ISTE 3: Teaching Research Using the Big6 Model

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Carol E. Davis
Photo Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via Carol E. Davis

This week I am looking at the third ISTE Student Standard: Research and Information Fluency through the Digital Education Leadership program at Seattle Pacific University and am attempting to answer the following question: “What are ways in which students can apply digital tools to gather, evaluate, and use information?”

Coincidentally, our middle school science teacher approached me recently, asking if I could guide her students through the research process as they prepare their science fair projects. While I have taught several stand-alone lessons on conducting research, I have never taught those skills as a thoughtful, comprehensive unit. I took to the Web to discover how other educators teach various information literacy skills and through my research, I have discovered that I am not alone; it is not uncommon for librarians to lack confidence in their implementation of research skills in their program. Dr. Michael B. Eisenberg, founder of the Big6™Skills and Janet Murray, well-published and respected school librarian, have indicated that a surprisingly few number of schools have a comprehensive information literacy program. They found that many programs are “irregular, partial, and arbitrary” (Eisenberg, 2011, pg. 10). Sadly, as our classrooms (and world) move towards an inquiry-based model, the students who graduate without extensive understanding of information literacy are at a disadvantage.

For those educators that have employed a successful information literacy program, a large number have utilized the Big6™ Research Model. In an effort to best serve my students, I was left asking myself this question:

How can the Big6™ Research Model be incorporated into a library program to help students locate information, evaluate sources, and answer questions?

What is Big6™?

Big6™ is a research model used to help students of all ages to solve an information problem. Created by the aforementioned Dr. Michael B. Eisenberg, Dean Emeritus and Professor at the University of Washington Information School and Bob Berkowitz, former School Library Media Specialist, Eisenberg and Berkowitz developed the Big6™ program in 1987 and it has been used to guide students through the problem-solving process ever since. The Big6™ model consists of the following stages:

Big 6 Skills

While Big6™ is intended for any age group, an alternative program has been created for our youngest learners. The Super3™ is based on the Big6™ and while it utilizes the same set of skills, the terminology is geared towards preschool and early-elementary students. Some might question teaching such young learners research skills, but special education teacher, Laura Eisenberg Robinson argues that students of all ages “tackle tasks, make decisions, and solve problems” (2008, pg. 10).The Super3™ gives students the ability to identify their needs, locate resources and use information appropriately. The Super3™ process involves the following three steps:

Super3 Research Skills

Putting the Plan to Action

As I was reading about the implementation of the Big6™ Research Model, librarians that have embedded it into their program successfully have done so by incorporating the skills into the students’ classroom curriculum. It can be a challenge to find teachers that are ready and willing to adjust their lessons in order to accommodate an entirely new set of skills. Curriculum Specialist, Kristine Woods has found that librarians and teachers who work together to integrate new ideas into their program feel more comfortable when doing so jointly, the “collaborative relationship creates an environment in which people feel safe to take risks, to try something new to improve professional practices” (2014, pg. 16). I am fortunate in that I have a teacher who is not only open to a collaborative relationship but is the one pursuing it; we can hit the ground running and prepare our students for the future.

Very soon, I will be working with sixth grade students in their Earth Science class. Unfortunately, the challenge I face on a regular basis, is not having a sufficient amount of time to discuss and practice new skills. I will be attempting to condense the first three stages of Big6™ into one 45-minute lesson (yikes!). The super-speed lesson will go something like this:

Stage One: Task Definition

The students have already selected their science fair topics, students will be prompted to take a moment at the start of class to share their topic with a partner. The sharing is meant to get the juices flowing and encourage students to articulate their task. From there, students will be brainstorming 5 – 10 questions they have about their topic. Students will then review their questions and extract 3 categories based on their questions.

Stage One: Task Definition [Example]

My topic

How long would it take an energy drink to dissolve an egg?

My questions

What ingredients go into energy drinks?

Do all energy drinks have similar ingredients?

Which of those ingredients would dissolve the egg?

If the energy drink DOES dissolve the egg, what affect would that drink have on someone is consuming it?

Would placing the energy drink and egg in different environments alter the time it would take for the egg to dissolve?

Would a raw egg and a hard-boiled egg have different results?

My categories

Energy drink ingredients

Energy drink effects

Dissolving calcium

Stage Two: Information Seeking Strategies

In the next phase of the Big6™ research process, students will be asked to brainstorm possible resources to find information about their topic. I will quickly demonstrate and share my list of sources. Students will then have time to create a list of their own. Students will be asked to use a digital mind map to organize their thoughts ( and will be suggested as possibilities). It is important to remember that during this stage, this is planning ONLY, no actual research quite yet.

Stage Two: Information Seeking Strategies [Example]


I will look in the school library, the public library, and consider what digital books I might be able to access.


What keywords can I use to find information about my topic? Can I look at my categories and find keywords that will be helpful? I need to remember to try to narrow my search to educational sites and be aware of sites that are trying to sell energy drinks.


I can access several databases through the local public library that have both science and opposing viewpoint articles. I will need to remember to use my keywords to find articles for my project.


