4 essential resources for building research skills in high school

Strong research skills are valuable beyond high school and will serve students well as they enter a world of digital resources and information

Key points:

Right now is the perfect time to start a research project with your students, as it will help them develop skills they will use for the rest of their lives. While your students, who have grown up in the Information Age and think they already know everything, any classroom teacher knows that our students need help more than they think.

As a school librarian for the past 11 years, my primary focus has been on helping students become adept navigators of the sea of information they live in. By the time students reach me in high school, they are already juggling multiple social media accounts and unknowingly driving many business and political decisions through their media consumption.

Our students’ belief that everything they need to know is online can, without the right skillset, leave them prey to misinformation. So how do we teach our students to steer through the online ocean of data to be both effective researchers and responsible digital citizens?

Here are 4 must-have resources for teaching high school students how to research:

Digital encyclopedias like Britannica School or Credo Reference are still important, and vetted, sources of basic information. Each provides students with a credible resource and gives them helpful notation and citation tools. But don’t settle for just one. Take students on a tour of both databases and explore the differences. Britannica School is user-friendly and comprehensive, which makes it an ideal tool for building student confidence in their research skills. Even if your students are literal social media influencers, they may be apprehensive or overwhelmed navigating a database, and we do not want them to give up and turn to Google. They need to develop their research skills before they are ready to evaluate content from across the world wide web. The bold, colorful text features and differentiation of reading levels make Britannica School engaging and easy to use, and it is a trusted source of information.

Although both databases offer similar content, Credo Reference has a unique feature called Visual Exploration that you and your students will love. The database will retrieve your search results in the form of a mind map, which links your search term to related terms that are hyperlinked to vetted content. Articles related to the original search term appear alongside the mind map. Visual Exploration is an effective and interactive tool for teaching students about choosing search terms and narrowing their research topics. Credo Reference also has a series of short research tip videos for students on topics such as “what to do when your topic is too broad.” 

Upper-level courses require students to navigate and analyze more complex sources than a standard encyclopedia entry, which can often be just a list of facts. Whether you are teaching U.S. Government or A.P. Language and Composition, your students are learning to evaluate persuasive writing and identify propaganda, because these are key information literacy skills. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints not only provides students with curated  sources and all the tools of an online encyclopedia but also introduces students to well-researched writing from various perspectives. A huge part of research is thinking critically about the credibility and intent of the source, and this database provides a safe space to analyze and examine issues from multiple angles. Gale In Context: Opposing Viewpoints is both visually appealing and has a unique feature for visual learners. The Topic Finder retrieves results as your choice of a tile or a wheel that displays terms at various sizes depending on the number of results for that term. For example, a Topic Finder search for “Artificial intelligence” displays “mental health” among the largest clusters of the tile or section of the wheel, which lets me know I can find significant content in the database related to A.I. and mental health. There is a curriculum search and an Educator Resources page with helpful tip sheets and worksheets, including one for students to create their own concept map.

Before you dive into an encyclopedia head first, you may want to go to Discovery Education Experience and gather some tools for teaching research effectively. You do not need to build a lesson from scratch. There’s a wealth of media within the platform to help you activate prior knowledge, develop assignments and create interactive lessons on any topic. The Discover Data channel, which is the result of a partnership between the Nielsen Foundation, Discovery Education, and the National Afterschool Association, has interactive, relevant lessons that you can adapt for your students. One of my favorites is the “Social Media and Misinformation” presentation. You can use it as an introduction to information literacy or assign the presentation as a self-paced lesson for students. In fact, you can use the Build an Activity feature with this or another presentation from Discovery Education to create an assignment and share it directly to Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, Schoology or Canvas.

With these essentials in your toolbox, you will be able to equip your students with research skills that will help them unlock success in and out of the classroom.

Related: 4 tools to help students build post-COVID research skills

eSchool Media Contributors