Making Space for Internet Inquiry in the Primary Grades Part 1/2

by Julie Coiro

2012 Literacy for All Conference Speaker

Have you ever wondered how to engage primary grade children in web-based literacy activities that are safe and appropriate, but also authentic and interesting? Children’s questions can be a powerful vehicle to literacy learning and understanding, so why not begin simply with the questions that children are bringing to your classroom on a daily basis? One promising practice that builds on children’s questions and fits nicely into a once-a-week sharing circle discussion is known as Internet Inquiry Baskets. It begins with one child’s question, continues with a think-aloud model of how to use the Internet to learn more about that question, and ends with a collaborative summary that can be compiled into a classroom book about Things We Learned On The Internet This Year.

The process begins by encouraging children to pose questions during the week as they read together in school and share experiences from their lives outside of school.  Children are asked to record their burning questions on individual slips of paper and place their questions in a special Internet Inquiry basket hanging near the bookshelves in your room.  At the end of each week, pull one question from the basket (either randomly or strategically), and announce it as next week’s focus of inquiry.

Over the weekend, devote a little time to conducting an Internet search for 2-3 websites that contain helpful images, thought provoking animations, or appropriate snippets of information related to the question that can be read aloud or viewed as a group.  In addition to locating (and bookmarking) the websites using a class wiki or a social bookmarking tool like Symbaloo, make note of which search terms worked best and the steps you took to scan the search results, ignore advertisements, or navigate within certain websites to find the most relevant information.  You should also note searches that resulted, perhaps, in inappropriate results so that you can avoid modeling these processes during your group think-aloud.  Irrelevant searches, however, might be useful to model to help children understand how to refine their searches for their purpose.

When the children return to school on Monday, these ideas can then be shared in a guided discussion as you walk children through the steps you took to search and navigate online text. As you guide children to safe, appropriate websites, your real-time Internet search process can be projected onto a Smartboard while you explicitly model and think-aloud about how to search and navigate online text. Just as you would take children through a picture walk of a book to highlight the cover, the author, important characters and key vocabulary, your modeling of Internet inquiry can introduce children to concepts such as search engines, websites, navigation menus, hyperlinks, and search results as part of an authentic conversation about how you located websites and determined which parts were most useful for your needs.

To help keep track of new things learned during your discussion, the children can help you complete an activity sheet that gets added to your classroom notebook. (See a completed example at the end of this blog post.) A word processing program can be projected on the screen for the class and, if desired, children can help type the information. The first part of the activity invites children to note the original inquiry question, the keywords that worked best, the search engine that was used, and a key idea about each of the websites they visited.  Then, as a group, they decide on 1-2 sentences that answer the original question pulled from the inquiry basket and a ranking for how much the Internet helped them learn about this question. This last item introduces children to the basic elements of evaluating the relevancy of online information.

Next week this blog will continue and discuss the second part of this activity.

Julie Coiro is speaking at our upcoming Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI on Monday, November 5, 2012.  Her sessions are, “Making Space for Online Inquiry in the Primary Grades” (10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.), and a 3-hour session for middle school educators, “Instructional Strategies for Critically Evaluating Online Information in Middle School” (Grades 5-8), 1:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.