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High School to College Transition

Use this guide to find information and activities to prepare for the transition from high school to college level research.

Prepare Students for College Research

Discover tips and activities that address the research struggles of first-year college students. 

Choosing a topic, creating an argument:

Students struggle to choose their own research topic and browse for ideas. They take a stance before researching and get frustrated when sources don't fit their argument. They often choose a different topic or rely on less credible sources.

Awareness of information sources.

Students are reluctant to go beyond Google and are overwhelmed by information choices and quantities.

Turning a topic into a search.​​

Students find it difficult to find the right words when searching for information online. They don't understand that searching a database is not like searching Google. ​
  • Take time to brainstorm search terms, synonyms, and different ways of describing or saying the same thing.
  • Practice searching for articles using databases. Explore search features and limiters.  
  • Search a topic multiple times using different words on the Web and using multiple databases. Discover which words and which sources retrieve the best results. Use successful search results to find more more search terms (what words does the article use to describe the topic?).
  • Hands-on activities: Synonym Scattergories or Furry Crab or Database Searching Research Activity

Understanding research as a process.

Students aren't aware of the need to search again and again, refining their searches as they discover new questions and synthesize new information.
  • Demonstrate the phases of the research process. Emphasize that research takes time and energy.
  • Use concept mapping to show how research can take you in different directions.
  • Hands-on activities: Summarizing Controversial Perspectives

Ability to evaluate and understand information. 

Students are over-confident in their ability to evaluate information and determine whether or not a source is credible. 

Knowing where to go for help.

Students believe that they are expected to "know" already, or that they have to figure everything out on their own.
  • Provide students with information on where they can go to get research help at school, by visiting WCC's Bailey Library, or from their local public library. Let them know that librarians will help them at any stage of the research process. 


Head, A.J. (2013, December). Learning the Ropes: How freshmen conduct course research once they enter college. Project Information Literacy, Passage Studies Research Report.

Donham, J. (2014, January). College Ready - What can we learn from first-year college assignments? An examination of assignments in Iowa Colleges and Universities. School Library Research, 17. 

Discuss Critical Questions for Information Literacy

Help students think critically about research.

(Click on a topic to view questions)

  • Why and when should you trust an information source?
  • Who created this information? What is their level of credibility?
  • Is the author an expert? Does the author need to be an expert in this context?
  • Is the information biased? Is it opinion or fact?
  • When searching for information online, how do you decide whether the information you find is good or bad?
  • Where is the first place you go when you have a research question? What kinds of problems do you run into? Why?
  • Is everything available on the Web for free (books, articles, information)? Why not? What's missing?
  • How do you figure out what kind of information you are looking for? 
  • How many different sources of information can you think of? How do you know when an information source is the best choice for your information need?
  • How can information be packaged and distributed?
  • Is some information created for specific populations? How does that change its packaging and distribution? (Consider social media, blogs, newspapers, magazines, books, academic journals)
  • Do you have a bias for or against certain types of information? 
  • How do you cite information sources? Why is it important to cite sources? Why do citations follow a particular format? Does it matter?
  • How do you avoid plagiarism? Do you have any questions about plagiarism? What is the difference between plagiarism and paraphrasing, summarizing, or citing?
  • In what ways can information be bound by a license or copyright? When are you allowed to reuse information?
  • How do you properly use graphics or videos you find on the web? How do you know if graphics or videos are licensed for reuse?
  • What is public domain? What is the creative commons? 
  • How do you broaden or narrow a research topic?
  • Have you ever struggled to find information on a topic and decided that there is nothing on your topic and you have to find a new topic? What other strategies could you use? 
  • If a topic you are researching is part of a debate, how do you research multiple viewpoints?
  • What can you do if you hit a dead end when researching a topic?
  • Is there more than one perspective on a given topic?
  • Who is contributing to the conversation? Are some voices louder than others? Why? 
  • Does information on a given topic change over time? Why might it be important to seek out the most up-to-date information on a given topic?
  • How do you or could you contribute to the conversation on a given topic?
  • Describe an experience in which you were not able to find the information you needed? How did you feel? How much time did you spend looking for that information? What could you do differently?
  • Have you ever experienced the feeling of information overload? When and why? What steps could you take to avoid information overload when researching a question or topic?
  • How do you turn a research question into a successful search for information?
  • When do you feel most confident and successful in finding the information you need?
  • How would you describe your research process? Describe the steps you take when your research is most successful. 
Look at the Research Toolkit Tab for even more ideas you can take into your classroom. 

Find Lesson Plans & Activities

Find activities that can be adapted for your high school lesson plans.

Information Literacy News


Borrow books from the Bailey Library or use MeLCat  to have them delivered to your local public library.