Webquest 101

Search engines

There are many ways to search the web. The most important considerations for teachers are site reliability and readability. Of course, saving valuable time is important for you, too. There are many search engine options. One of the more popular engines is Google. Google ranks the results by a combination of popularity and reputation. If other reputable sites refer to one of the sites on your list of results, Google moves it “up” the list of results. Google is also the widest-reaching search engine available, so you will be able to find just about anything a Pre-K-to-12 teacher could want. However, there are many other search engine options. Some of which may be more useful for your specific project.

TeachersFirst has compiled a list of some of the most useful search engines currently available.

Some of our favorite search engines offer specific subjects or are designed for a target age level. Here are a few of our top picks:

Scirus – For Scientific Information Only: this “serious” science search engine is designed for high school students. With over 460 million scientific terms, it is no surprise that this site made our list.

Wofram Alpha – this is a great search tool for quantitative information. Read more about this tool at the site itself. This site is designed for secondary students.

Instagrok – this tool is designed to be an intelligent search engine to improve independent learning on any topic. It not only shows you the results of your search, but also helps you navigate your way through the results. There is a video to learn more at the site.  This site would be most useful with secondary students.

Quintura for Kids – this search engine is designed for elementary and/or middle school students. Search through the “ready made” topics. This search engine is ideal for younger students who are doing their OWN searches.

Twurdy – this search engine is useful in all grade levels. But what makes this search engine fit our “best of the best” list is that it includes a readability index/level. This is great for differentiating, especially with younger grades.

KidsClick! – this site is designed for elementary students to safely search on the Internet. This search engine offers a reading level AND information about images and illustrations available at the site. This is a very handy tool for weaker readers.  

Search Terms
You do need to use the best possible search terms. If you do not find what you need within the first two pages of results, try changing your search terms. If your search term is too vague, you’ll get a list of 300,000 possible matches; if it’s too specific, you’ll get nothing. Common sense is the best guide. For example, if you want information on the role of women in the Civil War, simply enter "civil war women."

Remember that quotation marks tell Google that you want that exact term in that exact order, glued together, as in a title: “A Light in the Forest” or a two word term: “developmental delay.” If the exact ORDER of the terms does not matter, do NOT use quotation marks.

Sometimes adding a specific term can help narrow the results to the type of activity you want. Some helpful ideas for teachers:

  • Add “virtual tour” (in quotes to get the two-word term) to the name of the place you want students to visit, as in “white house” “virtual tour” (notice the two-word terms, each in quotes).
  • Add kids or facts to get sites with the basics on a topic, as in rocks kids for sites on rocks appropriate for elementary students.

Try adding interactive if you only want sites with highly interactive pages, not just pages and pages of text.

Once you get a list of possible sites, you can begin reviewing them.