Googling: For Adult ESL/EFL Students, It’s Not as Easy as It Looks

English language learners (ELLs) benefit from learning how to conduct an effective search in Google.  Searching for information means knowing enough English to enter the proper search terms. It can take time to learn the language of internet searches, so we can give learners a head start by teaching a few symbols and search operators in class.  The goal of teaching learners to conduct Google searches is to empower them to find answers to their questions in English.

“How to Google” Lesson. Here is my approach to teaching students to conduct searches. It’s not very detailed but is sufficient to get them up and running.

  1. Direct students to
  2. Tell them that Google is a search engine. Search engines are the websites that help you search for information, images, and whatever else gets posted on the internet. (Another one is Bing).
  3. Wh-question search. Students should all be on the Google homepage. Go to the search box and enter the phrase “What is Google?” The answer changes over time, but there should be an adequate, though boring for most, description of the company on the righthand side of the page.
    • Notice that we used a Wh-question to help focus our search. I use Wh-questions  for whatever question I have. How do I create a website? What are the key qualities of a good a college essay? Where are good places to take a vacation on the east coast? How do I make an appointment with the dentist in English?  (Note: this lesson pairs well with grammar instruction on asking questions).
    • Another trick is to use a to-infinitive in the search phrase: How to carve a pumpkinHow long to cook chicken. When to plant a garden. Creating statements like these may be a little easier for some students than inserting “do” and then performing inversion (or preposing “do” and conjugating it according to the subject, if that’s how you want to teach it).
    • Direct students to enter their own question(s) or statement(s)  and search for the answers. Walk around and see what kinds of problems arise. Discuss any issues before you transition to the next step.
  4. Keyword search. Now enter the keywords “computer vocabulary” into the search box. tell the students to use quotation marks. That way the search will focus on the exact combination of words between quotation marks.
    • Discuss the results. There are many useful web pages that list this vocabulary.
    • Click on the first result. At the time of writing this blog post, it is an English Club page
      • Success: Can your students find the word icon? (yes). What is an icon?
      • Problem: Can you find the word search engine? (no).
  5. Search by command (using a reference operator). Go back to Google. In the search box, enter the phrase define search engine” and discuss the results.
  6. Summary. What are the three ways we searched for information on Google?
    1. We asked a Wh-question: what is google?
    2. We typed in keywords: “computer vocabulary”.
    3. We gave a command: “define”.

Conducting internet searches is ultimately more sophisticated and complicated than what we have discussed here, so we can encourage students to continue to learn new ways to conduct searches. But for English language learners who are just beginning to work with the internet in English, these three strategies can go a long way.

Application: Gratitude and Appreciation. Once the students have learned about Google searches, they are ready to apply their knowledge to some task. Since it is Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, I will share an activity I used with Intermediate-level (ACTFL Scale) adult learners a few years ago: writing a thank-you note to a teacher.

  • General Objectives. To use the internet to find examples of English to use in everyday life. To write a good thank-you note by saying something meaningful or touching.
  • Linguistic objectives. To write accurate simple sentences and accurate compound sentences using FANBOYS. To push self to write complex sentences.
  • Materials. Students’ notebooks, to take notes. Computers or tablets. Internet connection. (Choose: Thank-you notecards and pens OR MS Word; another word processing application, such as Google docs; or email).
  • Activity Description. Students will research examples of thank-you notes in English. Then they will write personal thank-you notes based on the examples they find.
    1. Enter search terms: “How to thank a teacher”  OR  “Teacher thank-you notes”.
    2. Conduct reading and research. Students read examples and note what they like.
    3. Write a thank-you note. Students choose a teacher to thank. They should create a draft on paper or through word-processing. They can seek feedback from peers, classroom volunteers, and the teacher.
    4. Finalize the draft on paper or on the computer.
    5. Deliver the thank-you note.

© 2016 H. Stewart Carpenter

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