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THE NEW MEDIA CENTER: Google Literacy Lesson Plans--Way Beyond ‘Just Google It’

By Mary Alice Anderson - Posted Sep 1, 2012
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We use Google for our own information needs, so why should we expect the students to only use what we want them to use? The consensus on this is that we should teach students how to search both Google and databases effectively. Nothing new here. But Google’s Literacy Lesson Plans released in May 2012 are something new.

Students’ tendencies to “just Google it” while ignoring subscription databases and primary sources raise concern among media specialists and teachers. Discussions about banning or limiting Google haven’t gone away. Some have even suggested banning searching .com sites. The reality is we use Google for our own information needs, so why should we expect the students to only use what we want them to use? The consensus on this is that we should teach students how to search both Google and databases effectively. Nothing new here. But Google’s Literacy Lesson Plans released in May 2012 are something new.

These lessons are designed to help media specialists and teachers teach students how to search Google effectively. They are aligned with Common Core State Standards for reading, writing, and language. Fifteen lessons are organized in five categories. Each category has lessons for beginning, intermediate, and advanced searchers. Some lessons overlap levels. The categories are as follows:

• Picking search terms

• Understanding search results

• Narrowing a search for better results

• Searching for evidence for research tasks

• Evaluating source credibility

The overview page provides introductory information, spells out the standards, and defines basic logistics of lesson design and teaching. A lesson plan map provides more details of each lesson in an easy-to-read grid format.

The step-by-step lessons are accessible as Google Docs. Each lesson includes embedded links to related resources such as web links, YouTube videos, and Docs Presentations. Features common to each lesson are as follows:

• An essential guiding question

• Lesson overview

• Alignment with Common Core Standards (sample list included later)

• Supporting resources and materials

• Lesson length (one or two 50-minute sessions per lesson)

• Teacher notes

• Step-by-step teacher directions along with links to supporting resources and speaker notes

• Suggested extensions and differentiation

• Assessments

In this month’s New Media Center column, we’ll look at selected lessons representing each level and category to give you a flavor of the lesson designs and their purposes.

Picking the Right Search Term: Beginner

Essential guiding question: How can appropriate search terms and queries guide targeted searches?

We know what happens when students Google “Lions” or “Vikings” and get mixed, often distracting results. One “Picking the right search term” lesson is designed to help students use the appropriate terms so they do get the desired result. Activities encourage students to think about appropriate search terms and learn how search terms work to find information for them. Students are asked to identify keywords and gather information from print and digital resources. Some sections are based on searching for information related to the character Tyson in a Percy Jackson book. Supporting materials include a 3-minute, kid-friendly YouTube video, “How Search Works,” a presentation with search result screen shots and clear visuals displaying how to parse a search question and use the words that yield the desired results. Other search examples ask students to find answers to questions about how to toss pizza dough, a cow with a blister, and other topics kids will enjoy. The lesson script provides enough details so the teacher knows what to do, say, and ask. The lesson can be done offline, a bonus for limited classroom internet access or for keeping students focused.

Evaluating Credibility of Sources: Beginner/Intermediate

Essential guiding question: How do I evaluate the credibility of sources and determine which ones to use for a specific task?

This more complex lesson teaches students how and why researchers evaluate results, asking them to provide a rationale for why they chose a site. Students examine informational text (viewable as a Docs Presentation, with a document camera or printed copy) and determine, “Who wrote the information, the date it was written, and if the information can be verified.” A differentiated list of web links, a scavenger hunt information record sheet to record discoveries, and an information sleuth game are available to download and print out. The printable handout “How do I identify credible sources?” is useful for researchers at any stage of development. The lesson supports Common Core Reading Standards for Informational Text and Writing. As with the previous lesson, the directions are thorough.

Picking the Right Search Terms: Intermediate

Essential unit guiding question: How can appropriate search terms and queries guide targeted searches?

