Skip to Main Content

Library Toolkits

This guide contains information about the library's Mini Lesson Toolkits including their online content and lesson plans.

Human Search Engine logo

Lesson Plan

Learning Outcomes: 

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to: 

  • demonstrate knowledge of using keywords for database searching 

  • understand Boolean operators and how they are used by databases 

  • build effective search strategies 

Lesson Plan: 

  1. Introduce the topic and set the agenda for the lesson 

  1. Content: Watch the Search Strategies video 

  1. Practice: Introduce the activity

    1. Students will work in groups of 2-3 students (10 groups total)

    2. Each team receives a pouch of supplies

    3. Once in groups, students will work through the "searches" on the worksheets

      1. For the first set of questions, groups should spread the colored shapes on the table and then follow the searches to answer the questions

      2. For the second set of questions, groups should spread out the source cards face up on the table and then follow the searches to answer the questions.

  2. Discussion

  1. How important are your keywords to your search results? 

  2. How does adding more words to your search effect your results? 

  3. When might you use “OR” when searching? 

Video with Transcript


Searching in library databases is a bit different than searching Google. Rather than the whole of the internet, databases contain a carefully curated set of information, usually centering around a similar topic. Because databases are able to better organize the information they have, they generally use keyword searching, rather than natural language searching like Google does. For every item contained in the database, there is a “record” that includes metadata, or information about that article, like the title, the authors, the date of publication, and an abstract or summary. When the database searches for information, it looks for the keywords in all of the information for that article and in the full text of the article,  if it is available.  

Databases search for every word that you put into the search box. If you put a string of words in the search box, it will only return results that include all of the words in your search. This can leave you with no results or you may miss out on other valuable articles that use different keywords. 

To help you get the best results possible, it’s important to limit your search to keywords, or the most important parts of your topic, and to consider how you combine these keywords in your search.  

To do this, let’s take a look at the language that the databases use: Boolean. Boolean operators are words that communicate specific meaning to a computer, and we use them to create more specific and accurate searches. They let us combine our keywords in various ways to get different results. 

Let’s start with And. And is used to combine search terms and make your search more specific. Let’s say you are searching for information about how to remove a ghost from your house. If you were to search for just “ghost,” just “house,” or just “remove,” your search results would not get you the information you want. You need to combine these terms in a way where the results will touch on all of these topics together. This is what AND is for. By searching for “ghost AND house AND remove” the database will return only information where all three of these topics are present, giving you a better chance of finding articles closer to your topic.    

When you put two or more words together in a search box, the database puts an invisible “AND” between them, unless you tell it otherwise. 

OR widens your search. It means that you’re willing to accept two terms as interchangeable, and is great to use with synonyms, or words that have similar meanings. So for our search, we might say "house OR home OR building.” All three of these words might be used to describe the same group and different authors may have used different words in their articles. 

NOT narrows your search down by excluding things from your search. In this example, you are pretty certain the ghost is friendly and not demonic, so you might want to exclude demons from your search. You could say “ghost NOT demon” to make sure that you are only getting results focusing on ghosts.  

You can also combine any or all of these terms to build your search. So to find out more about having a ghost in your home but avoid results about demons, we could search:  

ghost AND (house OR home OR building) NOT demon 

If it starts to sound like math – it is, but don’t worry- the database handles the hard part. Just like in math equations, the order of operations apply. Whatever is in the parentheses is done first. So, in our example, the search actually looks for:  

Ghost AND house NOT demon (OR) 

Ghost AND home NOT demon (OR) 

Ghost AND building NOT demon 

...all at the same time. 

Using effective search strategies can save you time and get you the best results for your topic. 

Answer Key

Answer Key

Worksheet Part 1

Search 1 : 9

Search 2: 3

Search 3: 18

Search 4: 12


Worksheet Part 2

Search 1 : 5

Search 2: 9

Search 3: 2

Search 4: 2