The following article is an edited excerpt from
Raw Materials for the Mind: Teaching & Learning in Information & Technology Rich Schools
ISBN: 0-9667432-0-2
by David Warlick


Searching the Internet: Part III

March 18, 1999

A Note

Today, when I present this and other techniques for searching the Internet in workshops, I am teaching teachers.  My goal is to help educators become more effective Net researchs.  At this time, the Internet is a more powerful tool for teachers than it is for students.   The Internet can have more and better impact on classrooms when it is in the hands of skilled and creative teachers than plugging every student in your school to the global network.

For the same reasons that I attacked magazines with scissors when I when I taught history, the Internet is a warehouse of materials that skilled teachers can find, harvest, and bring into the classroom as information, handouts, overhead transparencies, on disk, or on the schools network.   If teachers become skilled and confident with advanced and appropriate uses of the Internet, then they will help their students develop these same skills.


The Search Process

Conducting effective searches of the Internet is rarely a matter of typing in a single keyword and being presented with the solution to your problem, at the top of a list of 54,000 hits. It is much more frequently a series of searches, each revealing more clues about the information that is available and where that information can be found.

Developing a search process is unique to each person because we each have different styles of using information and specific information needs. However, the following model can be used as a springboard to your own style.   S.E.A.R.C.H. was specifically developed as a teaching aid, a model to help us teach teachers and students how to conduct deep research of the Internet.  The technique is an acronym that describes the process.



Start with a key term on Yahoo or another small index search tool.


Edit the search expression with terms gleaned from the initial search.


Advance into a larger index search tool.


Refine the search phrase


Cycle back and advance again.



Harvest the results.

Start with a key term on Yahoo or another small index search tool

There are two important reasons why we start our search with a small index search tool. Because Yahoo, for instance, is searching through a small index or database, you will receive a limited number of hits. Searching Yahoo for information on the Goldrush returned 101 web pages. Conducting the same search on Alta Vista (, a large index search tool, returned 10,553 web pages. Considering that the task at this point is not to find the answer, but to learn more about what it available, 101 is a much more manageable listing to review than over ten-thousand.

The second reason to start with a small index tool is that while you are getting a limited number of hits from your search, you are receiving a good cross-section of the types of web resources that are available on your topic. You get very good examples of the resources that are relevant to your topic. You are also getting a good representation of the resources that are not relevant.   At this point in the search process, learning about the irrelevant hits is just as important as learning about the relevant hits, because filtering out bad pages is just as important as attracting good pages.

Review as many of the returns as you can. Look for words that are common among the good hits and also words that are common among the bad hits.  Write these words down.   These are clues (remember, you are being a detective) for your continuing investigation.


It is a good idea to have a text processor open while you are conducting your searches.  You can type the keywords into the text processor as you identify them, and then use the program to edit your list of key words into a boolean search expression.  Some good text processors to use include: NotPad for Windows 3.x, WordPad for Windows 95/98, and SimpleText for Mac OS.


Edit the search expression with terms gleaned from the initial search

As with any assistant, the degree to which your search tool helps you solve your problem depends on how well you communicate with it. When you use the word Goldrush in a keyword search, you are saying, "Show me every page that has the word Goldrush mentioned in it." This is a simple question that simply returns nearly ten thousand hits when asked of Alta Vista.  We must communicate with our search tools as clearly as we can.

First of all, we now have a variety of keywords for the search engine to consider. In our review of the Yahoo hits, we have found that relevant web pages commonly include the words diary, photos, and California. We found that pages with Internet, kennel, shopping, game, and prospecting were not relevant to our instructional needs. So we could include all of these words in our search expression. But we need connectors to better describe the relationships between these keywords and between the words and the topic that we are exploring. The resulting edited phrase may look like this:

(Goldrush AND (diary OR photos OR California)) NOT (Internet OR kennel OR shopping OR game OR prospecting)

See Search II article for information about Boolean searching.


Advance into a larger index search tool

Go to a large index search engine, enter your edited search phrase, and search. Here are a few search engines that understand Boolean.


Alta Vista


As you review the hits, look for resources that will help you accomplish your task. Also continue to look for new keywords that are commonly found in especially useful web pages.  Also look for words that show up in pages that do not help you.   Also keep an eye out for evidence that your edited search phrase was not properly constructed.  For instance, each adjustment to your search expression should result in more relevant hits and fewer irrelevant hits.  If the opposite occurs then revisit your search phrase. 

One of the advantages of a process approach to searching the Internet is the fact that the student or teacher will learn about the topic while examining web pages that turn up.   This is especially important for teachers since in this day and time of rapidly changing and growing information, even in history, it is essential that educators continue to learn and grow their reservoir of information.

Another advantage of this process approach to searching that is perhaps even more important to teachers is the fact that they will find types of resources that they had not anticipated.  For instance, in beginning this search about the Goldrush, our teacher may have expected to find some photographs, some old newspaper stories, and some web pages about the history of the event.  However, in the search, they found a number of web pages with diaries kept by men and women who were involved in the event.  Finding these unexpected resources often leads to new techniques for helping students learn.   How might you use the diary of an 1849 gold prospector to help your students learn about that exciting time in our history?


Refine the search expression

Exploring the web pages that your initial large-index search returned will reveal more keywords to consider adding to your search expression. You may also uncover more clues as to how you might adjust the structure of your search expression. For instance, you might have found that filtering out the word prospecting resulted in losing a number of relevant websites.

Refine your search expression based on the evidence that you find in your continuing examination of web pages.   Make it more efficient by adding new words, new relationships -- experiment.   Remember, the Internet is practically free.  You don't have to get it right the first time.


Cycle back and Advance again

Return to the same or to another advanced search engine and enter your refined search expression. Again, examine the hits, looking for more clues about your topic and the resources available on the Internet that will help you accomplish your goals.  When you have refined your express based on the 2nd sweep of the search tool, cycle back again, and again, until you have answered your question, solved your problem, or collected all of the material you will need for your new unit on the westward movement.


Harvest the results

Collect your information gems and import them into your information processing software or other information processing tool.


Copyright © 1999 by David Warlick
All rights reserved