The past few years have seen an explosion of free online research tools. These are tools that middle and high school students can use to find sources, bookmark webpages, clip and save sections of text, annotate webpages, create bibliographies and works cited lists, brainstorm and map out their ideas, outline their first draft, and much, much more.
The following list represents just a small sampling of the tools we like and have seen successfully implemented in grades 6-12.
CiteLighter is a powerful tool for bookmarking, clipping, annotating, and organizing web content. With a free CiteLighter account, your students will be able to take notes on a webpage and instantly save their notes to their CiteLighter account. CiteLighter automatically remembers the webpage where notes were written — and even starts creating a bibliography for you. Used wisely, CiteLighter can save you and your students a great deal of time and frustration — and can actively scaffold your students’ learning of key research steps and skills (e.g., taking notes that paraphrase or summarize the text being read, instead of simply “clipping” it; keeping track of sources consulted and creating a bibliography).
Google Drive offers a suite of tools for creating documents, spreadsheets, drawings, and presentations. A key feature of these tools is the ease with which a document can be shared with others (with you, the teacher, or with classmates) to allow collaborative composing, peer editing of rough drafts, and much more.
Diigo is another powerful tool for bookmarking, clipping, annotating, and organizing web content. One Diigo feature we especially like is the way webpage annotations can be made visible to others. For example, when a teacher creates a Diigo “group” for her students, she can show them her annotations and model how to attach digital “sticky notes” to an online text. Students can also make their notes visible to others — or choose to keep them “private.”
Bubbl.us is a free idea-mapping tool your students may find useful during the topic-clarifying, brainstorming, and outline-creating stages of their research work. When students start a new bubbl.us “mind map,” they see a blank canvas where they can add and arrange and re-arrange colored idea “bubbles” containing their ideas and notes. Lines can be drawn to show connections between bubbles. “Mind maps” can also be shared with others and edited by more than one author.
Padlet is another free idea-mapping tool that’s great for brainstorming, activating and recording prior knowledge, organizing ideas, and creating an outline. The Padlet interface looks like — and works like — a traditional bulletin board (Padlet calls each new board a “wall”). You place a note or idea on the “wall” and then move it next to other related notes — or wherever you want. Padlet is also easy to use for collaborative activities, with two or more students contributing to the same Padlet “wall.”