Stage Three: Location & Access

For the final stage of this particular session of our time together, students will equip themselves with the knowledge to actually find and access the information they’re looking for. The students have identified their needs, brainstormed possible sources to find information on their topic and will now determine where to actually find that information. The following questions will be addressed as a group, because students belong to different public libraries, open discussion will be encouraged:

How can you access the databases you listed in stage two? Do you have a library card to a local public library? If you do have a public library card, do you know your password for getting online? If you don’t have a public library card, what other options are available?

How can you access the books you listed in stage two? Do you have a library card to a local public library? If you do have a public library card, do you know how to find books in the library? Do you know how to request books from other locations of the library? Do you have a way of getting to the library? If you don’t have a public library card, what other options are available?

Stage Four and Beyond

Due to time constraints, students will likely be covering the remaining stages of Big6™ independently (eek!). I would love to write a long narrative about my plans to set the students up to be successful as they move forward in their research, but the truth of the matter is, I have no idea what to do or what to expect. I am not certain of their skill-level going into this lesson and therefore, plan to be incredibly flexible in practice. That being said, I have a hard time predicting the outcome and when and how we’ll end for the day. One of my primary concerns is that the students will be moving into the actual process of conducting research and without the time to cover citation and source evaluation, they might find several sources, but they will be lacking the ability to keep track of what they’ve found and (the hugely important task of) determining if the information is reliable.

My ideal outcome of this challenge would be to have additional time (right away, within the week) to continue to work with the students. If this is not possible, other alternatives could include:

Creating short video tutorials on the latter stages of Big6™ that students can watch outside of class.

Linking blog posts to the science teacher’s class site that include information on continuing the Big6™ process.

Providing students will print handouts that help walk them through the final stages of Big6™.

Do you have other ideas of how to be serve my students in this challenging situation? Any advice is welcomed in the comments section of this post!

Alternative Options to Big6™

While Big6™ is prolific in the education world, particularly that of the librarian world, I am certain there are other options available for teaching information literacy skills. The only challenge? They’re hard to find. Big6™ is at the top of most “elementary research skills” searches and discussions. I am curious to learn what, if any, research models other librarians are using. If you know of an alternative research model, or perhaps you’ve created your very own curriculum, please share in the comments section of this post. I’d love to hear from you!


Chang, C., Chen, T., & Hsu, W. (2011). The study on integrating WebQuest with mobile learning for environmental education. Computers & Education, 57(1), 1228-1239.

Eisenberg, M. B., & Murray, J. (2011). Big6™ by the month: a new approach. Library Media Connection, 29(6), 10-13.

Johnson, D. (2013). Top ten school library game changers of the past twenty-five years. Teacher Librarian, 40(4), 28-31.

Needham, J. (2010). Meeting the new AASL standards for the 21st-century learner via Big6™ problem solving. Library Media Connection, 28(6), 42-43.

Robinson, L. E. (2008). Information literacy and early learners. Library Media Connection, 27(2), 10-11.

Woods, K. (2014). A footprint for collaboration. Teacher Librarian, 42(1), 13-17.

Big 6: information and technology skills for student success. (n.d.). Retrieved February 7, 2015, from

Elementary research grades K-5 (G. Trupiano & B. Rooney, Comps.) [Pamphlet]. (2001). Retrieved from

Kentucky Virtual Library. (n.d.). How to do research. Retrieved February 6, 2015, from

Murray, J. (2008). Applying Big6™ skills, AASL standards and ISTE NETS to internet research. Retrieved February 4, 2015, from Janet R. Murray website:

The Thought Process

ISTE 3 Mind Map


4 thoughts on “ISTE 3: Teaching Research Using the Big6 Model

  1. Becky – Nice job working through this endeavor. I am excited to implement two specific suggestions of yours. First, asking students to share out their ideas as a means of “articulating their task” is very wise. This small step could really narrow a student’s objective and direction. Additionally, asking students to turn their questions into categories is a step that I will certainly be implementing. Often, my students type their research questions straight into Google! The category step nudges students to determine those important key words …a crucial part of a search that, if not done, can lead to endless frustration later on. Thanks for the tips and great job!

    • I did this today, Annie (having the students “articulate their task”) and I was so surprised at how challenging it was. It was a great lesson in slowly done and making sure the kiddos are confident in each step before they move forward.

  2. Great job, Becky explaining the Big6 model and investigating the Super3 for younger elementary educators. I need to explore that website for my students. I like the way you organized each stage and explained the steps for us. You also came up with great concerns after students move beyond stage 4. I like the alternatives that you added at the end because as educators, we know there never seems to be enough time to complete everything planned. The visuals that you added to the blog are wonderful and I was thinking they could be posted in a classroom or copied for students. I look forward to hearing about this project and thanks again for sharing your ideas.

  3. Confession: I search for eggs and energy drinks on YouTube! I am so interested in what will happen! Haha. I did find this video (cook an egg!):

    Anyways, I really appreciated your post. I think you outlined a great plan to go forward with and I look forward to hearing how it goes. As an aside, you might want to chat with Cindy Strong. She was a librarians at a high school and middle school prior to working at the university. She might have some practical insights or ideas!

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