Research is one of the most valuable skills we can teach learners. Because of the volume of information available online, it’s easy for children (and adults) to fall into the trap of believing everything they read. Before we go too deeply into information literacy lessons, though, we need to expose teens to research without overwhelming them. Walking them through the steps of using information as a foundation for critical thinking will set the stage for their future pursuits of research and prepare them for their roles as information analysts.
Recently, two ELA co-teachers approached me to collaborate on a ninth-grade research activity focusing on Of Mice and Men. For ninth graders, the beginning of high school can be daunting. Teachers expect more than they did in middle school, the workload is larger, and students are adjusting to a new and more challenging environment. Most ninth graders are not familiar with research. In my high school I’m working on implementing a grade-wide library orientation. For now, I do what I can to gradually introduce individual parts of the research model. After discussions with the English teachers, we decided that a webquest was a great way to start.
Created in 1995 by Bernie Dodge, a professor at San Diego State University, the webquest was made as “an inquiry-oriented activity in which some or all of the information that learners interact with comes from resources on the Internet” (Dodge). It is a guided research activity during which students use information that has already been selected for them. Taking out the step of searching for the information, it jumps directly into the act of consuming material and using it to complete an exercise that engages students in high-level thinking.
My colleagues began by creating an assignment focused on social inequality in Of Mice and Men. They highlighted ableism, ageism, racism, and sexism. I then found five articles for each topic and put together a Google Slides presentation with active links to the articles. (One of the teachers updated my slides using SlidesMania, a free resource I’m excited to start using!). Students would complete worksheets by finding examples of these “isms” from the webquest articles and their own knowledge, and locating a quote from the text relating to their choices. For their final task they would form a short response paragraph synthesizing the information they gathered from the webquest.
The Webquest Lesson
When the ninth-grade classes came to the library, students pulled up the shared Google Slides presentation and webquest worksheets on their personal devices. They then took a few minutes to complete the Do Now: “In modern times, how have we become more inclusive to others who may be considered different?” Once they were done, students shared their responses and we had a discussion about inclusivity in today’s society. Before they got to work, I introduced Sweet Search, the academic search engine from which I pulled the articles, explaining the benefits of using it. Finally, my colleagues went over the directions: choose two social inequalities from the slides, define each one, read the articles from the links provided on each slide, and find examples from the articles and their own lives. The next day, the teachers explained, they would write their short response paragraph in class.
As always with a lesson, the first period of teaching uncovers any glitches. As a result of our school’s updated digital security, some of the articles were blocked on student computers. Because there were five articles for each area, we redirected them to those that provided access. Then, in time for the next lesson, I switched the articles with ones that wouldn’t be blocked. Other observations led us to make a few minor changes: giving more specific directions for the webquest before students started their work; and narrowing the focus of the Do Now question with the hope of eliciting more responses.
Though it’s important for students to learn how to find and evaluate digital information on their own, it’s also essential for them to feel comfortable with research. A short webquest introduces them to the process without the complexity of the more difficult aspects. When the ninth-grade classes come back to the school library in a month for their formal research paper, they’ll be less intimidated and ready to go to the next level of research, which will include searching the databases, using keywords and limiters, lateral reading, citations, and source credibility analysis. By the time they move on to 10th grade, the students will have valuable research experience that will guide them as they conquer more strenuous projects.
Dodge, Bernie. “Some Thoughts About WebQuests.” Webquests. San Diego State University, 1997. http://webquest.org/sdsu/about_webquests.html
Author: Karin Greenberg
Karin Greenberg is the librarian at Manhasset High School in Manhasset, New York. She is a former English teacher and writes book reviews for School Library Journal. In addition to reading, she enjoys animals, walking, hiking, and spending time with her family. Follow her book account on Instagram @bookswithkg.