The Key to Keywords (3-5)

Which keywords will give you the best search results?

Students learn strategies to increase the accuracy of their keyword searches. They compare the number and kinds of sites obtained and make inferences about the effectiveness of the strategies.

Download Lesson Materials

Working in pairs, students use the Fetch! Student Handout to answer an assigned question. They use one, two, then multiple keywords, and discover that when it comes to keyword searches, more words are better than one. Using the Doggy Data Student Handout, students then devise their own search strategies to find information, using multiple keywords, synonyms, and alternative words and phrases.

Students will be able to ...

  • experiment with different keyword searches and compare their results.
  • refine their searches by using multiple words, synonyms, and alternative words and phrases.
  • draw inferences to explain their search results.


Materials and Preparation

  • Copy the Fetch! Student Handout, one for every two students
  • Copy the Doggy Data Student Handout, one for every two students

Teaching Plans


Warm-up (10 minutes)

To help students understand that precisely worded descriptions produce the best search results, start out with the following activity.

  • Place several small items on a desk at the front of the room, behind a book or other barrier that prevents students from seeing them. (Use different types of objects, such as a tape dispenser, an apple, and a computer mouse.)
  • Invite a student volunteer to come to the front, look at the objects, and describe one of them to the class, without using any of the words in the item’s name. (Students describing a tape dispenser, for example, could not use the words "tape" or "dispenser".)
  • Repeat the exercise at least three times. (Students who have seen the items can’t guess!) Afterwards, encourage students to think about what they learned from the game.

ASK: How do you use words when you search the Internet?
Students should know that they input keywords into a search engine.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term keywords.

DISCUSS with students how the game they played is like doing Internet searches: A search engine uses computer programs to look for information on the Internet. However, users need to tell the search engine what to look for. That’s what keywords are used for.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term precise.

EXPLAIN that in order for students to get the best search results, they need to choose their keywords carefully. The most precise keywords will yield the best results.

teach 1

Fetch! (20 minutes)

GROUP students into pairs. If your class has access to a limited number of computers, two or more pairs may take turns using one computer.

DISTRIBUTE the Fetch! Student Handout, one for each pair of students.

ASK: How do you think search engines, like Google, work?
Search engines crawl the Internet, gathering information about millions of websites. At the click of a button, a search engine sorts through what it “knows” and lists the sites it “thinks” you want. You tell the search engine what you want by using keywords.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term results page.

EXPLAIN that when it comes to keyword searches it is important to choose accurate and precise words. Let them know that adding more of these keywords can help narrow a search. A search for a single word may “fetch” a million sites to display on their results page. Adding more words fetches fewer sites that are closer to what you need. Another tip is to put words that belong together (such as a phrase, a full name, or lyrics of a song) in quotation marks. The search engine looks only for instances when these are words lumped together.

TELL students they will conduct an experiment that involves finding information by using more and more keywords.

ASSIGN a search engine for students to use in this activity, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Have all students use the same search engine, so that the only variable is the keywords they choose. Then assign each pair of students one of the following questions to answer. Each question should be assigned to at least two pairs of students. Have them write down their assigned questions on their Fetch! Student Handouts.

  • What foods are toxic to dogs? (Name four)
  • What breeds of dogs are the smartest? (Name four)
  • What jobs do dogs do for people? (Name four)
  • What are some of the smallest and largest dog breeds? (Name two of each)

GUIDE pairs of students through a multi-step search to find the answers to their questions. Have each pair complete the following steps, allowing 10 to 15 minutes:

  • SEARCH for the answer to their question using a single keyword – for example, dog.
  • RECORD the total number of sites included in the search results. (The location of this number varies from search engine to search engine, although it is always located somewhere on the first search results page.)
  • INVESTIGATE the top three sites on their results page to see if they can quickly find the answers to their questions.
  • REPEAT the previous three steps, using two keywords. If the answers to their questions still do not appear in the first three search results, students should continue to add additional keywords until they find what they are looking for.
  • WRITE the answers to their questions on their handouts. Students should also note how many searches they had to do to find the answers, and how many keywords they used. Finally, they should write down the names of two sites from which they got answers.

