How to Use Search Engines for EFL/ ESL Learning

According to the on line ‘Oxford Dictionaries’, a search engine is “A program that searches for and identifies items in a database that correspond to keywords or characters specified by the user, used especially for finding particular sites on the World Wide Web.”

So, what should you, as a novice EFL teacher, be aware of as it concerns using SEs? Here are a few useful tips worth remembering.

SEs are wonderful for finding information, but the main problem is that rather than finding the specific information you desire – they flood you with too much information: unless, of course, you are going to a specific  uniform resource locator (URL). URL is just the technical name for website address, e.g. , which appears in the address bar which is at the top of each page.

The ‘art’ of using an SE is to specify a search string (these are the actual words that you type in the search bar or search box) that focuses as sharply as possible on the subject or information that you require – and make sure that the most important words are placed first.

There are also a few symbols that can assist the students in their searches: the ‘+’ (plus), the ‘-‘(minus), and the “…” (quotation marks). A plus placed in front of a word ensures that the SE discovers the pages that contain those words e.g. +transitive + intransitive +verbs +English: only the pages that have all four words will appear.

A minus placed in front of a word ensures that the SE ignores the pages that contain those words e.g. +English +grammar -intransitive. Incidentally, this doesn’t always work: especially with closely connected words such as transitive and intransitive. Furthermore, as can be seen – you can also combine these symbols.

Quotation marks force the SE to display only those pages that contain the identical search string that the student has enclosed in quotation marks: a search conducted in this way is known as a ‘phrase search’, e.g. “transitive and intransitive verbs in English” This can often be a very efficient way to search the WWW.

Finally, don’t use punctuation; don’t use common words like ‘the’, ‘a’, ‘an’; don’t bother using capitals – most SE are not case sensitive; don’t use suffixes, e.g. use ‘verb’ notverbs – for a better search.

The choice of SE is yours, but your students will probably end up using Google or Bing.