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February 19, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, United States
CATEGORIES Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, In the Classroom

Every so often we like to spotlight one of the effective lessons educators are using inside their classrooms from our video series created in partnership with the Teaching Channel.  This latest lesson comes from Olga Ramos, a middle school teacher at Amistad Dual Language School in New York City, who was working to strengthen her students’ online researching skills.

“The objective of this lesson is to have the kids become more aware of precise and alternative words that they can use in order to better their searching,” said Ramos.

The lesson is broken down into two main sections; the first begins with introducing vocabulary words that deal directly with the subject matter at hand. She then has students try to describe common objects using new and different wording, in order to create original descriptions for items they might see almost every day.

“They’re going to practice their skills of describing and looking for alternate words and other precise descriptions in order to get their point across,” said Ramos, who explained that the game is very similar to “Taboo.” The students could call on a friend for help, and had group discussions following the exercise in which they shared their observations.

The second activity, something Ramos calls “Fetch,” is a lesson focusing on the importance of precision in online research. It solves the question “how many keywords does it take to find the right answer.”  During this activity, two students worked together to find answers using a search engine, while testing the effectiveness of their keywords.

Ramos asked her students several questions about a specific theme—in this case it was “dogs.” She then allowed them to use only one search term and the first three results yielded by the search engine to find their answers. She then increased the number of keywords and had the students observe the changes that occurred in their findings.

“One word in a search engine?” posited one student. “That word will give us lots, and lots, and lots of topics,” he concluded. Another surmised, “You have to be more specific with the words that you pick.”

Ramos then added a little competition to the lesson by setting a timer and letting the students work in pairs to look for the answers to all of the questions within five minutes.

The students got noticeably excited about the challenge, and they dove right in trying to find the answers. Not only did it teach them effective researching skills, but, as Ramos said, the lesson was a perfect segue into the common core standards for searching and initiating research projects.

The lesson also has a few classroom takeaways:

  • Review goals throughout the lesson
  • Encourage immediate vocabulary use
  • Have students call on each other
  • Use a timer for lesson activities

Ramos, however, described the personal lesson that she had learned by the end of the exercise.

“The takeaway is, I think, them seeing the connections on how these things that they’re learning—these strategies, these skills—actually affect their real life.”