Effective Search Strategies: High School Information Literacy Seminar

Research Papers EverywhereI created a 30 minute information literacy seminar, aimed at grade 11 or 12 university level classes. It could easily be altered to fit any subject by changing the subject searches and database. The lesson plan includes active learning activities and pre- and post- assessment. I found that very few students had any background experience using this type of database, and after the session they had gained new skills and knowledge.


One learning objective is, “Students can explain the advantages of databases compared to Google.” One of the first things I say during the presentation is, “as you begin a research project, your instinct might be to go straight to Google and type in the title of your topic. Who’s done that before?” Everyone nods or raises a hand. At the very end I ask everyone if they think they’ll be using academic databases as their main research tool for this project – again, thankfully, everyone raised their hands or said yes. At points throughout, I open the class up for discussion, and students were able to name reasons why databases might work better than Google (credibility, relevancy, saves time). Success!

Another learning objective is, “Students can identify the best search term combination from a list.” As a pre-assessment, I showed the class the advanced Boolean search page, and asked them to raise their hand if they’d ever used AND or OR to connect search terms before. Zero students raised their hands. By the end of the presentations, all of the students were responding to the post-assessment questions correctly.

Active Learning

I included an active learning activity in the middle of the session – Boolean Cards. Every student got a random card from the deck. I put a search string on the screen (e.g. Red AND Diamond, Red OR Diamond, Club OR Heart, Red OR Black, etc), and students were asked to stand if their card was “retrieved” by the search. This worked very well – it engaged the entire class. Only one error was made during the first “search,” and immediate feedback was given to explain why it was an error.


I did 5 search demonstrations throughout the class:

  • Google search for “Criminal Profiling” (retrieves over 2 million results of definitions and career information) compared to database search for “Criminal Profiling” (retrieves 48 relevant and credible academic articles)
  • Keyword search for “Wrongful Convictions” (retrieves an overwhelming number of articles, some of which are irrelevant) vs subject search for “Wrongful Convictions” (fewer results, more relevancy)
  • “Wrongful Convictions AND Canada” (narrows the search) vs “Wrongful Convictions OR Canada” (broadens the search – retrieves thousands of irrelevant results)
  • “Canada” vs “Canad*” (wildcard retrieves way more results)
  • Special features of the databases (dictionary tool, Subject Analyzer, peer review filter, citation tool, etc.)


I believe that libraries should be sharing their resources as much as possible – it’s a great way to learn from each other and offer exceptional services to our communities. Feel free to use the following resources in your class – please let me know if you use them, and do not claim the work as your own.

Dangerous Research

What tips do you have for creating an engaging information literacy class?

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