Usually they don't know what to type into a search engine's search line either, but they'll be hesitant to admit it. Knowing they think they know everything there is to know about Web searching, why not approach the topic by telling them you've found a unique, new tool that you want them to test while doing their latest research project for you.
Before jumping into the research with your students, go to SortFix.com. It's a search engine that provides keywords, called "Power Words" to assist with Web searches. Experiment with it, for that's what you are going to let your students do.
Your comments to your students might go something like this:
Go to SortFix.com and watch the demo. The demo is a cartoon video about searching for the perfect house pet. I know you might think it looks like this search engine is for little kids, but it's not. Watch the demo and be ready to tell me why this method of searching is different and how it might help you. You should know that it works with computers, iPads, iPhones and other smart devices.
After your students watch the demo, give them their assignment. Let's suppose you want them to write about literature. Assign a general topic and then explain:
Your assignment is to write a paper on a topic of your choice, but it has to relate to 18th Century poets. I want you to put the keywords "18th Century" and "poets" into the search line. You'll see that SortFix comes up with 76,000 or so sites to choose from, but you'll also see some boxes, called baskets at the top of the page. In the first box on the left are "Power Words" for you to use in your search. Beside the "Power Words" basket, you'll see the baskets "Add to Search", "Remove", and "Dictionary".
The idea is to move the "Power Words" that fit what you want to research into the "Add to Search" basket and put the ones you definitely don't want into the "Remove" basket. You don't have to use all the "Power Words." The dictionary basket provides a quick way to look up the meaning of any "Power Words" you don't understand.
Let your students experiment with SortFix. They'll soon find that they can make phrases out of the "Power Words" and that as SortFix helps them drill down to the information they want, they'll be limiting their topic as well. They might, for example, put the "Power Words" women and romantic and British into the "Add to Search" basket" and anthologies and American into the "Remove" basket. If they do, they'll notice that the number of sites appearing is now about 75 and that they've limited their topic to 18th Century British women who write romantic poetry. They may want to drill down even farther.
Be warned that all the sites that come up in SortFix searches may not fit what your students want. Encourage them to think about why these sites appeared. Although the site is easy to use, it does take some getting used to and does take thinking about which "Power Words" to move where. The more they practice moving around the "Power Words", the easier their searching should become.
After the assignment is complete, have your students evaluate what they thought of SortFix. Do they think it's a better way to search? Do you?