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Action Zone User's Guide to Keyword Challenges

Question to Query LogoThis guide provides instructions and ideas for using the Question to Query: Keyword Challenges found in the Action Zone section of this Kit. Activities in the Keyword Challenge series direct students to think about what's important to search for before building a query. Hurried searchers typically overlook this important first step. Taking a little time to think about important ideas and available words before searching saves time in the long run.

The instructions for all Keyword Challenges are to sort the words in the research question into four categories:

• words that are probably effective "as is;"

• words that are probably important but for which better words may exist;

• words that probably have little impact;

• stop words - words that the search engine ignores when executing the query.

This activity is based on our Query Checklist, and encourages assimilating the chief components of the list through repeated game play.

How to play

On the page following the initial instructions, students are introduced to a search challenge question. All the words of the question appear in bold red text and may be dragged and dropped into an appropriate box on the page. To drag, move the mouse cursor over the words and press the (left) mouse button. Continue to hold the button as you drag the word from its original location. To drop, release the mouse button. The word will stay where you released it.

The four boxes on the screen correspond to the four types of words described above. The object of the game is to drag each word to the box where it belongs: e.g., if it is a stop word--it belongs in the stop word box, and so on.

A player can check the accuracy of the predictions by using the check results arrow button located near the bottom of the screen. A score will appear in the upper right portion of the window, indicating the effectiveness of the word placement. A score of 80% or higher is necessary to demonstrate mastery of keyword selection. A player is allowed three attempts. If a word is dragged out of a box where it correctly belonged and is dropped into a different box, points are lost. Wizard hints appear in the right margin, which indicate how close the student is getting after each selection.

After three attempts or achieving a perfect score, a results page is displayed, indicating a score for this activity. Points are taken off for each attempt, so the only way to earn 100% is to place all the words correctly on the first try.

A final screen displays suggestions for improving performance. An exit button takes the player to the Keyword Challenge menu of all available games in the series.

Each game is based on actual searching using these words. The effective combinations earn scores above 80%.

How to use this activity instructionally

Keyword Challenges may be used in a number of ways. In our workshops we always start by playing a game as a group, taking suggestions from individuals and placing words accordingly, seeing the results and adjusting words as desired. This is the most efficient way to introduce how the game works. We follow this by allowing time for teams or individuals to play more games as time allows. We always use these games prior to a break--without fail, people are motivated to play well into their breaktime. Teachers tell us that students are equally motivated to continue playing.

Collaborative groups (several individuals to a computer) may be formed and assigned one or more games. We have heard that this is effective in encouraging groups to get perfect scores, often as a result of repeated play. We've also found collaborative play to be highly effective in teacher workshops--two heads are often better than one.

Individual play is also an option, especially after the instructions are understood. Several Challenges could be assigned or self-selected as part of a self-guided module on turning questions into effective queries.

Each Challenge is slightly different and the benefit of playing several of them comes through learning from mistakes as new types of problems are encountered. No amount of Keyword Challenges will make a player a flawless searcher, but it will make one more likely to try different combinations of words.

Lessons to be learned

Many lessons may be picked up from the prompts and discovered by trial and error play, but just in case they are not, here's what we think is good to learn from these games:

1. Is it effective to search using only words. Operators are completely unnecessary in any of the Challenges.

2. Effective searching can start with only the words that are provided. Not all the words are good "as is," but words not provided are unnecessary to retrieve effective results. Many times, students can't think of other words than what they are given; they really don't need other words to as long as they can differentiate between important ideas and unimportant ones. If they can do that, they will retrieve results in which better words may be found.

3. Students become better searchers bBy eliminating ineffective (clutter) words and stop words from a query. Not every word is needed; in fact, fewer words (not less than two, however) tend to produce better results. Searching for only the words in the top box or the top two boxes, while ignoring the rest, retrieves better results.

4. Proper nouns and numbers are almost always good "as is" keywords--this can be true even if numbers are spelled out.

5. Verbs tend not to make effective keywords "as is." It's almost always better to turn a verb into a noun.

6. Clutter words are usually insignificant words that have multiple meanings or are redundant (such as China when Great Wall is used).

7. Effective searching requires experimentation, trying different combinations of keywords. In this game, a score provides feedback about how close one is. In actual searching, the quality of snippets retrieved is the only feedback. It is not possible to predict with 100% accuracy what will be found in snippets.

8. Knowing that there may be a better words for an important idea in the search creates openness to finding and using alternate keywords as one searches.

Difficulty ratings

Some Keyword Challenges are harder than others. The following ratings indicate search experience, not age or grade level. We are in the process of writing Challenges that are more appropriate for students in upper elementary grades. Use this guide when selecting appropriate challenges for students:


Buffalo Challenge

Hollywood Challenge

Diamond Challenge

Beginner to Intermediate

Broadway Challenge

Great Wall Challenge

Piranha Challenge

Earthquake Challenge


Stamp Collector's Challenge

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