Writing & Library Research Methods Lesson Plan: Using Databases

Lesson objective(s):  Teach students to choose the best library database for a particular question.

Total estimated time:  40 minutes

Additional outcome(s): Thinking about keywords. Help students become more comfortable with the databases and remind them that the databases are different from each other.

Course work or assignment underway:

            Research proposal assigned, not due yet.

Work and/or reading completed before class:

            There will be a short lecture on some search strategies and on choosing keywords.

We will use one of the articles we’ve read recently, but for the purpose of the exercise it doesn’t matter that much what it is.

Sequence of Classroom Activities

Start with a brainstorming session. Together as a class, we will agree on one question inspired by the reading.

Split the students into groups of 3-4.  In groups, have students brainstorm some keywords.  Assign one database to each group (prepare list ahead of time).    Students will have ten minutes to search the database and find two articles that appear to address the question in one way or another.

Then, rotate databases. Encourage students to begin with the same search that they used in the other database, but having tried that, they can feel free to change their search.  Once again, see if they can find two more articles that they did not find in the previous database.

As a class, compare the databases. Vote on which one had the best answers to the question, and which one was the easiest/most fun to use.  Discuss the overlap or lack of overlap between these concepts.

Reflection on the lesson’s success or alternative approaches:

It may be useful to try this with databases that contrast sharply, for instance, an index and a full-text database.

One person I know does a similar exercise but throws a completely inappropriate database into the mix. She feels a little guilty about this trick but says that it helps to illustrate to the students that some databases aren’t appropriate for particular questions.

I hope that students will take away from this that they shouldn’t always use the most familiar/comfortable database, and that the databases whose interfaces make them the most comfortable aren’t always the best ones to use (it’s sad but true).

Posted in Library & Research

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