Common Sense Review
Updated February 2014

Britannica School

More interactive support and instruction than Wikipedia -- for a price
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • The home page interface is simple enough for younger students.
  • The middle school start page is appropriately geared toward pre-teens.
  • The high school start page is slightly more sophisticated than the others.
  • An article at the highest reading level analyzes the Boston Tea Party.
  • The same article, in this case geared toward a beginning reader, uses simpler language and concepts.
Comprehensive, accessible, and versatile, this database supports quality, differentiated research.
The options may overwhelm students at first; in the absence of a "get started" guide, teachers may need to do some extra scaffolding.
Bottom Line
Over 140,000 credible and up-to-date articles are presented with social media savvy; the research here is engaging and accessible.
Amy Lauren Botula
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

More fun than your grandma's encyclopedia! The image-rich design is simple and filled with videos, maps, and audio. This comprehensive resource makes research interactive and enjoyable.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

At all reading levels articles are thorough and relevant, and they usually include a video, an image, and sharing options. Navigation can seem overwhelming at first -- a "How To Get Started" video would be helpful.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Students can move among three reading levels without compromising learning. Articles offer translation, audio options, and definitions (with pronunciation) for all words. The How To guides, however, aren't as accessible.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

While Britannica School is great for students, it's also a solid curriculum design resource for teachers. You can choose from the library of plans or use the Lesson Plan Builder tool to customize activities to your own instructional goals and your students' needs.

As for students, interdisciplinary research projects are just the beginning. Britannica School can be used for independent work on any topic, and at any reading level. In language arts, before reading a novel with an unfamiliar setting, have students consult the site to get some context. With the option to save articles and email them, students can share what they read -- group research projects can take on a social media sensibility and efficiency.

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What's It Like?

Britannica School is Encyclopedia Britannica's online database for schools. The site offers substantial research support for students in elementary through high school, as well as instructional scaffolding for teachers. Content on the site is differentiated for elementary, middle, and high school reading levels. When visiting the simple homepage, students select their grade level, at which point they'll see a dropdown menu of prompts. Middle schoolers might see something like "Explore videos and articles on famous people and places" while high schoolers might see "Get quick facts and in-depth information on a wide variety of subjects."

Articles are available at three reading levels, labeled simply 1, 2, and 3. Students select their preference -- every article that follows will appear at that level. The Lesson Plan Browse and Lesson Plan Builder sections for teachers include search options for Common Core standards, reading level, and STEM connections. There's also information on specific instructional needs like ESL/ELL and Special Ed accommodations.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Even given its breadth, Wikipedia can't compete with the way that Britannica so completely caters to students' needs. Once students get comfortable navigating the site's many worthwhile options, they'll learn about -- and appreciate -- the importance of consulting reliable sources. Britannica School's extensive catalog of differentiated articles, multimedia features, translation and audio options, vocabulary support, and adaptive reading levels make the research experience manageable and accessible to students of all different learning levels and abilities.

The site's How To guides for research papers, book reviews, science reports, and presentations are all written with students in mind. However, these might be improved if they offered all of the same interactive features as the encyclopedia articles.

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