Organizing High School Research Using Database Tools

High school students often get a bad rap. They’re accused of being lazy, wasteful, immature . . . the list goes on. Through my experience working with adolescents, however, I’ve found that what most people interpret as irresponsible behavior is actually a reaction to feeling insecure and incapable. Teenagers are typically confused and overwhelmed by all of the data constantly being loaded into their brains. As a result, a large number of them are unable to organize their thoughts or words into models that help them efficiently and painlessly tackle their school work.

As librarians, we can take on this issue by teaching students how to navigate the research databases, whose modern iterations have dozens of tools through which to search, gather, and organize information. Though the English and social studies departments are the most frequent visitors when it comes to booking the library for specialized instruction, many other departments, including math and science, can reap the benefits of research lessons. Students in my school are initially reluctant to resort to anything more time consuming than Googling a topic, but they listen with cautious curiosity when I promise them that database use will cut down their total time spent working. During a recent presentation to 10th graders, when I showed them clear, simple steps to navigating the database tools, they became more convinced of the benefits and eagerly experimented with their newly learned skills. 

School database offerings vary greatly, depending on budget, state resources, and personal preferences. For the most part, though, all databases have features that allow users to streamline their searching processes, maximize their results, and assist in organizing information. The most commonly used research databases in our high school are GALE, eLibrary, EBSCO, and Bloom’s Literature. No matter what databases are available, though, all offer similar tools. Here are some of the features I have found to be the most useful for students:

  • Date/Year Search Limiter: Many students have no idea where to start once they open up the database home page. Eventually high school users may benefit from learning the advanced tools of the Boolean Operators, but in the beginning, the one search limiter that I find to be most relevant to them is manipulating the date range of their results. Most often this feature is found by clicking on Advanced Search and then putting in the date range. This proves especially helpful when writing about current events.
  • Saving to Google Drive:  One of the most common problems students have during research projects is trying to relocate an article that they previously viewed. Modern databases make it simple to save an article so that students never have to encounter this issue. My school uses Google Drive. The databases connect to this platform, enabling students who are signed into their school accounts to save an article with one click of the Google Drive icon. Databases also sync with other software, such as Microsoft.
  • Highlights and Notes: Not all databases include this feature but if you’re lucky enough to have a database that does, it will not only greatly improve the way students organize their research, but will also cut down on paper usage by eliminating the need to print articles. Students can highlight any portion of the article, color code it, and take notes on its specific value (“use this quote for the first paragraph”). Then, they can view all of the notes and highlights in list form, allowing them to organize the sections of their papers. This feature basically replaces the old-fashioned method of using index cards on which to write down quotes and citations.
  • Citations:  All databases I’ve encountered have the citation feature. Students who have been taught to use EasyBib have a hard time understanding that there is no need for that tool if they are using an article from a database. A simple click and they have the entire MLA8 (or whichever citation style they need) citation in front of them. I teach them to open up a blank Google Doc (or Word doc) titled Works Cited, and copy and paste each article citation into it. This way, when they are ready to finalize their Works Cited page, all they’ll have to do is alphabetize their citations and delete any that they did not wind up using.

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.

Categories: Blog Topics, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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3 replies

  1. Great article! I totally agree.

  2. Awesome post, Karin. This is really helpful to high school students while doing research work. I will also help CVESD students by sharing this post with them. Thank you so much for sharing.

  3. Thank you for introducing me to Sweet Search- I had never heard of it before and will be using it with a Latin class this week!

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