Teaching Students to Utilize the Internet Appropriately for Research and Writing Projects

1. Expectations– The teacher communicates high expectations for student learning.

1.2 Communicating with Students
Teacher’s explanation of content is appropriate and connects with students’ knowledge and experience.

When elementary students are beginning research and writing projects, it is important to understand that most students will need an overview of expectations prior to beginning their research. While the library is an essential resource for student learning, I myself have witnessed students being directed to the library and/or the Internet without any prior instruction in regard to research expectations. Sharkey (2013) states students’ research rarely goes “…beyond the ‘grazing’ stage” (p. 34). When evaluating the appropriateness of a research activity, it is important to teach students how to research and what this process would entail. Hertz (2012) usually begins this process “…in the third grade just at the time where [her] students’ reading skills are such that they can feel successful and just at the time when they have mounds and mounds of natural curiosity” (2nd paragraph). While I can see variations of the process I will describe in earlier grade levels, it can be more encompassing when students have more experience with reading and internet/computer use.

The process I have found to be useful in providing students with opportunities to thoroughly research (and understand why they are researching) for a writing project falls in line with Standard 3 as outlined by the 2007 ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•T) and Performance Indicators for Teachers (2008):

  1. Research and information fluency
    Students apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information.
    a. Plan strategies to guide inquiry
    b. Locate, organize, analyze, evaluate, synthesize, and ethically use information from a variety of sources and media
    c. Evaluate and select information sources and digital tools based on the appropriateness to specific tasks
    d. Process data and report results
    (ISTE standards for students, 2007, p.1)

When interpreting this standard, it is important to plan lessons that capture student interest, review students’ prior knowledge of how to research information, how to organize and ethically use this information, how to use the information as well as cite it, and how to create final compositions including this utilized research. Sharkey (2013) further states that students who have access to various forms of technology such as “…cell phones, video games, and Internet surfing do not always have the necessary technological skill set or knowledge of higher-level applications to be successful in their academic endeavors” (p. 34). Therefore teachers must never assume that students are going to understand how to research beyond the “grazing” level. Reviewing research methods in a course of mini-lessons prior to a larger project submittal may help students achieve a more thorough research process. Hertz (2012) presents a diagram, referenced in Figure 1, outlining a process that can be utilized when teaching student at any level how to begin their research.


Figure 1: Research process taught in mini lessons diagram (Hertz, 2012).

Students at any grade level could be introduced to this process to complete a variety of tasks. For example, I’ve seen a similar process taught in a seventh grade science class. After completing several assignments outlining Newton’s Laws, the teacher assigned the class to groups of four to design and build mousetrap cars (energy generated by a mousetrap powers the cars). The teacher handed out workbooks outlining the process for this assignment. As mini-lessons were completed, students documented their learning in their workbooks. First they evaluated different research processes to find out how best to design and construct a mousetrap car, using an engineering process. The teacher modeled some ways to do online research on the interactive whiteboard and then students worked individually within their groups on Chromebooks to practice. Next, within their groups, students shared different websites that contained information on designing and building mousetrap cars. The teacher then asked that students document their sources in their workbooks for a write-up that they would generate at the end of the assignment. Over the next couple of weeks, student groups generated three research ideas, creating a list of supplies, a budget, and source information for each; groups then voted on their favorite of the three ideas. Finally, students were provided with artificial currency to shop out of the classroom supplies to in order to build their designs. Once each group completed their cars, students competed to see which car ran the furthest. These findings were documented in student workbooks. At the end of the assignment the teacher modeled how to cite sources from their Internet research. Each student wrote a reflection on the design and fabrication process and cited their sources.

This seventh grade example follows a similar process as outlined by Hertz but how would this model work in an elementary setting? I have embellished on the details of Hertz’s illustration as shown in Figure 2, noting that this diagram may be useful for later elementary grades.


Figure 2: Expanding on Hertz’s diagram (Hertz, 2012).

For example, Step 1, What is Research, could be a mini-lesson that opens with a classroom discussion, utilizing a KWL Chart or similar graphic organizer. Examples can be presented during this discussion, such as the illustration in Figure 3 as outlined by the Kentucky Virtual Library (2004). Throughout the process, each step could be outlined on it’s own or could be grouped with another step as a mini-lesson. Copyright and Plagiarism as noted in Step 5 could be a challenging concept for elementary students to understand. Videos such as “What is Copyright” as shown in the screen shot in Figure 4 could also be utilized to help explain this.

The KYVL for Kids Research Portal - How to do research Home Base

Figure 3: How to Do Research Illustration (Kentucky Virtual Library 2004).

1. What's Copyright? Music Video | Media Education Lab

Figure 4: Educational videos can be found online to utilize in mini-lessons (Media Education Lab, 2004).

In other words, all of the steps in the diagram can be taught as mini-lessons allowing students to understand how to practice online research. During the course of these mini-lessons, the class can continue to update the KWL Chart and/or beginning graphic organizer to reflect on new knowledge. Once they have had an opportunity to practice this process, they could work on a larger project to fulfill a research assignment that could also serve as a final assessment of new knowledge. This model could be utilized for a mini-unit in a variety of subject areas and steps could be simplified based on the age level of students.

While elementary students are just exploring online research methods, teachers can devise ways to teach them to more thoroughly research information presented to them. Rather than just assess student knowledge and direct them toward the library and/or Internet, thorough online research methods can be taught at early ages. By utilizing mini-lessons to present students with opportunities to learn and practice to research online, students can utilize this practice on a more complex assignment. Utilizing the model presented by Hertz, lessons can be planned to meet all of the criteria in Standard 3 as outlined by the 2007 ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•T) and Performance Indicators for Teachers (2008). Moreover, students will have a clearer understanding of expectations on research projects.


Hertz, M. B. (2012). Doing internet research at the elementary level. Edutopia. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/elementary-research-mary-beth-hertz

ISTE standards for students (2007). International Society for Technology Education. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/standards/standards-for-students

Kentucky Virtual Library. (2004). [Children’s illustration showing a research process 2004]. How to do research. Retrieved from http://www.kyvl.org/kids/homebase.html

Media Education Lab: University of Rhode Island (2012). [Music video for children on copyright, intellectual property, and fair use]. What is copyright? Retrieved from http://mediaeducationlab.com/1-whats-copyright-music-video

Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & User Services Quarterly Illinois State University, 53 (1), 33-39. doi:10.5860/rusq.53n1.33


3 thoughts on “Teaching Students to Utilize the Internet Appropriately for Research and Writing Projects

  1. Great post. In particular, I appreciated the What is Research FlowChart with suggested activities. It would make a perfect unit framework for ANY grade level. I too have noticed teachers (myself included) not prepping students enough before sending them onto the web. Thanks for sharing.


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