Using Databases for High School Research

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SWBAT utilize the LRC databases for all their research purposes!

Big Idea

... using research databases is an essential skill for college readiness ...

Introduction and Context

10 minutes

If your library is anything like mine, it's a spacious, bright place with comfy desks, tables and chairs, a few desks and lots and lots of computers and stacks and stacks of YA.  I bet you're hard-pressed to find a single, reputable read in contemporary history or culture -- nary a Pulitzer Prize winner in sight! In our quest to promote reading, if you ask me, we've erred on the side of "fun" (translation easy) and lost "relevant."  (You can apply your own words, but I'm betting you get the gist ...)

So, when one sets about creating an authentic, research assessment for a "learned" audience, he can't rely on the school library for any bound volumes.  But, our Learning Resource Center (LRC), at least, subscribes to a substantial set of research databases.  These databases are perfectly suitable for nearly all high school level research, and, as importantly, using these databases teaches crucial skills for college.  In this lesson, I will introduce you to the databases that are available in my school, and discuss the relative merits of the best ones for a "Cause and Effect" essay.


When I introduce this lesson to students, I do my dead level best to explain the concept of the research database -- that very large publishing companies pay for access to previously published material from a variety of sources they then repackage for students, along with some original content, for a profit.  In fact, for my class the two exclusive "content providers" are the Ann Arbor based ProQuest and its direct competitor the Detroit based Gale, owned by that colossus of academic publishing Cengage Learning.  Both of these "content providers" have excellent databases for the kind of research we do in my course, and each set of databases provided has its charms.  So, in YA overloaded libraries, these databases are worth the coin.

After providing some context for the databases themselves, I ask students to drive their browsers to our LRC page, click on the "databases" tab there, and load the full set of all databases the school subscribes to.  From here, I demonstrate where to find links to the ones we should use for the course.  (I also reinforce the procedures for accessing these databases from off-campus locations.)  After they have the links available, I walk them through some simple key word searches while using the databases I recommend.  (Here is a Google Doc copy of the database usage notes I share with students -- just scroll to the second half of the Doc.)

Direct Instruction: Demonstrating the Use of Our LRC's Databases

12 minutes

The video attached in the resources section does a fair job of demonstrating my "direct instruction" of how to perform simple key word searches, so I encourage you to watch it.  But for your reference the five main databases I point students to are:

  • Gale Opposing Viewpoints in Context
  • Gale Student Resources in Context
  • ProQuest's eLibrary
  • ProQuest's SIRS
  • The Encyclopedia Britannica


In the video I discuss the relative merits of each of these five.

Guided Practice: Locating Information for Your Project + Creating Your "Source Blog Posts"

24 minutes

As is indicated on the attached .pdf (see the resources), I have specific source requirements for this essay.  Without these requirements, I have found that students often incorporate only the first or earliest hits in their research -- that is they use the databases as they use Google where the "top hits" reign. 

In the instructional video attached to the previous section of the lesson, I elaborate how a student would find different sources during key word searches -- that is where on the "search return" page are links to "magazines" or "academic journals" or "newspapers," etc.  But during this "guided practice" it is essential i reinforce the full use of search returns on a student-by-student basis.

Just for additional reference purposes, here are the source requirements for the C&E essay:

  • 1 encyclopedia entry (or none but not more than 1)
  • 2 newspapers
  • 2 popular magazine/journal OR video transcripts
  • 3 “academic” magazine/journals


It is important, here, to elaborate on the special case of the "encyclopedia" entry.  Not every topic (or even nearly every topic) appears in the e-text of The Encyclopedia Britannica.  Also, its not an expectation that students use an "encyclopedia" at all.  I do, however, find it essential to discuss and even demonstrate using the encyclopedia if for no other reason than to point out the professionally produced and peer-edit version of it in marked contrast to Wikipedia -- the wellspring of highschoolers "academic" knowledge.  Also, the "overview" type content, found in the two Gale and the SIRS databases serves as an "encyclopedia."  (More on this distinction in the reflection attached to this section.)

Not only does the attached .pdf enumerate the required sources (see the box near the bottom of the handout) it also explains the requirements I have for "blogging" each source -- that is using the Research Blog section of the Research Notebook site as a repository for research information or data.  Just as in years (long) past students would complete "notecards" during research, my students are making "notecards" on their blogs, "notecards" that serve the same function as the index cards of yore.  

After reading the attached handout aloud and answering any clarifying questions from students, I distribute a sample blog entry.  I recommend that they use my example as a "template" for their own blog entries.  At the end of the course, I will count/skim these "blog postings" as part of the summative eval. for the Research Notebook site.  With all of these instructions in place, I circulate to check for understanding, and, near the bell, I mention that they should post at least one notecard for homework.