May 2, 2018

5 Google Search Tools and Strategies to Cut Through the Clutter

We use search engines each day to help us search for information. Our biggest hurdle is the amount of information we need to sort through to find exactly what we want.  Knowing how to effectively and efficiently search is part of being informationally literate.  Teaching students to locate, evaluate and effectively use this information should be part of the instructional practices in every school.

Google’s search Tools, allow the user to manipulate a search within Google’s main search engine. Learning how to implement these search skills is an important technique we can teach our students to help them cut through the clutter of the web. In this post, we will focus on search commands that tell Google you don’t want to search through the entire internet but are interested in something more specific and more refined. 

 Most students begin a search by typing in the topic, subject or specific assignment, often wordforword. All of these strategies can yield the desired outcome along with copious amounts of information. But this necessitates sifting through the information to find exactly what they are looking for. Being students, they look at what surfaces to the top of the search and select what they need. The belief often is that the information at the top of the search contains what is needed, and is most current and pertinent to completing the assignment. It’s quick and easy. Yet it requires little critical thinking on the part of the student.

Google Search strategies can assist students in utilizing the internet more effectively while helping them to access and make sense of enormous amounts of information right at their fingertips.

Try these options to help your students find the best search results.


This is a great place to begin when teaching more advanced searching skills. Using the Tools option can really improve the quality of the resultsTo begin a search, type the topic in the search box, then tap on the “Tools” button.  Here, students have the option to narrow their search. Results can be filtered by news or blogs, time (useful for recent or current news) and relevance (sorting by date).  

Use of Symbols: + , – and “ “

The use of symbols in a search can help to make the search results more precise.  Three easy ones to begin with are, plusminus and quotation marksOne of the most effective ways to search for something specific is to use quotation marks around a phrase or word.  This will tell Google to search for those exact words in the exact order.  The use of + or – in a search, will either exclude (-) or include (+) that information.

When searching for words with ambiguous meaning, the use of the – will tell Google to ignore some of the content. If you are searching George Bush, you will see results for both George HW and George W. If you want to focus on one specific Bush, use the hyphen (-) to tell Google to ignore content about one of them.

Image Search

Students love to use images in reports. The visual results can help convey and clarify meaning, get the reader’s attention and illustrate information quickly. The Tools button allows you to focus or narrow a search in a variety of useful ways: image size, file type, color, and usage rights. Teachers often don’t realize that the “Advanced Search” option in images leads to Advanced Image Search, with even more options. The ability to filter a search based on usage rights is a useful feature for both students and teachers.

Since students produce more and more digital projects, it is important to teach them to legally use images. Showing them how to narrow their search to only show images that are licensed for reuse is key. This will then filter the image options and only show those images that are labeled for reuse. This is an important skill for students to understand. Not everything on the Internet is free or legal to use.

Video Search



Finding videos across the web can be time-consuming. Most of us go directly to YouTube and begin our search there. But what happens if you want to broaden that search, or need videos with closed captioning?  After typing your search query in the search box, select Tools and see the number of ways you can refine your search by using filters.  There are a number of inherent reasons to include videos in your classroom.  Videos play a huge role in communicating content to students. The ability to blend, visual, audio, and text, can assist many students in understanding the video’s message. For some students, the pairing of audio with images assists in understanding of the content. With closed captioning, ELL students benefit by following along with the speech. It can help some students maintain their concentration and engage more fully with the curriculum being presented.  The availability of video allows students the option of previewing and reviewing the content both synchronously and asynchronously.

Search by Timeframe

An advanced search can teach students how to specify results during a particular time frame.  This is extremely helpful when students are looking for current events or breaking news stories. It is important for students to learn whether specific information is current and relevant to the topic of their search. This option is located under the Tools. The default is Any time.  The dropdown menu gives the option to select from several time frames or to create a custom range. The search results will only show results published during the specific time selected by the student performing the search. If none of the ranges defined in the drop down fit the student’s needs, they can select custom rangeCustom range allows students to input specific start and end dates to search between. Using these time modifiers will help decrease the amount of information a student will need to sift through to find what they want.

Searching the internet can be daunting. It requires students to access and synthesize enormous amounts of information often in limited amounts of time. We can help students develop an important component of digital literacy in teaching them these skills. By refining search queries and respecting intellectual property rights, students can make informed decisions about the resources they use.

When students practice quality online search skills, they are developing an important component of digital literacy.  Teaching students to develop and refine search queries can yield better search results. Teaching them to respect intellectual property rights of the creators and producers of digital media is important. These strategies provide a look into how students access, sort and acquire information and how they make informed decisions about the resources they use.

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