Getting Started: My Book of Wonders
Many teachers enjoy a “looking back” activity or two in the last days of school, reflecting as a classroom community on the highlights of the year, revisiting Hopes and Dreams, etc. Why not add some “Looking Ahead to Summer” activities, too, and have students create a small notebook of their wonderings. Use leftover spelling blank notebooks or have students make and bind their own. Give them enough pages to record several questions that they want to investigate over the summer.
Do I Need to do an Online Search?
At the outset of your conversations about exploring a personal interest, remind students that it isn’t always necessary to do a general online search for information. For example, going directly to the NASA site might be helpful with questions dealing with the space program, or the American Kennel Club site might be the best first stop for questions about a particular breed of dog. Remind them to ask themselves: What organizations might be experts on their topic of interest?
If it is necessary to do a general search, students can become efficient searchers with some simple strategies:
• Write down the question/wonder.
• Circle the important words (keywords) in the question. (Nouns are more important than verbs.) Put each at the top of its own column on a page in the Wonder Notebook. Now take just a few minutes to make a list of other words that come to mind underneath the keyword.
• Think about how some of the words on the list are related. Does this bring to mind other words? Write them down.
• Think about synonyms for and variations of (plurals, alternate spellings, etc.) some of the words that were generated. Write them down.
• Watch out for words with multiple meanings. (pitcher, mullet)
Do some background reading
Do a little background reading about the topic. Whatever you read can help you think of more words, or perhaps help you narrow down what it is you really want to know more about. Sometimes an encyclopedia or Wikipedia article is a useful place to look.
Be as specific as you can
The short video from Commoncraft called Web Search Strategies in Plain English might be useful here, especially for upper elementary students. It introduces the idea of using quotation marks and the minus sign to refine a search.
Older elementary students can also be introduced to some basic Boolean logic as a way of narrowing down the number of hits in a search through the use of AND, OR, and NOT in their searches. Visit Boolify.org for some fun and engaging lessons on this topic.
One tip from Mark Moran at Dulcinea Media (creators of the kid-friendly Sweet Search search engines) is to have students type the word “kids” or “students” along with their keywords to further refine the results. Adding “students” twice can sometimes help even more (e.g. dinosaurs students students).