Help me build a fantasy search lesson: Search instruction from popular fiction

While you might be surprised at how passionate I once was about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, you will become less surprised when you hear why. Below you can find a little post I wrote on my very short-lived blog back in 2010, entitled: “A Searcher’s Review of Twilight: Book Vs. Movie Through the Eyes of a Search Geek.”

Originally, I only had one idea for a research skills lesson analyzing search choices in MG and YA literature. But then, several years ago, I came across this little gem in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, in which Scarlet is trying to figure out what the deal is with Wolf:

(Scarlet, p. 171-172)

So — new fantasy: What if we had a dozen or more research-related quotes from popular novels and could design a class where students picked one and came up with a short real-world lesson based on the fictional account?

My ask: Can you think of a brief passage from a book in your collection that speaks to or demonstrates thinking about research skills? If you email me directly or put them in the comments below, I would be most happy to compile a list of useful passages for the group.

In case we do not get to this new lesson, here is what I wished I had a class to teach to back when I read Twilight:

A Searcher’s Review of Twilight: Book vs. Movie Through the Eyes of a Search Geek

Well, it is that time again—the Twilight New Moon video is now part of our lives. Pre-teens and teenagers spend untold amounts of time mooning over Bella and Edward… providing, believe it or not, a great example of better quality, iterative searching.

Of the books’ strengths and weaknesses, what annoyed me most wasn’t the endlessly repetitive conversations, or the thousand uses of the word alabaster, but rather Bella’s very poor online search skills.

Bella, the heroine, tricks a member of the local Quileute tribe into telling her about love interest Edward’s secret:

In her agitation over this revelation, Bella naturally decides to hop online to verify the vampire claim. And that is what she searches: [vampire].

Bella reads though the site, “looking for anything that sounded familiar, let alone plausible,” (134) and comes up blank.

Meanwhile, my mind is fairly screaming, not about the revelation of Edward’s true identity, but rather about the fact that her friend gave her a perfectly good, highly specific and potentially powerful, search term, [cold ones], and it does not even occur to her to use it.  By sticking with a more general term, she not only opens herself up to many irrelevant hits, but fails to uncover pages that might have information matched to her specific information need. Like searching for [plant food] when you want to know what to feed your Venus fly trap. She ends up frustrated by her search process, feeling that it taught her nothing of use.

By contrast, movie-Bella has a search style that is worlds stronger.

In the film, instead of revealing Edward’s hidden identity, Bella’s friend darkly hints that Edward is somehow related to an old Quileute tribal legend, but refuses to say more. Bella then undertakes an iterative search process, in which she reads for search terms and folds them back into her search process to get more specificIn this example, Bella takes stock of what she knows, and goes online to find a more information (search: [Quileute legends]). She finds a book on Quileute myths, and homes in on the term cold one, which she then takes back online as her next search. Using this specific term, she finds precise information, which in fact allows her to build a list of attributes that she has recognized in Edward—speed, strength, and cold skin—and leverages that knowledge to add new ones—immortal, drinks blood—confirming for her that Edward is a vampire. A much more successful and satisfying search experience, if a weaker execution of the plot. This type of iterative searching is one of the key skills that I teach students, educators, and parents in my classes.

With the second movie in the Twilight Saga selling like crazy, and two more to come over the next two years, both the Twilight and the search lovers in your class can enjoy the opportunity to dig in.

My take away: No one wants to hear they have to run multiple searches to find information. So, use something kids do want to hear about to get the point across!

2 thoughts on “Help me build a fantasy search lesson: Search instruction from popular fiction

  1. I couldn’t think of specific passages, since I don’t own any of these books (I got them from the library, of course!), but know there were passages in these:

    Eight nights of flirting (Reynolds)–Trying to find info on 19th century Nantucket inhabitants using books and internet

    Homecoming (Morton–adult)–Reporter knew nothing of the tragedy in her family history, did initial search with vague details until she got the story

    Wind called my name (Sanchez)–pre-Internet; no one believed main character’s claim that there were Civil War battles in New Mexico (where she was from) until she could produce primary source documents; the power of the internet could have helped in this case.

    Simon sort of says–Town with no internet. When one kid went out of town, he had enough info about Simon’s family to Google him and learned about the tragedy.

    How to be a normal person (Klune–adult)–Hilarious sequences of searching on the internet for a first-time user trying to figure out how to be a normal person, among other things. Sometimes R-rated.

  2. Love this, for so many reasons. Even if we can’t build a lesson around it, I wonder if these passages could be useful for illustrating different ideas about search (I’m thinking of that workshop we went to years ago about using short stories in information literacy).

    I have a saved picture from The Civil War of Amos Abernathy (which thankfully includes the page number – page 79) about iterating on search terms. They’re researching gay people throughout history, and having difficulty because gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer are relatively recent terms, as is homosexuality. The passage I have includes the line “If we can just find the right words, I know we’ll find better evidence.”

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