Helping Students Become Better Online Researchers

Your students are probably Internet authorities. When it comes to Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube, they might know far more than you. All of that time spent tweeting and chatting doesn’t necessarily translate to deep learning though. As students progress through school, online research skills become more important — for good reason.

Both college professors and employers will expect young people to know their way around the academic side of the Internet; a skill that for many students, needs to be taught. In a Pew survey, a majority of teachers said that their students lacked patience and determination when doing difficult research. A majority of teachers also said that their students didn’t know how to use multiple sources to support an argument. We’re about to change that. Read on to find some of the best websites for teaching digital literacy.

Online researcher

Image via Flickr by Brad Flickinger

Search terms

For many students, doing research means typing a word or two into a Google search and using information from the first link that pops up. Students need to know that the quality of their search terms helps determine the quality of the information that they find. If you’re new to strategic searching, or need fresh ideas, we’ve gathered some lessons to get your students’ brains turning.

Common Sense Media

You will find lesson plans to teach strategic searches to middle school and high school students. As with everything on the Common Sense Media site, these lessons are focused on finding quality material and keeping children safe online.


Of course Google will be a go-to source both for doing searches and for finding related lessons. Google has lessons on selecting search terms, narrowing searches, and evaluating sources. Options range from beginning to advanced, so you can tailor the lesson to students from elementary school on up. For some brainy fun, try the Google A Day Challenge, which poses difficult questions that students might be able to answer with their new searching expertise.


Do you have a complicated relationship with Wikipedia? You’re not alone. While the site is packed with interesting information, students tend to use it as a one-stop shop for research. Often, they don’t realize that they need to check the reliability of that information. The Internet is overflowing with all sorts of biases, and students must learn to sort fact from fiction. This can be a challenging lesson to teach, but it’s usually fascinating as well.

Teaching Channel

Here, you will find a short video of a lesson on assessing websites. The Teaching Channel also has lesson ideas for teaching online research and fair use. This is a great site for teachers who can’t devote a full class period to research skills and need quick, succinct lessons.

Read Write Think

This is an in-depth lesson plan for teaching students to evaluate web sites. Students will learn to consider the author, audience, and purpose of a website and to ponder the role of advertising. There are good resources here, such as a website evaluation form, even for teachers who don’t want to use the full lesson.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything

Find an amalgamation of resources here to teach critical evaluation. There are links to lesson plans and articles on the importance of digital literacy. The 5 W’s of Website Evaluation worksheet is a handy reminder of everything that your students — and you — should be thinking about when gathering information from a website.

Digging Deeper

Though the Internet offers breadth on every topic, it sometimes doesn’t offer much depth. And a simple Google search often won’t lead students to the meaty resources they should be using. We’ve gathered sites that will give students the detailed research they need quickly, saving them — and you — hours of frustration. Along with these sites, remind students that many newspaper websites have searchable archives.

Kentucky Virtual Library

This portal guides children from kindergarten through high school on how to select keywords, take notes, and more. It also allows children to search kid-friendly databases, such as Grolier Online, so that they find information that is right for their reading level and age.

Google Books

Students can search millions of books for information, and they will find previews of pages or even an entire book. Some students might use this to avoid a trip to the library. But with some helpful teacherly guidance, this could be a stepping stone that gets kids into the library to dig deeper.

Google Scholar

Google’s academic search site sifts through scholarly articles and even law cases. This is best for high school students who already have some research experience. Send them here when they need authoritative information to support their views.


Explaining plagiarism with books is clear-cut. The author’s name is there on the cover, and the author was paid for the work. The Internet can be trickier to work with. Sometimes no author is named, and much of the information is provided for free, so students might not see any harm as passing the work off as their own. Any lesson on research will also require a lesson on citations and fair use. Many teaching websites offer ideas, and we’ve found a few more.

Purdue Online Writing Lab

The writing lab has links to lessons both on understanding plagiarism and teaching students how to avoid it. Use these ideas to have students create their own ethics policy or one for the whole class.

The New York Times

If you think a discussion of plagiarism might be a snooze, check out the resources here. You’ll find lessons involving plagiarism in music and even school textbooks. Students can also respond to questions about whether cheating is increasing and whether they consider this a big problem.

Consult an expert

Students — and if we’re being honest, teachers — love online research because it saves time. They don’t have to go to the library and wander through shelves of books. Remind students that although online research is wonderful, librarians are also wonderful. They are experts in information technology and often know of the best resources — even online — for students. So keep these websites handy, but befriend your librarian, too.

Editor’s note: This piece was originally written by Jeff Dunn and ran on November 9, 2012. A lot has changed since then, so we’ve had author Sarah Muthler update this piece with the latest techniques and innovations.


  1. Online Spanish

    October 3, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    I once had a lesson with my Spanish learners and we used Google to find specific grammar topics. It was fun and the learners liked it too.

    It’s a very effective way to teach multiple skills to students.

  2. Magdalena Carpenter

    October 13, 2015 at 3:36 am

    Nowadays Internet is need of every people. So keep update with your child in on-line presence and teach them how to on-line research are done. This article is best option for on-line presence.

  3. Lisa Ballinger

    October 22, 2015 at 2:39 am

    That’s the danger with doing research today. It is far too tempting to type the search term into google rather than investing the time to do genuine research.

  4. Tia

    November 12, 2015 at 7:58 am

    Our world is addicted to technologies. It’s hardly ever to imagine the way technological evolution has changed our lives. So, I think every teacher needs to tech children how to use google and find out the information they really need. Such kind of research, without doubts, will cultivate logical way of thinking. By the way, the idea of plagiarism works! Actually, the problem of plagiarism settled unawares in my class, so I’ve decided to dedicated lesson to this. We’re talking about famous plagiarists. Also, students compared some texts using Unplag checker The results were awesome! From that day, every Friday we discuss with students educational innovations which can paint their studying process.

  5. Christine McKenna Lok

    November 16, 2015 at 2:43 am

    These are great resources! My students reported spending more time than I expected finding relevant materials, so I changed the assignment to a student screencast the following year. Rather than basing a grade on their summary of an article, I had the students record themselves as they conducted an online search for journal articles on their topics. Students were to talk me through their choices of terms and explain why they took each step of their search. Students had to incorporate the articles in a related end-of-semester project, so this interim grade was a chance to learn more about their processes and offer individualized feedback on how they used keywords, whether they understood the impact of adding quotation marks and additional terms, etc. You can read more here:

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