In this discussion/offline activity, learners consider web searching, and why it’s so important and so challenging. They learn about software programs called “web crawlers” and “search engines” that help find and deliver search results from among billions and billions of web resources. Learners also get an introduction to algorithms, and practice writing and revising algorithms.

Learning Objectives

  • Name software programs that help collect and sort search results
  • Create an example of an algorithm that illustrates how algorithms work to support web searches
  • Create an index for a simple algorithms

Time Required

1 hour to 1.5 hours depending on group size


Can be tailored for audiences from 13 up; with varying levels of experience with the web


  • Collections of 20 to 60 varied, small objects of the same type– for example, groups of buttons or beads of different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, materials. You will need one collection for each group of 2 to 4 learners.
  • A computer/projector set up, or some other way of showing streaming video (from YouTube) and internet connection
  • A whiteboard, chalkboard, or flip chart pad for writing notes that the whole group can see
  • Sticky notes

Web Literacy Skills

  • Search
  • Synthesize
  • Evaluate

21st Century Skills

  • Problem-Solving
  • Collaboration
  • Communication

Earning Digital Badges

Digital badges capture the evidence and are the demonstration knowledge and achievement. Each Core Activity encompasses multiple web literacy skills. Completion of all Core Activities will enable anyone to earn all the web literacy plus 21C skills badges. Thus, we encourage you to complete all the Core Activities, and earn badges to capture what you’ve learned. Digitalme is offering web literacy badges through the Open Badges Academy.


[3-5 mins]

  • The facilitator asks each member of the group to introduce themselves and answer an icebreaker question (such as favorite food, favorite game, what muppet or cartoon character you most resemble).

    Tip! The icebreaker question helps learners get to know others in the group and feel more comfortable during the discussion; it can– but does not have to be– web literacy related. Tip! The facilitator should model a short intro, so learners know what this looks like, and especially, how much time they have for their introduction.

Framing: Searching the Web

[5 mins]

  • What’s the last thing you searched for on the web? What tools do you use to when you search? When you search, how often do you find what you are looking for? Are some searches easier than others?
  • Facilitator connects discussion responses to a big idea
    • Currently the web has billions and billions of pages! That’s a lot of information and resources, so finding the right bit of info you need in that HUGE complex interconnected collection of pages is the job of a collection of software programs.
    • Some of these programs do the job of exploring the web to find out what is there, to create an index of the web

      Tip! If appropriate you can ask learners: What’s an index? Where do you usually find an index, and what’s it for? (In books, an index is an ordered list of the content that helps you find specific topics within an entire book).

  • Explain that learners will experiment with creating an index (or ordered listing) of a collection of objects, which will help us find specific item or items in that collection.

Offline Activity: Be the crawler!

[30 mins]

  • Search a collection
  • Using a preferred method, facilitator splits learners into groups of 2-4.
  • Each group of learners gets a collection of 20 to 60 varied, small objects– for example, a group of buttons or beads or Lego pieces of different shapes, sizes, colors, textures, materials.
  • Facilitator asks each group of learners to find all the blue buttons or beads in their collection. When they are done, they should raise their hands. Start a timer and and make a note of the time when all groups are finished with the task. Ask each group to report the number of blue buttons or beads they found.

    Tip! If time, try another search, adding another attribute along with a color specification, such as texture or size

  • Discuss the task
  • Facilitator tells learners: You just did a search– congratulations, you’re all search engines! Let’s talk about how you did it– what did you do to find all the blue items? What helped? Was it easy or hard?

    Tip! If the group is struggling to reflect on the task, prompt them: did they had to shake or dump out the collection to see what was there? Did they have to discuss what counts as blue? Were larger collections are harder to search?

  • Document the search process
  • Ask learners: If we were to write up a list of steps involved in this simple search, what would that look like? Let’s do this together– what steps did you take? Were any steps repeated?

