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Internet research skills

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By Christine JenkinsSpecialist tutor and freelance educational writer

With the entire internet at their fingertips, there is more information readily available to children today than ever before. However, many children find identifying the most useful or important information and presenting it in their own words very difficult.

Unfortunately, it is easy to ‘research’ badly and end up with pages of information printed from webpages found on search engines. Teaching children how to locate, identify, distil and share information found online can help deepen their understanding of a topic and is a useful study skill, especially as they move from KS2 to KS3.

Children using internet

Some general tips

  1. Provide weblinks
    Rather than giving them free reign when researching, provide children with a shared document containing links to two or three appropriate websites for them to use. This way you can be sure that they will be able to find what they are looking for and the text will be at an appropriate level.
  2. Questions
    Pose a small number of questions for children to find answers to, instead of just asking them to research a topic. This works best if you use tip 1 above, so that you can be sure the answer is easily found. These questions could be suggested and discussed by the class first.
  3. True / false
    As an alternative to questions, try giving them some statements about the topic they are researching and asking them to find out if they are true or false.
  4. Safe searching
    Always check yourself what a search engine will suggest when a topic is put into the search box, before asking children to do the same. All school computer networks should have a safe search facility enabled but it is still possible for things to slip through.
  5. Refining the search
    Teach children how to select from their search results by looking for well-known and reliable websites. They may need to refine their research by adding another related word, if they end up with lots of results.
  6. Collaborative approach: pros and cons
    Discuss with children how Wikipedia works: it is a collaboratively written encyclopaedia, which allows users to edit the content. While it can be useful, not all information is accurate. Older children could discuss the pros and cons of this approach and even create their own collaboratively written encyclopaedia on a topic the class are studying using shared document software, such as Google Docs.
  7. Model
    Putting things into their own words is something many children find hard. Demonstrate explicitly how they can do this, by reading a few sentences together on the interactive whiteboard and asking them all to note down two things they remember. Compare the two things everyone recalled and do some shared writing to put this into a new sentence.

Activity 1: Locate, identify, distil, share (LIDS)

Using the acronym LIDS, teach children how to go through this process when they are researching a topic online.

  1. Firstly, LOCATE one or two useful websites, as outlined in the tips above. Then locate the most useful piece of text, using their scanning skills to pick out key words which will answer their research questions.
  2. IDENTIFY and print the section of text they feel is most useful – this could be directly from the website or by highlighting, coping and pasting it into a word processor. Stress to them that at this stage they are just putting the text into a more readable format ready to interpret for themselves – this is still someone else’s writing. Once they have a paper copy, they should read it through carefully and check they understand it.
  3. On the second reading, highlight no more than 10 key words. These will be used to help them DISTIL the information into their own words. Ask the children to put each of their key words onto a sticky note or square of paper. They should look at the words they have picked and without the original text in sight, try to explain how each word connects to the topic to a partner. Encourage them to add notes around the key word, using the original text to check but not copy.
  4. Finally, ask them to SHARE their research in a different form, putting what they have learnt into sentences of their own. This could be as a paragraph of writing, a set of cards or a factfile.

Hand out the LIDS checklist to children to complete:

LIDS checklist

Activity 2: Compare and share

One aspect of research that children struggle with is using and combining information from more than one source. In pairs, ask the children to research a topic, and allocate each a different website to use. Using the LIDS process above, ask them then to compare their 10 words at the ‘distil’ stage.

Are their facts the same? Do they have any of the same words? Ask them to think about why there may be differences and to rate their website for ease of use. Ask them to combine and select their words so that they now have only 10 between them and work together to present their facts to the class.

This technique can also be used if the task has been set as homework.

Hand out the Compare and share activity sheet for children to complete:

Compare and share