Context terms can be used in a targeted search to locate a specific format. Teachers and media specialists who want their students to use primary sources and use Google to find those sources will love this lesson. Activities involve identifying unique features of primary sources and identifying context terms. Students are asked to examine four unique primary source documents from the 1960’s Civil Rights era (letter, map, arrest warrant, and House roll call vote) to discover keywords and phrases. Another cool part of the activity is visualizing primary source formats. Think map, letter, diary, diagram, certificate, etc. Next, students apply context term searching to locate those same primary source documents. Try searching Google using these words: Roosevelt letter DAR? Did you arrive at the National Archives site? The primary source documents are included with the lesson and can be printed out for ease of use or viewed online as a class activity. Students are also asked to look closely at illustrations in their textbooks and study captions to determine keywords and contexts. The lesson supports inquiry and applying search strategies. A Google a Day activity concludes the fun.

Searching for Evidence for Research Tasks: Intermediate

Essential unit guiding question: How can I search for the best evidence to satisfy my task?

Students may see blogs, wikis, listserv discussions, and Q&A sites mixed in with standard webpages in their search results. Intermediate lesson 4 helps students “identify the kind of format most likely to provide the evidence they want, and master basic strategies for locating that kind of source. Within this exercise, students classify web pages by format, identify some of the evidence they may contain, and apply what they learn to finding evidence for their own research project.” This practical activity lends itself well to small-group work. A handout has definitions, descriptions, and examples of many types of online formats. The lesson is an eye-opener for students who may be unaware of the web’s resource and format diversity.

Searching for Evidence for Research Tasks: Advanced

Essential unit guiding question: How can I search for the best evidence to satisfy my task?

Here’s a lesson for advanced searchers who can apply their skills and learn how to transition to more formal and scholarly sources while finding the best resources in the glut of information. Students use Google Scholar, the search tool to help searchers locate sources “written by scholars for the use of other scholars,” and use resources they are unfamiliar with. College and Career Readiness standards such as these are integrated throughout the lesson:

Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Writing 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Teacher notes explain Google Scholar with enough detail to assist new users. The introductory presentation incorporates fun topics. Do you remember “Feline Reactions to Bearded Men” from the Annals of Improbable Research? Analyze the bibliographic information captured on the presentation. Then search Google Scholar to see what you find. Or see what you can find about the moss on stones at Stonehenge, “legendarily decorated by Merlin with pieces from the ‘Giant’s Ring.’” Use Zoom features of Google Maps to see if there is moss on all sides of these stones.

Activities require students to dig deep for links to related articles and citations. The Great Google Tools for Research doc describes the basics of Google products with innovative information-seeking/exploring capabilities. One activity teaches students to search the web by image; another teaches students to discover the source of an image. Just for fun I dragged an image I had uploaded into an enewsletter into the Google search bar. Google took .52 seconds to find the publications.

High school educators will find this activity to be an informative and entertaining tool for encouraging students to “just Google it” effectively. An optional activity uses a graphic organizer to compare/contrast two searches. Internet access is necessary for two 50-minute lessons designed for grades 11 and 12; there is also homework for this important and fun lesson.


Educators will like the practicality of Google’s literacy lessons. There are many options, including suggestions for differentiation and extensions, within each lesson, making it possible to use just what you need. Handouts such as Formats (or Types) of Web Pages will be nice additions to media center tech help sheets collections. As Google Docs lessons, the handouts can be downloaded, customized, shared, and used collaboratively. Many activities can be presented using a projector or document camera or through printouts, making their use more possible in the classroom. Lessons encourage student collaboration and problem solving. The Lesson plan homepage has links to Google a Day challenges so students can apply their skills. The lessons are nicely formatted, visuals are clear, and colorful fonts are used to draw attention to key information.

Media specialists will recognize how the activities support American Association of School Librarian’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner and International Society for Technology in Education’s Information and Technology Literacy Standards for students as well. They also blend nicely with standard research processes such as Big 6 or I-Search. With more educators using Google Apps and Docs, it’s a perfect fit to have the lessons available through widely used tools. The lessons are licensed under a Creative Commons CC-BY license. Educators are encouraged to use the feedback form on the site so the folks at Google know what other types of content would be helpful.


Thank you to Debbie Abilock from Noodle Tools for pointing the way to these cool tools. (

Contact Mary Alice at


Google in Education:

Google Search Education Lesson Plans:

Google Lesson Overview:

Google Lesson Plan Map:

Common Core State Standards:

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