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The Playful Path to Information Literacy - Empowering ELL Students through Interactive Instruction: Keyword Chaos

Hello and welcome to the guide that accompanies our presentation for CCLI!

How It Works

Keyword Chaos


Learning Outcomes

  • Students will compose a high level research question using at least three ideas or concepts
  • Students will identify key concepts from a research question


At this point in the research process, students should have found some background information about their topic. In order to proceed, they must start to explore what actually interests them within the topic. What exactly do they want to discover about ideas that form relationships?

To begin, the librarian will show a "bad" research question from the class topic example.


"How does good sleep impact College students?"


This is very vague, and impact can mean anything. When searching for information, we want to avoid getting overloaded. Therefore, we must find a focal point. The librarian then shows a better example research question.


"How does adequate sleep impact the GPA of college students?"


This question is more narrow because there's an additional idea added. For undergraduates, the librarians stress the importance of having three different ideas interacting within a research question, referred to as the "Venn Diagram of Research." Students are also reminded several times that words like impact and effect are comparative in nature and do not serve as real keywords.

The Activity

tl;dr – Creating a good research question is about finding several (3) things/ideas that interact.


Students are handed a slip of paper that has a possible research question variable. There are three different sets of keywords that are color coded with background colors of orange, blue, and green. Students must then explore the room to find people with different color slips than them to form a logical research question. The research question should follow the basic format of green + orange + blue, in any order they desire.

With the keywords teenagers [green] + video games [orange] + mental health [blue], a possible research question could be:
"How do video games affect the mental health of teenagers?"

Once groups of three form, they should pick a whiteboard or open a document on their computer and write their potential research question, making sure to underline the keywords they were given. The librarian will then go around the room and discuss the process with them, asking students to reflect on their process, asking if they had any problems or encountered any setbacks along the way. The whole activity should take between 10 and 15 minutes, depending on how smoothly the process goes.


Potential Hangups:

Sometimes, classes do not have enough students to create trios, and other times students might not be able to find other variables that "make sense" together. In the event of this, we at first sit back and watch them struggle productively to make something successful out of the situation. When they can go no further on their own, we will either give them another keyword or ask them to manipulate one of the keywords they were given to make a workable research question. This acts as a lesson that students may not know the words they need at first to make a good research question, and that it might be frustrating. It also demonstrates that research questions are not set in stone from the onset; that's why they are called variables.

Files for Reuse

The Venn Diagram of Research

This image is a venn diagram used for research instruction.

Terms of Reuse

Creative Commons CC BY SA License Logo 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. We encourage reuse of any materials on this guide.