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Surfing the Web Successfully

Photography, Searching, 31 Oct 2011, Jeffrey Beall, Flickr CC

How can I most effectively search for and then bookmark sites to use with my intermediate elementary students within the time constraints of my day? I need exciting, engaging resources to extend and enrich learning opportunities that will teach my students to view information like a historian.


It can be very frustrating spending time on search tools and not finding what you need. The good news is that major search tools such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo provide a variety of built-in search strategies that can assist in your search. These strategies deliver quality results while saving you time.

There is also an assortment of online tools that provide ways for teachers to bookmark and share resources with their students.

Search Strategies

Suggestion One: Exact Phrase
The first strategy that all teachers should be using is the Exact Phrase option allowed by all major search tools. For example, you may have tried searching for Civil War resources by simply typing the word "civil" and the word "war" into a Google search box. This search returns more than 184,000,000 results. This is because Google will return results for every website that has the word “civil” and the word “war.” You can force Google and other search tools to be more specific by enclosing phrases like Civil War inside quotation marks such as:

“civil war”

This forces the search tool to look for that specific phrase. You can include multiple words inside the quotation marks and include more than one set of phrases in your search. You might try this:

“American civil war” “lesson plan” “middle school” “primary source”

This revised search returns 25,000 results—all immediately useful.

Suggestion Two: Limiting Search
Here’s another shortcut. A simple search for “civil war” might include results for both American and British Civil Wars. To remove results about the British version, include the word British in your search but place a minus sign just before the word. This tells the search tool to “show me sites about the American Civil War but eliminate results containing the word 'British'.” It would look like this:

“civil war” –british

Suggestion Three: Title Search
Another easy way to increase your chances of finding quality resources is to search only the titles of websites rather than the text of sites. This strategy is much like a traditional card catalog library search. If a book is titled The American Civil War, you can be sure that the content within that book will be useful.

Do the same sort of search online by embedding the title qualifier into the search box along with your keywords. For Bing and Yahoo, the qualifier will look like this:

title:”civil war”

For Google, the qualifier is a bit different:

intitle:”civil war”

Your results will include just those websites that have the phrase “civil war” in the title of the site.

By using words and punctuation that remove useless information, you can find exactly what you need and do it in a timely way.

Online Bookmarking Tools

There are many tools that can help you store and share resources that you find online. Three used by educators:

  1. Diigo: Diigo stores sites that you find online into a password-protected free account that you can access anywhere, anytime. With Diigo, you can create folders for your favorites as well as “tag” each favorite. This makes it easy to find sites that are saved. This “tagging” system also makes it easy for you to share sites with your students. Here's an example of Diigo resources tagged as “civil war.”
  2. LiveBinders: LiveBinders is similar to Diigo. After creating your free account, you create the online equivalent of a 3-ring binder with tabs that hold your favorite websites. These binders can then be shared with your students via a specific URL. The beauty of LiveBinders is that each of the websites will open within the LiveBinder page so that your students travel only to the sites you share. An example of a Civil War LiveBinder can be found here.
  3. URList: URList is not a site that bookmarks the sites you find. Instead, use URList to quickly and easily create lists of sites that you want to share with your students. Each of your lists has a specific URL, making it great for younger students who often have trouble typing long web addresses. An option allows others to edit the lists—use this feature to encourage cooperative learning among student groups. Lists can be created with or without an account. An example can be found here.
For more information 

Check out these links for guides and tips to using several search engines:

And take a look at our Tech for Teachers on search engines for links to more strategies.