INVITE pairs of students to join with others who answered the same question. Encourage them to compare and contrast the keywords they used and the sites where they found their answers. Explain to students that their answers may vary slightly, because there are more than four correct answers to each question.

teach 2

Doggy Data (10 minutes)

GROUP students into pairs, or keep them in the pairs established for the previous section of the lesson. If your class has access to a limited number of computers, two or more pairs may be combined into larger groups.

DISTRIBUTE the Doggy Data Student Handout, one for each student.

EXPLAIN that in this activity students will see how quickly they can hunt down specific information about dogs. Have them read through the questions on the Doggy Data Student Handout, and choose one group member to record information on the handout. In addition to the answers, students will record the keywords they used to search, and at least two sites where they found their answers.

CHALLENGE students to find the answers to the four questions in as few searches as possible. Remind them that they will need to choose their keywords carefully, using words that are accurate, relevant, and precise. Remind students that they should group terms that go together in quotation marks (e.g., “Fancy Feast”). Have all groups begin their searches at the same time.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary terms synonym and alternative.

ASSIST students as needed with the special instructions in Questions 3 and 4. For Question 3, they should include in their keywords one or more synonyms for the word strong. (If students have difficulty coming up with synonyms, suggest "powerful" or "sharp.")

INVITE each group to raise their hands when they have answered all the questions and filled in all the required information. When all groups are finished, have recorders take turns reading aloud the answer, keywords, and websites for one of their four questions.

ENCOURAGE students to discuss how and why they chose the keywords for their searches.


Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to reflect in writing on one of the questions, using a journal or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: What are keywords?
Keywords are the most important words related to a subject, those which you type into a search engine to find the information you want.

ASK: Is it better to use more than one keyword in a search? Why or why not?
When you use more words, you get fewer sites in your search results, but they are more likely to contain what you’re looking for. Remind students that though more words are usually better, it is important that the words you type in are precise and relevant to the subject you are researching.

ASK: How does using synonyms or alternative phrases help when submitting a search?
Sometimes websites use different words or phrases to describe the information you are looking for. A synonym for a word may bring better results than the word itself.

Extension Activity

Ask students if they have ever found themselves remembering only some of the words to a favorite song or poem. Explain that computer searches can be a great way to fill in the missing words. The best way to do this is by typing in some of the lyrics of the song that they already know.

  • It brings back the sound of ... ?
  • It brings back a night of ... ?
  • It brings back a memory of ... ?

Have students search using the words in one of the phrases as keywords. Do they find any song lyrics in their top five search results? Next, have students place the same phrase in quotation marks, and search again. Students should compare the results of both searches. The point is for them to learn that they are more likely to find “hits” with the entire phrase when they use quotation marks. Now, can they fill in the blanks – and name that tune? (The song is “Begin the Beguine,” written in 1934 by Cole Porter. If you want to play the song for students, you can buy recordings by Ella Fitzgerald on iTunes or Amazon.) Invite students to think of a phrase or line from one of their favorite songs, and try using quotation marks to find the full lyrics of that song.

At-Home Activity

To reinforce the wide variety of choices they have when performing keyword searches, ask students to come up with a list of keywords to search for information on the following subjects. They can show off their knowledge to their parents by (1) explaining how to conduct an effective keyword search, and (2) showing their parents how to search the terms below. Tell them they must figure out how to find the information without using any of the words in the subject; instead, their keywords should consist entirely of synonyms and alternative words or phrases.

Inexpensive plane tickets
Sample answers:

  • cheap, low-cost, low-priced, discount, bargain, budget
  • airlines, air travel, airfares, fares, flights

Most popular movies last year
Sample answers:

  • top box office, hits, biggest sellers, success, favorite
  • films, cinema, Hollywood
  • annual, 2011

Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Source: Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grade 3: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, RF.4a, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.3, SL.4, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
  • grade 4: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, RF.4a, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.3a, L.6
  • grade 5: RI.1, RI.4, RI.10, RF.4a, W.4, W.7, W.10, SL.1a, SL.1b, SL.1c, SL.1d, SL.4, SL.6, L.3a, L.6

NETS•S: 3b, 3c, 3d