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Getting Started on the Internet: Searching the Web Is as Easy as ABC

The third article in our Getting Started series focuses on simple searching. Teacher Tammy Payton's first graders are the super-est searchers around! Her "easy-as-ABC" project can work at any grade level. Included -- Ideas for searching across the grades and the curriculum!
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Tammy Payton is a first-grade teacher at Loogootee Elementary West in Loogootee, IN. She's a firm believer in kids' -- even first-grade kids' -- abilities to learn to surf, and an even firmer believer in using the Internet as a teaching tool.


A couple years ago, Payton created a special summer project for kids about to enter first grade. The project, called "Surfing for ABCs," is a model of Internet learning at its best. Kids involved in the project learned to surf safely -- and much, much more.

But don't be fooled by the project's simple-as-ABC title! The real neat thing about this project is that it's a great one to use across the grades.


All the kids showed up ready to surf! They'd been instructed to wear their surfing duds and to bring in beachballs, beach umbrellas, and the like. Those things were part of the lesson! They'd be used to create a "surfing set," the background setting for the ABC videotape the students would be starring in as part of their Internet surfing project.

The kids got down to work on the very first day. Payton and parent volunteers had created giant cutouts of each letter of the alphabet out of butcher paper. The letters were spread out on the floor on one side of the classroom. On the other side, all the kids' desks were grouped together to form a large "table" on which were spread out a ton of magazines and enough scissors and glue for an army! Kids spent part of their first day on the job hunting down magazine pictures for each letter of the alphabet.

Day One also included some surfing-the-Web basics, such as where to type the Web address on the browser page, how to back up, and how to use hyperlinks (many of the things covered last week on this site in Getting Started on the Internet 102: All Navigators On Board!). And students were introduced to Payton's favorite search engine for young children, Yahoo! Kids.

Yahoo! Kids is the younger kids' version of a well-known search engine, Payton explains. "The site has sifted the Internet for great Web pages that are appropriate for young children. Teachers can be assured that their students will find appropriate links here."

"If you've done much searching on the Internet, you've probably discovered that it's not easy to find great sites for young children," Payton adds. "When I started out on the Internet, there was much less available than there is today."

Last, but not least, Day One includes a little lesson in "seven rules for on-line safety."

  • I will not give out personal information such as my address, telephone number, parent's work address, or name and location of my school without my parent's permission.
  • If I joined a game or chat group on the Internet, with my parent's permission, I will never tell anyone my password to that game or chat group.
  • I will tell my parents right away if I come across any information that makes me feel uncomfortable.
  • I will never agree to get together with someone I "meet" online without first checking with my parents.
  • I will never send a person my picture or anything else without first checking with my parents.
  • I will not respond to any messages that are mean or in any way make me feel uncomfortable.
  • I will talk with my parents so that we can set up rules for going online.

Kids had to sign a "Pledge to Surf Safely" once they understood those rules. Parents and students signed another form -- the "Permission to Publish" form -- which gave permission to Payton to publish the students' images and work on the Internet.

"Internet safety is a big issue in our community. Loogootee is a conservative community located in a rural area of Indiana, and the Internet is little known for its potential and widely known for its misuse," says Payton. "So my challenge as an educator was to develop appropriate Internet activities for my young students while teaching my kids how to find information and share information safely on the Internet."

"On the Internet, we use only first names to ensure privacy," Payton adds.


On the project's second day, the kids build their surfing set. Then they're ready to dive in and get their Internet feet wet!

Good organization is key to the success of any Internet project. Payton chose to organize this project so that each day would focus on three letters of the alphabet. (If you attempt an ABC project, you might organize it in a different way.)

Each day, students bring in from home objects that begin with any of the day's three letters. Payton divides the kids into three groups, generally based on who brings in the most objects for each of the assigned letters. The three groups rotate among three activities that are going on simultaneously (thanks to parent volunteers and the fact that Payton's classroom has five computers).

  • One-third of the kids are videotaped on the "surf" set. They hold up objects brought from home for one of the day's letters and say aloud "A is for ant farm" or "A is for avocado" or "A is for antler," etc.
  • One-third of the kids are busy cutting out and pasting more pictures for each of the three letters-of-the day on the giant cutout letters. They use inventive spelling to label each picture.
  • And one-third of the students are surfing the Web in search of sites related to the days' letters.

Every half-hour the kids rotate so that each day all kids are involved in all three activities.


"Surfing for ABCs" is much more than a day at the beach. A lot of learning is going on too. And kids are learning a lot more than just how to surf the Internet.

"I always try to encourage kids to think critically while they're looking at a favorite site they've found," says Payton. "I ask them why they like the site and why they think other children will enjoy looking at the site too."

And that gets at the heart of what Payton thinks Web pages should be.

"The Internet is more than a showcase for students' work," she says. "I always strive to create a showcase in such a way that other visitors will learn something when they visit."

And that's the beauty of the ABC project she created. When kids -- or adults -- visit the sites they can learn from what the kids have learned and from the great kid-friendly sites that they linked to.

"One teacher approached me after her students had completed a project in which they'd hatched emus in the classroom," Payton recalls. "She wanted me to add to our Web site something about their project."

"I thought about it. I wanted to suggest something that went beyond just drawing pictures and creating a gallery of student artwork," she says. "'Why not create a quiz that other visitors can take?' I suggested. Then people will see the kids' artwork and learn something about emus at the same time."

"So Mrs. Strange's second grade class wrote a quiz," Payton continues, "and I wrote the HTML. The completed project was a great example of showcasing student work and teaching at the same time!"


Give it a little thought, and you're bound to come up with an ABC project that fits neatly into your curriculum and that extracts real learning power from your students' Internet surfing experiences.

Do you teach 5th grade American history? How about setting the kids off on a search for sites related to the Civil War? They can use the Internet to research an "ABCs of the Civil War." Think about it. A is for Antietam or Appomattax, B is for the Battle of Bull Run, C is for Confederate, D is for Jefferson Davis, E is for Pvt. John E. Essick's Civil war diaries and so on. The supply of Civil war sites is endless!

Do you teach high school zoology? A is for Amphibians or Acid Rain, B is for Biodiversity, C is for Cetacea or Crocodilians, D is for Depletion of the Ozone, E is for Evolution or Extinct, and so on! Don't stop now! This project has a "life cycle" that'll never end!


Past topics:
Getting Started: Start Simply!
Getting Started: All Navigators On Board!


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © Education World

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Updated 08/29/2012