    Tip! The set of steps might look something like this

    • Spread the collection out so you can see it
    • Decide what counts as “blue” (or medium, or whatever the search term is)
    • Pick out a button that matches the search description
    • Put it to the side
    • Repeat until there are no blue buttons left
    • Tally your final count of buttons
    • Raise your hand to signal you finished the task
    • Report the number
  • Once the facilitator has documented this list ask learners– would anyone else be able to do this task, just from looking at our list? * Explain that this sequential list of tasks is known as an algorithm. When software developers write computer code, they write algorithms, or lists of tasks, which the computers do.
  • Ask: what could make this task easier? Is there anything we could do in ADVANCE to make finding things faster?
  • Create an Index
  • Ask learners to find a way to order the items in the collection to speed searching– this is an index! Offer sheets of paper, pens, and sticky notes, and let learners problem-solve on creating their system.

    Tip! If learners seem stuck, make suggestions– how can the items be grouped? Are there similarities between items? What are the features that someone might search for?

  • When learners seem to have finished, give them a second search task, different from the first. Time how long it takes for all groups to finish and report back. Mark the time– it should be quicker for all groups, esp for groups with larger collections.
  • Discuss!
  • How did learners solve the problem? What approaches did they take? Were the approaches the same or different?
  • Point out that the process of exploring the collection and creating this index is exactly what software programs called “web crawlers” or “spiders” do— one by one examining billions of pages on the web and creating an index to speed search processes

    Tip! If time, discuss the idea of meta-data, information that helps describe each object in the collection– “blue” “square” “bead” “button”

  • Revise the Algorithm
  • Return to the algorithm; how does having the collection indexed change the steps?

    Tip! Here, you can either have a group discussion about the algorithm and talk about the different additions to the steps that each group might add (depending on how they created their index). OR (time permitting) you can ask learners to take the basic algorithm and write a new set of steps that works with their indexed collection. Then groups can rotate around the room

  • Be sure to highlight the idea that new algorithms are different for each group and method of indexing. Connect this to the idea that, when we use different search engines, we get different results, depending on the algorithm and how sites are indexed


[5-10 mins]

  • Facilitator explains that, of course, web pages aren’t buttons/beads. What’s different about web pages and buttons/beads? Ask learners to discuss or you can explain the following points!
  • Web pages are a lot more complex, and full of rich information and images.
  • They are all interconnected– linked together, so one can refer to or connect to another– in a way that our buttons can’t. PLUS there are billions of pages on the web– it’s happening on a totally different scale than our tiny collections here.
  • Facilitator explains that the same principles we used in our button exercise apply– search engine companies like Google and Yahoo create indexes and use search algorithms to find your search results.
  • Show this short video on how Google Searches work
  • Point out that
    • Not all pages are included in the index! Only some of the web is out there, and the most popular pages are often at the top of your search.
  • The algorithm is designed to give a searcher a good result, but it’s not always the best result, and your result may be different from day to day.
  • Algorithms are designed by people, at companies like Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, etc, and they’re constantly tweaked and changed. There’s something called Search Engine Optimization– things that web designers, developers, and content developers do to try to get their pages to come in high in the search results, by taking advantage of how the algorithm works.

Online Activity

[5-10 mins]

  • Ask learners to share research or search questions they have have– for example, how long does it take to walk to California, what’s in a special sauce, or how much money does a veterinarian make in per year.
  • Brainstorm and list different search engines, i.e. Bing, Yahoo, Google etc.
  • Assign each learner or group of learners a question and an engine and ask them to search for at least 3 different sources of information.
  • Discuss as a group what participants found in their search.
  • Ask learners to again search with same question but with a different search engine, and compare the results with the first search.

Learning Experience Reflection

[5 mins]

  • What did you like about this activity?
  • If you might teach this activity to a particular audience, what might you change about the process, structure, or content to better meet the needs of that audience?

Feedback on Core Curriculum

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