Search Tip for Students: Try Predicting Your Search Results

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Just as having students predict answers to math problems is a way of creating more meaningful learning, prediction can be a useful strategy in successful searching too.

Search results can be presented any number of ways: tables and charts, videos, infographs. We teach students how to develop an understanding of the kinds of information that's best conveyed with timelines, maps, or diagrams. Using what they know about all the different kinds of content and media, they can apply the same theories of predicting what they might find on their online searches.

Here are some guidelines for asking predictive questions even before they launch their search.

  • When I run this search, what do I expect to appear?It's extremely useful to get in the habit of spending just an instant anticipating what kind of results you expect your search terms to find. When students do not ask this question and search terms bring back unexpected results, they often come away feeling that there's nothing there. But when students prep themselves by considering what they expect to appear and then skim the first page of results, they're better prepared to spot any clues indicating that their terms have a meaning they did not foresee. It can be fun to practice this anticipation in class. Try asking students to anticipate what will appear for the searches [who], [the who], and [a who] in turn.
  • When I find this answer, what do I expect it to look like? This is where students imagine their perfect source. First, what types of words would this trusted source use? Would a doctor write about a busted arm, or possibly stick with the medical term fracture? From the Common Core standards to those from the American Association of School Librarians, we aim for thoughtful searches that consider the audience and purpose and be able to determine the format and voice that will communicate information most clearly. It stands to reason that if we teach students to look at a bunch of data and decide the best format for sharing it, with practice they should also be able to consider the information they need to find and have an idea of the format it will take when someone else has communicated it for their use. As searchers grow more sophisticated at prediction, they use anticipated language and medium in addition to applying advanced operators, color filtering, and other technical search features to build incisive queries.
  • When I click this link, what do I expect I will see? Asking this question also dovetails nicely with skimming the first screen or page of results. Actually seeing results and considering what you can determine about the page behind each can be helpful, as when a middle-schooler I knew was looking for information on what life was like in Colonial times, and came up with results like these:

Not just blindly clicking, but predicting what each page would hold increased his efficiency tremendously.


Have a question for The Savvy Searcher? Contact Tasha on Google+ or at tbm [at] google [dot] com and check out the Search Education Team’s resources. Read more from The Savvy Searcher.