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Search Tools for Elementary Children

by Miriam Downey 22. November 2011 13:24



Children like to "look up stuff." I will never forget my absolute delight when our parents purchased a set of Compton's Encyclopedias when I was eight years old. At the same time, my father purchased a reel-to-reel tape recorder. I remember that winter very well; I read articles in the encyclopedia about famous people (people like Thomas Edison, Louisa May Alcott, Abraham Lincoln), and I wrote reports about them and then taped myself reading aloud those reports. Not for school--just for fun (a geeky researcher in the making, I guess).

Most "stuff" gets looked up on the Internet these days, and, of course, there are dangers attached with looking up stuff on the Internet. If Google is your search engine, the most popular sites come up first--not necessarily the sites with the best information. Many are commercial sites (dot coms). What you want for your children are easy to read sites, filled with pictures, and with as few pop-ups and ads as possible.


I decided to seek out information about groundhogs (woodchucks) on some recommended search engines for kids. We have a groundhog that eats our bird feed (see my posting about Wikipedia). I pretended I was a kid and wanted to know where that groundhog was living. Here are some suggested kid-friendly search engines and what I discovered.

Kids Search Tools. This is a gathering spot for kid's search engines. I used this as the basis for my search.

I first clicked on Fact Monster. This website has basic facts, dictionary definitions, and encyclopedia entries. Please note that most online encyclopedias, like World Book and Britannica, need a membership in order to be accessible. It was on the online dictionary in Fact Monster, however, that I discovered that groundhogs and woodchucks are the same thing. This website is a bit busy. Children might need some guidance.

Then I tried Kids Click. This site was a bit hard to navigate, but it was the search engine that I used with second graders when we were doing research projects in my school library. If a parent helps with the search, this search engine leads children to websites where they will find their information. I found groundhogs on the Animal Diversity website.

Another search engine for kids is Yahoo Kids. This search engine has an area called Studyzone. In that area, I easily found several sites about groundhogs. However, this search engine is very busy and has a lot of TV shows on the site as well as a lot of video games. The good part about it is if they get lost in video game land, the games are all kid safe.

The Awesome Library was very easy to navigate with many websites about animals and animal pictures. The one problem that I had with this search engine was that some of the recommended sites were not active. It looked like it hadn't been updated for a while. Children would need some guidance when using this site so that they don't get frustrated. Another warning: there are ads on some of the recommended sites, but they are for rather innocuous things, like hotels, etc.


I think my favorite search engine for kids was Ask Kids. Children formulate and ask the site a question. This serves a double purpose because it not only gets the child to some good websites, but it also teaches question asking skills. Up pops a bunch of proven sites where answers can be found. I had to go to "Groundhog's Day" in order to find the answer to my question, "Where do groundhogs live?" But then I was led to many websites with no advertisements. The site also has a lot of pre-written questions that children can research. Great for Exploring.

Most parents understand never to let a young child venture onto the Internet without guidance, and I would recommend that the computer your child is using be in plain site. That way, you can help if they are struggling to find the "stuff" they are looking up. Happy searching.

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How much wood could a woodchuck chuck? Using Wikipedia for research

by Miriam Downey 16. November 2011 14:47

I admit it...I love research. I love doing research and I love helping people with research. I also know that research is a daunting task for middle- and high-school aged students. Where to begin?

When we adults were in 7th or 8th grade and had to write a research essay about something, we would go first to the encyclopedia and look up our topic. But if we needed three sources (which most teachers required), what would we do next/ A book? A magazine? Go to the library and ask the librarian?

Doing research in 2011 is a totally different experience than it was even ten years ago. A world of information is available when we type in a search term on Google. And usually, the first source that comes up is Wikipedia. Because of, or despite, its immediacy, we have to ask: is Wikipedia the most reliable source?

Before we can discuss the value of Wikipedia as a source of information for a research project, we have to understand what Wikipedia is. A wiki is a "website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users" (1). So, for instance, a wiki would allow owners of a business to develop their business plan together, each person offering his edits for the entire group to see.

Wikipedia is a wiki that is an online encyclopedia which gives every registered user an opportunity to add the information that they know to a subject, any subject. Even though Wikipedia has a staff of editors and monitors, most of its content is written by users--ordinary people like you and me. This means that anyone can write or edit a Wikipedia entry, and there is a wide range of quality and reliability in its information. Just because it's there doesn't mean it's true. It just means that someone put it there.

This is not to say that Wikipedia shouldn't be used in research. It is a great starting point.

For instance, let's research my friendly neighborhood groundhog that is eating all the birdseed that falls from my bird feeder. Wikipedia has an extensive article about groundhogs (2). I actually looked on Wikipedia first because I knew that I could get a quick overview of the subject of groundhogs on Wikipedia. The first thing I learned was that groundhogs can also be called woodchucks.

This Wikipedia article looks reliable to me because most of the stated facts have references connected to them. If I were going to write a paper on groundhogs, I would first read through the article to get the basic facts, and then I would go immediately to the reference list (works cited) at the bottom of the article. At the bottom, I find an article from the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web (3). I would consider this to be a reliable source (proof that the people who wrote the Wikipedia entry for groundhog knew what they were doing).

If this is going to be a research paper, The Animal Diversity Web source would be your first source, not the Wikipedia article. Then, continuing to utilize the references from the Wikipedia article, I notice that there are two or three books cited as well as articles from the Canadian wildlife service and the North Carolina wildlife service. These are also reliable sources. I would go to two or three of those sources to complete my research about groundhogs.

My friend, David Nurenberg, who is a high school teacher in Massachusetts, has this rule for his sophomore research students: "When citing your sources in your research paper, you must cite the actual source, not just Wikipedia in your works cited." He also teaches his students what he calls the "Three Rs" of research sources--relevance, reliability, and realization of bias. This type of critical thinking will help students write better papers and be more discriminatory in their research (4).

If you have questions about anything I have discussed in this blog posting; if you have questions about appropriate research tools; or if you need help finding information, please email me at Please also comment in the comment box. I know other readers would value your comments and your experiences about research as well as websites you have found helpful for research.

(1) The New Oxford American Dictionary, 2005.



(4) David Nurenberg interview

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