Searching Smarter
Lesson Plan - Academic Skills

Skill Area: Researching
Subject: Social Studies, English Language Arts
Learning Objectives: This lesson helps students learn new strategies for shaping online research: selecting and adjusting keywords, using search tools and filters, and changing search parameters based on previous results.

Materials Needed

Video tutorials available for students in the Academic Success Corner of your ABC-CLIO database:

  1. "Searching Smarter, Part One: Choosing the Right Search Terms"
  2. "Searching Smarter, Part Two: Research Tools and Filters"
  3. "Searching Smarter, Part Three: Learning from Our Results"

Provided handout (online or hard copy)

Instructional Procedure

View Handout

View Handout

Note that the lesson handout offers three sample research questions that students can use if the activity serves as a stand-alone exercise; however, students can also apply the activity to their own topic if they're currently working on a specific research assignment.

Day 1

Begin the activity with a general discussion about how students conduct research. How do students find information, both in and outside the classroom? When they want to gain basic knowledge about something, what are their first steps? Have they ever had difficulty getting the information they were looking for? What can make online searching challenging? One intended conclusion to be reached: search results are dependent upon what words and tools we use to shape the search itself.

Students can then view the first video in the Searching Smarter series, "Part One: Choosing the Right Search Terms."

Then, the class can proceed to the Exercise 1 as a class, in small group/pairs, or individually. In this exercise, students select search words/phrases that connect with their research task and record how the terms impacted their results, including how different types of search terms (broader, narrow, synonymous) shaped their discoveries. Emphasis can be placed on examining the type of results they find, rather than closely reading the resources themselves.

Outcome of Day 1: Students gain a greater understanding of online searching, and how their choice of search terms can shape their results.

Day 2

After watching the second video in the series, "Part Two: Research Tools and Filters," students can complete the second exercise, which builds on information obtained in the first. Using search terms employed in Exercise 1, students experiment with Boolean operators. Because they know their research landscape well after the previous exercise's multiple searches, they can see how adding the terms "or," "and," and "not" can either broaden or narrow down their findings. In the process, they can add to their understanding of how these search operators can adjust the scope of their selected topic.

The third and final exercise can also be completed on Day 2. After watching the final video, "Part Three: Learning from Our Results," students return to their original list of search terms one more time, selecting one and engaging in another online search. This time, students are required to review some of the sources they found more carefully, looking for new ideas within those sources that can provoke new questions. They then engage in two subsequent search rounds, defined by more concrete concepts found in previous searches.

Afterwards, students review their findings to describe the experience of using new search terms extracts from previous search results.


Students can work through the activity alone or in collaboration, or in combination (Exercises 1 and 2 can effectively serve students in group or pairs, preparing them for individual work for Exercise 3). Instructors can assign the exercise with the provided research questions, or have students apply the activity to an existing research task.


Students will be assessed on their ability to:

  • Demonstrate the ability to identify and apply key words and phrases to a research task
  • Make strategic decisions that will broaden, narrow, and deepen a search

Additional Resources

Abilock, Debbie. "Adding Friction. A Librarian Asks, 'Any Ideas for Quick Database Activities that Build Curiosity?'." School Library Connection, May 2021.

Abilock, Debbie. "A Librarian Asks, 'What Good Are Search Terms When Searching Is Finished?'." School Library Connection, August 2021.

Bergson-Michelson, Tasha. "Teaching Effective Search." School Library Connection video. April 2022.

Fontichiaro, Kristin. "Nudging toward Inquiry. Re-Envisioning Existing Research Projects." School Library Monthly, 26, no. 1, September 2009.

Fullner, Sheryl. "Smooth Operator! Four Strategies to Teach Boolean Searching." Library Media Connection, March 2012.

"Smart Search: Thinking about Searching for and Finding Great Information." School Library Connection, April 2022.

Seth Taylor
Seth Taylor, MFA, has 20 years of experience in higher education as a teacher, administrator and professional development specialist. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses in Rhetoric, Composition and Research Methodology San Diego State University, Colorado State University, and the University of Redlands.

MLA Citation

Taylor, Seth. "Searching Smarter." ABC-CLIO Solutions, ABC-CLIO, 2022, Accessed 17 Aug. 2022.

View all citation styles.

Back to Top