Google Games: 3 Quick Tips for Helping Kids Level Up Their (Re)search

Most teachers have grand aspirations when embarking upon inquiry work with their classes, but when they get to the part where the kids actually have to find out stuff…it all comes crashing down.

What if there was a game you could play with students to sharpen their Google searching skills, as well as their research skills overall?

Today I’ll show you 3 games, or at least, 3 variations of a single game. The best news of all, the rules are simple: you give students a topic, and they have to come up with the right combination of search terms, rabbit holes, or side quests to find out the information they need to win.

Google Game 1: Synonyms!

All your students need for this game is an understanding of what synonyms are and the ability to come up with them. They might need devices, since it’s a Google search-based game, but you could also just have them raise their hands to participate, and you could type out their suggestions (displayed over a projector). What I’m trying to say is, make it work for your specific set up!

So, let’s say your class is learning about butterflies. For this game of “Synonyms!” they’ll use Google to find 3 (or however many you want) facts about butterflies from 3 different websites. Here’s the catch: each website they find needs to be the result of a separate Google search, and each Google search needs to use different synonyms. So maybe search 1 would be, “butterfly facts.” Then, search 2 might be “butterfly information,” with search 3 being “butterfly statistics.”

How you have them record their play is completely up to you. You want them to somehow share their search terms, links to websites they found, and the facts themselves. One could do this in a Google Doc, or perhaps students might share their findings to a Jamboard or Padlet. You could also just go old school and have them write it down on a graphic organizer. Do it however it works for you and your class!

At the end of the activity, find out how many different synonyms students used. You could have the whole class compete with its total as a group from the last time they played the game. Or maybe you might play Scattergory rules, and have students cross out their Google search synonyms of someone in the room use them. Again, it’s up to you!

Teach to transfer: when doing actual inquiry work, ask students before they start, “What did we learn from the Synonym Game that we should make sure to do as we research today?”

Google Game 2: Find That Fact!

Students often come to class with a few inquiry-killing habits. As you well know, many students’ default is to limit their research Google Images. Others only use that little summary paragraph that Google provides–and then cite Google as one of their sources! Many kids don’t click the actual links, and even more hit the back arrow when they see how much text they’ll have to sift through.

This game is designed to help with that. After all, it’s not like our students are all being obstinate. Research just seems impossible sometimes, even for adults!

For this game, start by showing students at Google search you used to find a website that’s relevant to whatever your class is studying. Then, send them/post a link to the site. Then, give them something to find on the webpage/site. It could be a sentence or an answer to a question. Set a timer (how much time you provide depends on the level of difficulty), and then it’s time to “Find That Fact!”

After a couple minutes, ask students to relate any successful skimming techniques to the class. Did they skim subheadings? Did they look for certain key words? When students share what they did, name the techniques after them (ie – “The Noah Method”) and display them on the board. Tell students to use one or more of these techniques in Round 2.

Also, if they don’t already know, show them how you can use “ctrl + f” to find certain words on the page.

Teach to Transfer: before doing inquiry work, remind students to use the different methods you named after their classmates as they do their research.

Google Game 3: I Can’t Google THAT!

Oftentimes students try to perform literal Google searches to open-ended questions. Oftentimes, it doesn’t work.

Before this game, you’ll want to teach your students that, until AI or whatever takes over, there will be lots of instances in research when they’ll have to find out the facts that dance around the question, and then they’ll need to connect the dots to figure out the answer themselves. I mean, even if AI cracks the code, this is a pretty valuable skill. Also, if you have a better way of wording all this, go with it.

Then, provide an open-ended question. Just today, I played this game with my students, and we used this question as our starting point: “Why should more people be aware of kennel cough?”

If you type this question into Google, you’ll get an okay answer. However, you’ll get a better answer if you dance around the question and connect the dots, or however you end up wording it.

Before I set them loose to play the game on their own, we play one round together. Today, when we played, I asked my class what question should we ask first to help us get closer to answering our big question about why people should care about kennel cough.

One student said, “We need to know what kennel cough is?” Several others agreed, so I typed in “what is kennel cough,” and this is what came up.

I clicked the link, even though the little summary was right there in front of me. The answer we needed was right at the beginning.

“So what should we find out next?”

Someone shouted out that we should look up how contagious it is. So, we did. Then, we looked up how bad kennel cough can be. Then, “Can humans get it?”

At this point we had 3-5 facts about how big of a problem kennel cough is. Now that we’d danced around the question, it was time to connect the dots. I asked, “So, why should people care about kennel cough?”

Now, the class is ready to play on its own. Easy enough, right?

Teach to transfer: “Hey, before you start researching our essential question, who can remind us of what we need to do from the “I Can’t Google THAT” game. Remember? The one where we dance around the question and connect the dots (or however you ended up wording it)?”

Disclaimer + Wrapping it up

While I do recommend either making the games more game-y or less game-y (aka just teach it as a lesson instead of a game) to fit your needs, I do NOT recommend combining these games or asking students to remember all 3 games while researching. You may have noticed that I used a “Find that Fact!” in the previous game, I didn’t explicitly teach it. I also didn’t make a big deal of it. It’s easier for our learners if we just focus on one game/skill reminder at a time. It’s hard to hold all these strategies, plus whatever one is trying to discover, while doing research.

Also, there are hundreds of other variations you might try. Experiment! If a student hits a wall in their research, pause the class, and have the student share their dilemma. Then invite the class, or part of the class to play a game of “Find This Impossible Fact.” If anyone succeeds, be sure to have them share the steps and dead ends they went through to “Find This Impossible Fact.” Display these steps, if you can.

Or maybe instead of using one of my “Teach to Transfer” tips with the whole class, try it one-on-one or with a small group.

Research is messy, and the thought processes can be complex. Students need to witness, experience, and practice successful research techniques. And let’s face it, however many inquiry projects we do, these projects alone may not provide the amount of deliberate practice that many students will need.

Another thing to face: these games are not exceptionally creative. They’re barely even games! The point isn’t to be fun, though. It’s to give students a low pressure, low stress environment to learn and practice these important skills, which they can later transfer to actual inquiry work.

Remember, just because you make kids do research, it doesn’t mean they’ll automatically be able to do it well. Heck, they may not even be able to do it after you teach it. Some things require practice, and these Google Games can provide exactly that.

The games I introduced barely skim the surface of skills you could teach. What variations of these games did you try before or after reading this? I’d love to hear from you. Leave me a comment or hit me up on Twitter @MrWteach!

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