How to Improve Your Students’ Research Skills with Google

Do you get frustrated when your students rely on their own knowledge to write a nonfiction text? Or, even worse…when they just make up stuff? Perhaps you need to make them accountable and introduce them to citing sources. Yes. Even in elementary school!


citing sources Google

Over the years, I played around with Genius Hour, usually after state testing finished. I wanted them to choose a topic to research and tell the rest of the class about. It worked fairly well, and the kids had a blast doing it and showing off what they learned, but I got the impression most of them had written down things they already knew instead of looking it up. If Google Explore had been available then, it would have been much easier for me to make sure they did research, because they would have cited their sources.

(If you are going to do research with your students, this book is a great tool to help them without you having to reinvent the wheel)

You may wonder why it is important for elementary students to learn how to cite sources while they are young? There are several good reasons to do it.

1. Fact checking

I just loved it when kids told me they “just knew” information they included in their writing. When students understand that they are expected to show where they found it, they will be less likely to include inaccurate data. They can’t make things up if they have to cite where they found it.

2. Better writing

The kids will write more precisely when they cite sources. Instead of saying things like “everyone knows” or “they say,” they will need to use phrases like “according to” or name specific experts.

3. Become more credible

When students include citations in their writing, those reading it will be more likely to trust what they say. If you are using any form of guided inquiry or genius hour, the kids will benefit because of a boost in credibility. The people who see their work will consider them an “expert,” and this can also improve motivation to continue learning.

4. Prepares them for more intense research

Once they are in high school, students who cited sources early on will not think twice about having to do it there. Reduces whining and gives the teachers more time to work on the actual writing with them.


Google Explore to the Rescue

Google explore is an excellent introduction to citing sources for elementary age kids. It works within Google Docs, Slides, and Sheets! It will insert the source for the information a student uses in their nonfiction writing.

So, how does Citing Sources with Google Explore work?

Click on the star at the bottom right of the page.

citing sources with Google Explore
Enter your search terms at the top of the sidebar, and press enter. Depending on the topic, there may be some information at the top.
citing sources with Google Explore
Scroll down in the sidebar to find websites related to the topic.
citing sources with Google Explore
Click on one of the sites to load that page. It will open in a new window.

Identify the information you want to include in your writing. For example, this is the material I want to add to my report:

“Like his Whig heroes Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, Lincoln opposed the spread of slavery to the territories, and had a grand vision of the expanding United States, with a focus on commerce and cities rather than agriculture.”

In my report, I write that information like this:

Abraham Lincoln did not want there to be slavery in the territories. He wanted the United States to focus less on farming.

Once I finish typing the fact, I will add the citation by hovering over the link I clicked on. A set of quotation marks will appear.

citing sources with Google Explore

When I click on the quotes, the citation number appears wherever the cursor is.

The full citation appears at the bottom of the page as a footnote.

citing sources with Google Explore Other Great Places to find information

Here are some online resources you may want to use in your teaching elementary students about citing sources:
How to Cite a Site (3-5) | Common Sense Media

Cite Sources – BrainPOP

Read Write Think – Cite Sources

Those happen to be some of my favorite online resources for educators, so check out other parts of the sites. There’s great stuff in there!

Those kids in your class never seem to actually research, and you can’t watch every single kid as they write to make sure they do. Build your students’ research skills by Join my mailing list and get access to a free, student-friendly how-to sheet showing the students how to use the Explore tool, and many other online apps and Google Tools.

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