Searching for search terms

I frequently tell students that using the same search terms over and over again will mean they find the same information and perspectives over and over again. But in my experience, students really struggle with how to develop a range of search terms. Inspired by a post of Tasha’s I wanted to try another way to help students think more expansively about what search terms they could use.

The class I worked with on this is doing research about repatriating culturally significant objects. They’ll be learning what they can about the history of a specific object, and then making an argument about whether or not it should be repatriated. This is a research task in which finding multiple perspectives is really important – and varying search terms is going to help students find those perspectives.

I started by talking about the difference between the words in your question and the words in your answer, using an example that a student came up with. This is a concept that many students find difficult to wrap their heads around, but this example really seems to help. We talk about how [impact] is not a term specific to their answer, but the different kinds of impact sun exposure can have are useful search terms – and also how sunburn/skin damage describe different impacts than vitamin D/seasonal affective disorder.

Next, I showed students how I might approach this task. I pulled passages from a few articles they’d already read, and highlighted terms that I might use in searching; I pulled out expert vocabulary, phrases, and the names of organizations and legislation. I then gave students two articles about the repatriation of an Alutiiq kayak that was held by Harvard’s Peabody Museum. One article was from the Harvard Crimson, and the other was a press release from the Alutiiq Museum. Working in small groups, students highlighted terms and phrases that they thought could be useful in their search.

The list of terms they found was amazing! This list below is in addition to the ones I pulled out from the passages I read. This activity also allowed us to correct some misunderstandings about what might make for effective search terms.

As students shared terms, I asked them to note which article they had found the term in. We had a brief discussion about how the terms differed between sources; next time I do this I need to devote more time to this part of the lesson as it’s a valuable part of understanding how different terms help find different perspectives.

After this lesson students have a bank of search terms to return to as they search – and, hopefully, a better understanding of how to find effective search terms.

One thought on “Searching for search terms

  1. This is great! Thank you so much for sharing. I love the difference between a question and the answers in regards to search terms.

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