to use in a search engine. It is easy for students to fall into the trap of thinking about a topic in only the way that they describe it or how you’ve described it to them. Stopping to brainstorm a list of similar words and phrases can open students to new ways of describing the topic they’re researching.
2. What are the best formats for sharing information about the topic you’re researching? If the topic is related to geography or geology, you might find a lot of value in refining the search to return only KML and KMZ files. Refining in that way will bring students to items that typically don’t rank highly in search engines, but none-the-less contain valuable information.
3. Who can you ask about this topic? Asking the school librarian might be the best thing that students can do to improve their search results. The school librarian has knowledge of the databases available to students. Many students will struggle with those databases without guidance from a librarian.
You might also have your students try to develop a list of people they know (parents, other teachers, friends of parents) who have expert knowledge on a topic. Those experts can help students think about a topic in a different way.
Strategies like this one and many others are covered in Search Strategies Students Need to Know.