Oct 13, 2011 by Joseph DuLaney
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Using Google in the classroom

Today is research day.

Your students are excited as they head to the computer lab to begin looking at ideas for their National History Day Projects.

They arrive.  Sit at their computer.  Open Google and begin typing their topic into the search bar.

Just then a bit of panic sets in as you realize Google Search can return all kinds of results, and your students are pouring over literally millions of target locations that possibly have no relevance to the research they are attempting to conduct.  Even worse in your mind is that you have possibly just wasted thirty minutes of valuable time—time that could have been much more productive if you just knew a couple of things about Google Search.

Google Basic Search is how most of us use Google.  It gives you the simple task of typing your search topic in the Google Search Bar and accepting the results it hands back. 

It is valuable to know that Google compiles those results in many different ways, and not always in the specific way in which we are looking. For example, when I search for the Great Divide (or Continental Divide), which was a major factor in United States Westward Expansion, I get these top three results:

  1. Great Divide Brewing Co.  This may be a fine microbrewery but definitely wasn’t a hangout for the Westward Explorers.
  2. Great Divide Snow Sports.  I do not recall the explorers using snowboards so I believe we can rule this site out as well 
  3. The Great Divide Band, of which none of the members were even born during the time period, once again provides nothing in the way of help in research on the topic of the Great Divide. 

Now, take a look at some simple tools that will provide a powerful and impactful search for your students and maximize their time performing research.  These tools are called Google Search Operators, and two common Operators are Site:and Source:.

Site:,when typed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information on Google from specific sites or domain extensions (.com, .net, .edu) thus narrowing the search only to websites that are considered relevant and appropriate, such as educational institutions, media, government sites, etc.  For educational institutions you would use their domain extension, site:edu, to generate only results that come from the educational community such as universities.  For media or other websites you use their site and extension—some examples include site:cnn.com which would generate searches specifically from CNN.com or site:apple.com which would generate searches only from the Apple website.  Give it a try.  Type in Google Search [Steve Jobs site:CNN.com] or [Steve Jobs site:apple.com]. 

Source:is a very focused search operator that, when placed after a search topic, allows a searcher to find information from a specific news source such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journalor a local newspaper.  To perform a search with source: you would follow the same steps as you would with site:, instead just typing the source in which you are looking to gain information.  Try this search: [Election source:New York Times], which prioritizes results on the topic of elections that have been published in The New York Times.

There are many other advanced search operators for use with Google, but these two simple operators are a great start to help your students focus their time on performing credible research.  If you would like to learn about these and other options, you can visit Google’s web search support pagefor more information.

Related Reading:

Opening the Classroom Through Online Collaboration: 21st Century Learning Environments

Why Limit Screen Time? Scientific Research Explains