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30-60 minutes
  • Current Events
  • Journalism
  • 7-12

  1. Tell students that today they’re going to learn a little bit about what goes on “behind the scenes” of a search engine. To start the conversation, ask students to list the top three attractions nearby that they would recommend to a visitor. (Based on the size of your city/town, have students focus on either the city they live in or their whole state.) Give students a moment to think and share their answers either using a Poll Everywhere interactive word cloud (the site has instructions on how to set up this easy tool), or by writing them on index cards. Make a list of your students' top three choices.
  2. Ask your students how they chose the attractions they recommended and discuss their criteria. Then conduct a Google search for “[your city/state name] attractions.” You should get a box at the top of your result page that lists individual attractions and can be expanded to a complete list. Compare/contrast the search results to your class list.
  3. Explain that just like people look for certain things in order to make a recommendation, so do search engines. Watch the “Search Signals” video and review the accompanying tipsheet graphic to help your students understand five key criteria used by both people and search engines.
  4. Look back at your list of attractions and search results and have students use the new “search signals” vocabulary to explain how they made their individual recommendations. They can also make educated guesses about what drove the search results’ selection.
  5. Tell your students they’re now going to play the role of search engine again with some real-life examples. Distribute the worksheet and have students access the Pokémon Go section of the News or Noise? media map. Let them work individually or in small groups to complete the worksheet.
  6. Have students share their results and discuss their thinking. Then use the questions below to continue the conversation.


  • Are the top search results always the most useful resources?
  • When you’re searching for information, what are the advantages and disadvantages of looking only at the top results?
  • How is looking for information with a search engine the same as/different from asking friends for answers? From looking up information in a library or on a database?
  • Would displaying search results left to right (horizontally) instead of top to bottom (vertically) change your opinion of what information is most important? Why/why not? (Consider the difference between Google’s “Things to do in …” box presentation versus the full list view.)
  • Would displaying 20 or 40 results per page change your search habits? Why or why not? How many sites do you usually look at to find an answer?

Contrasting Search Results

As a class, craft a compelling (also called thick) question on a topic that is relevant to your class discussions or curriculum. Divide the class in half. Have half the students conduct a search to answer the question using one search engine (such as Google or Bing) and half using another (such as Yahoo or Both groups should record their top five hits. Have them review each of the top five links to note any obvious search signals and rate how useful they are to answering the compelling question. Bring the class together to compare and contrast their results. Discuss how each search experience might wind up shaping their answers to the compelling question.

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