Search engines help teachers and students quickly locate likely sources of information on a topic. But search engines operate in different ways, and some work better than others for certain types of searches.

Furthermore, the filtering software now included on many schools’ computer networks may eliminate access to some search engines or dramatically reduce their effectiveness. Thus, teachers often use these search engines for their own research, which they then provide to students for follow-up reading and analysis.

Here is a comparison of the leading search engines, based on a few searches conducted by the author and her colleagues:

  • AltaVista. Great for finding graphics and sound, but not great for basic information searches. Initial search screen is highly commercial and a little confusing to navigate.

  • Ask Jeeves. Very easy to use, but does not yield specific answers. Most responses lead to popular and credible web sites. Good for initial research.

  • Excite. Easy to use, and easy to refine a search once inside a category (e.g.., Civil War).

  • Go. Numerous options for searching styles and display of search results. Because it includes ratings from real people, it is best on broad topic categories that many people have researched.

  • Google. Perhaps the best overall search engine. Easy to navigate, no commercialization, and includes the capability to refine searches.

  • HotBot. Provides a “menu” of search categories, which can help at the start of your search. Unfortunately, those categories often include web sites that have paid for priority listings. Easy to use.

  • Lycos. Fairly commercial, but this can be avoided easily. Provided unusual responses to some searches.

  • Northern Light. Powerful search engine. Provides “folders” that enable easy reference to past search results. Perhaps too many choices of search styles for school-age children.

  • Yahoo. Highly commercial, but does provide accurate results for basic queries. Not easy to refine a search.